PEACE ARCH—CUPE members were among a crowd of more than 1,500 who gathered at the Canada-U.S. border on Saturday (April 2) to stand in solidarity with Wisconsin public sector workers and in support of collective bargaining and democratic rights on both sides of the border.
The rally, organized by labour organizations from B.C., Washington and Oregon, was a bi-lateral union solidarity effort that some compared to the Canada-U.S. anti-NAFTA rallies of the late 1980s. As several speakers prompted chants of “We are UNION! We are ONE!”, the message was clear: whether in Canada or the U.S., collective bargaining rights are under attack everywhere, and solidarity in defending those rights is more important than ever.
Washington State Labour Council president Jeff Johnson described the crisis in Wisconsin as a defining moment for the labour movement.
“Corporate America has declared war on families, it has declared war on unions, it has declared war on poor and working people,” he said, adding that the U.S. saw $1.7 trillion in corporate profits last year, so claims of a budget crisis ring hollow.
“There’s no shortage of wealth,” he said. “They’re just not investing in jobs.”
Dale Anderson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, AFL-CIO-CLC Local 519 in Wisconsin, stressed the importance of rallies like this one in raising the spirits of workers back home.
Several CUPE members travelled from outside the Lower Mainland to show support for Wisconsin workers.
“I’m glad I made the trip,” said Amber Leonard, vice-president of the Vancouver Island District Labour Council. “This was a great day for all of us to come out and support solidarity internationally.”
VIDC president Louise Oetting and CUPE 459 (Sooke Schools) president Jan Peever agreed that the events in Wisconsin have become all the more urgent in Canada recently, given a federal election in which the country is facing the possibility of a majority Conservative government under Stephen Harper.
“We all have to understand that what happened in Wisconsin could happen anywhere,” said Peever. “It should be a wakeup call.”