Our Story

Our Story

Founding of the Canadian Union of Public Employees

CUPE founding convention, September 23-26, 1963, Winnipeg.

Before there was CUPE, there were the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE).

NUPE was formed in 1955 through the hard work and forward vision of trade unionists who saw the need for a national union to represent civic employees all across the country. It united members of the former Trades and Labour Congress (TLC) directly-chartered unions in the hospital and civic fields.

NUPSE, smaller but older than NUPE, traced its roots to the Canadian Electrical Trade Union formed in 1921 to represent members primarily in the Toronto area. Eventually the Canadian Electrical Trade Union, which was affiliated to the Canadian Congress of Labour, spread out from Toronto and included many non-electrical workers in the public service field. In 1952, the organization changed its name to the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE).

On September 23, 1963 both NUPE and NUPSE held national conventions in Winnipeg. If their respective memberships favoured a merger of the two unions, a convention of the new Canadian Union of Public Employees would be held the following day. Both votes were successful, and on September 24, the largest national union of public employees in Canada, the second largest union in the CLC, and the largest Canadian union affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress was founded.

The Origin of CUPE BC

During the first quarter of the twentieth century, unions of public employees began to appear in BC communities. Many received charters from the Trades and Labour Congress, and most became part of the Joint Council of Public Employees (BC Division) when it formed in 1942. The BC organization was one of only two such provincial organizations in Canada.

Most, but not all, of BC’s local unions affiliated with the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) after its formation in 1955, and in 1963, British Columbia sent 69 delegates-representing 28 locals of the BC Division NUPE convention in Winnipeg to vote on the merger that would create CUPE. Though BC delegates were cautious of the new national structure and not immediately supportive of the merger, most would eventually become locals of the BC Division of CUPE after 1963.

CUPE BC recognizes and pays tribute to all the activists who banded together to protect the rights of public sector workers and the services they provided their communities. They are the bedrock on which CUPE BC was built.

More Information

The above information is quoted and adapted from We’re Your Neighbours, the Story of CUPE BC by Jo Dunaway. For more information about the founding and evolution of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, please consult the National Union website.