These are difficult times for union members in Canada. Over the past several decades, labour leaders and activists in our country have quite rightly pointed to wave after wave of anti-union sentiment and laws in the United States, as things like so-called “right to work” states emerged and resulted in a serious decline in union density. But we’re now having to look closer to home—in Ottawa and in Victoria—to guard against right-wing governments bent on making it harder for working people to join together in unions.
And it’s not just governments that are bent on eliminating the progress working people have made in this country. Groups like the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses are constantly feeding a stream of negative rhetoric and propaganda through the media. They attack the public sector in general, and public sector workers in particular. The leadership of these groups won’t be happy until rich folks and big corporations pay no taxes at all, while the rest of us make do with low wages, reduced benefits and no job security.
Well we’re not going to sit on the sidelines and quietly watch right wing governments and conservative think tanks take shot after shot at our members. CUPE National has created a program that you’re all going to hear a lot more about in the coming weeks, months and years: Unite for Fairness. That program, which CUPE BC strongly supports, is intended to strengthen our union, re-connect with members and demonstrate to those who oppose us that we’re not going anywhere.
In addition, we’re working closely with the Canadian Labour Congress to develop an external communications campaign to demonstrate to Canadians from coast to coast to coast how important unions are. Not just for union members—though that’s obviously our first priority—but to all working people, unionized or not.
And here in BC we’re working hard with the BC Federation of Labour and other affiliated unions to develop a comprehensive approach to fighting back against these attacks from the right wing.
The old adage that together we’re stronger has never been more true than now. As we head into the second half of CUPE BC’s first century, we can be proud of the many great things our movement has made possible for our members—and for all British Columbians and Canadians. But we should never rest on our laurels, nor should we ever accept that what we have now is “good enough.” In a province with virtually unlimited potential, it’s a crime that children continue to live in poverty. It’s a crime that people have to work two, three or even more jobs just to make ends meet. And it’s a crime that working people pay an ever greater share while the rich and big corporations continue to enjoy tax cuts.
Together we can hold on to the gains we’ve made over the past 50 years, and truly unite for fairness, then we can build on them so our children—and their children—can have better lives, and leave this place even better than we found it.
Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BCCOPE 491