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Over 1,000 CUPE members gathered at the Ottawa Convention Centre Tuesday evening to kick off the unions first National Bargaining Conference. Over the three day gathering, members, staff, activists and leaders from across the country will share strategies and learn from each other on how best to tackle bargaining challenges being faced in Canada.

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The conference, the largest ever held by CUPE, kicked off with an opening address from Paul Moist, national president of CUPE. Moist outlined the many economic and political hurdles being faced by CUPE members - such as governments pushing austerity agendas, and so called “right-to-work” legislation that threatens basic labour rights.

“You know collective bargaining is the most critical function we perform for our membership,” said Moist. “We stand ready to fight to defend out right to engage in collective bargaining, and we will not back down from any government that seeks to remove our free collective bargaining rights.”

Moist continued by looking back at the progress CUPE has made in bargaining over the last five decades, and the accomplishment all members can celebrate during the union’s 50th anniversary, being celebrated this year. 

“We stand on the shoulders of those who built this union,” said Moist. “We pledge to defend the gains out past leaders made, to make new gains, and to hand our trade union jobs over to a new generation of CUPE members and staff.”

Laughing with (and a bit about) the labour movement

The conferences opening plenary also took a lighter look at the challenges facing CUPE members, and the entire labour movement. Quebec comedian Christopher Hall gave members his take on Canadian politics.

The session ended with a toe-to-toe, tongue-in-cheek debate on Canadian labour issues by The Debaters. Steve Patterson moderated, with Don Kelly and Dave Hemstad debating “Union: have they become irrelevant?”

The conference continues until Friday.

Follow the conference online: