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Members and staff met over this past weekend in what was for CUPE an historic meeting: the founding of the unions first-ever national political action committee, or PAC.

The PAC was mandated at the 2003 convention to coordinate political activities within the union, focusing especially on federal issues that impact CUPE members. The resolution further stated that the committee’s mandate include not just party politics, but also mobilizing members to lobby in their communities on federal issues.

The committee is made up of members and politicians from across CUPEs many sectors and from across the country. Carla Smith, President of CUPE 974 and Saskatchewan Division Secretary, is one of the committees co-chairs.

Smith was shocked to be reminded of the scope of the federal cutbacks and how much local and provincial struggles have been affected by federal downsizing, downloading and cut-backs.

No matter whether youre a health care worker, a municipal worker or a school board worker, our public services are all connected, said Smith. We need to link the local situation with whats happening at the federal level. We need to think about the bigger picture.

A highlight of the meeting for Smith was hearing more about how far advanced other regions are in developing effective political action committees.

Not surprisingly, this weekends meeting focused on determining the committees mandate, scope and terms of reference. The PAC made a clear statement that it would work with existing national committees to maximize effectiveness.

The action plan coming out of this inaugural meeting includes an immediate start to local lobbying in their home provinces, an outreach strategy for the upcoming division conventions, and convening the committees next meeting to coincide with the federal New Democratic Party convention in July 2005. The PAC would carry out its work under the over-arching campaign theme of Rebuilding Strong Communities, looking to the national office to develop more tools for use on the ground.

Since most political activity occurs between elections, the committees recognized that perhaps the biggest challenge will be to strategize on how best local communities can campaign effectively on CUPEs federal priorities child care, health care and the new deal for cities. The real trick remains crafting campaigns on federal issues that have relevance in communities, at the local level.

Of course, political lobbying and coalition work is something CUPE members and locals do all the time. The goal is to build on CUPEs skills and vision while taking full advantage of our unmatched community presence.

CUPE is the communities union, after all.