CUPE members are facing unprecedented attacks on their collective bargaining rights. To protect the gains we’ve made and build for the future, the entire labour movement will need to adapt to deal with these new challenges.
Day two of the national bargaining conference featured a discussion on what CUPE can learn from other unions facing similar attacks in the United States and Europe, including ways to reach out to non-traditional allies to help with the fight.
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Anne McGrath, a former equality director for CUPE and now managing director of ENsight Canada, moderated the discussion, and began by asking the panelists what they thought is the fundamental challenge unions are facing in defending basic labour rights, and what should be done to overcome them.
Panelist Rachida Azdouz from the University of Montreal, a psychologist with expertise in managing conflicts in rights and values, said unions, especially large ones like CUPE, need to remember the reasons why they formed in the first place.
“We have moved from a social movement to an institution; that is part of the malaise,” said Azdouz. “We have to find those roots, we have to renew these roots and our social movement spirit.”
The panel also discussed the experiences of public sector unions outside of Canada. Highlighted was the ‘We are Wisconsin’ campaign, launched in response to the anti-union agenda of the state’s governor, Republican Scott Walker.
Paul Booth from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) told the conference that working with non-union groups was key in fighting back against Walker’s attack on public sector unions.
The conversations ‘why we need a strong union?’ are fundamental,” said Booth. “We are Wisconsin was possible because the labour movement was willing to take risks, and by admitting we couldn’t do it ourselves.”
He also offered advice to Canadian unions now facing similar attacks.
“Don’t wait for it all to come down on you. Start organizing now,” said Booth, who also pledged U.S. unions would not forget the support they have had from north of the border.
“You stood with us when our backs were against the wall, and I swear we’ll stand with you.”
Richard Pond, from the European Federation of Public Sector Unions (EPSU), also stressed the need to build alliances with non-union groups - not only for labour issues, but to work on broader social issues too.
“We must find issues, such as corporate tax evasion, that can unite trade unions with community groups to build larger, wider public support,” said Pond. “It is important for unions to build alliances in this way.”
Pond also said unions need to be creative in their fights, and not rely on the same tactics all the time. “It doesn’t need to be a grand massive demonstration. There are many ways to move our work forward, to organize and create change.”
The conference continues until Friday.
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