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Over 1,000 CUPE members gathered in Ottawa for the first National Bargaining Conference, Feb. 5-8. For four days, members, staff, and activists shared strategies and learned from each other on how best to tackle the bargaining challenges we’re facing across the country.

The following vision emerged for discussions at the conference, and was presented to participants on the final day.

Our vision for collective bargaining: Freedom to pursue our collective goals

CUPE’s vision:

  • Our members set and bargain toward collective goals
  • We must protect the democratic right to free collective bargaining that makes that possible


It’s not easy. Governments are interfering in free collective bargaining by legislating collective agreements, taking away our right to strike, and reforming the interest arbitration system.

It’s going to take courage to stand strong in the face of what’s coming. We must:

  • Try new things
  • Put important issues on the bargaining table
  • Make tough decisions
  • Bargain on behalf of non-union workers and the people without power in our communities
  • Make alliances with other groups
  • Listen to our members, including young members
  • Ask for help (Ask a young worker!)
  • Share power


The way forward to achieve our vision

1. Become the movement again

The times are calling on us to return to our activist roots as a labour movement, grounded in our communities. We need to organize, educate, communicate and mobilize.

As one speaker at the conference said, we need to find our soul mates in other movements—like Idle No More and the student movement in Quebec. Finding common cause with other movements in our communities will build our power and support when we campaign for decent wages and working conditions for all workers.

Across CUPE, locals are already doing this. CUPE locals supported the Occupy movement, and are active in Pride parades, food drives, women’s marches, December 6 vigils, and cultural celebrations like Carnival in Toronto. Countless hockey and baseball teams across the country sport a CUPE logo.

CUPE has also joined Common Causes to connect with social justice movements working to defend democracy in Canada.

2. Defend democracy

To defend democracy, we need to change the anti-union story line in the media and the anti-union political agenda.

We do good work. We need to get our positive stories into the news.

We need to develop relationships with elected politicians to protect and expand workers’ rights and the social safety net. And we need to take part in political action that builds membership and public engagement in our democracy.

3. Remember we’re on the same side

We must find the courage to get past internal conflicts and conflicts with other unions. We must focus on what our members are asking of us, and our collective goals as a labour movement.

4. Know you’re a leader

The stakes are very high. It’s time to stand up. It’s time to be bold.

All union activists must see themselves as leaders.

If you work to represent your members, if you take part in union activities, if you attend union education programs or conventions, you are a leader.

5. Have 625,000 conversations

Let’s talk. We need to reach out to all of our members, and go to where our members are.We need to listen to them, and make sure we treat the issues important to them as union issues.

We need to talk about many things–how we work together inside the union, how we build alliances within our communities, which bargaining goals to put forward and how to achieve them, and how to maintain union strength and solidarity in the face of attacks from employers and governments.

We need to be accountable to each other about what we do as union activists and leaders.

6. Use national resources strategically

We need to use the right strategies, at the right time for our resources to be most effective.

National servicing representatives support locals and bargaining councils, and link them to all the available resources provided by specialist staff in research, communications, health and safety, education, job evaluation, equality and legal. Financial support is mandated through campaign funding and the strike fund.