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It is my great privilege to welcome each and every one of you to the beautiful city of Toronto, for this, our 23rd Constitutional Convention.

44 years ago, in my hometown of Winnipeg, about 200 delegates met and ratified a merger which created CUPE. We had about 70,000 members in 1963 and about 4 dozen staff. Today, through the efforts of thousands of activists and staff our membership stands at 560,000 members. Our collective payroll at just over $18 billion. We are Canada’s largest, and in my view, best union.

As we begin this week let us thank these thousands of sisters and brothers who built our union……….and let us say with one voice………we are incredibly proud to be CUPE members and we commit ourselves to fighting for fairness at work for our members…….and for needed public services and social justice in our communities and with workers throughout the world.

I extend a special welcome to those members attending your first National Convention. Thank you for your activism. You are the future of our union and on behalf of all of us who have been involved for many years, I welcome you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I also want to begin our convention by paying tribute to those delegates who are attending their last convention. I single each of you out to offer our sincere thanks. There could not be a CUPE without dedicated activists such as you. Thank you for the support and leadership you have given your co-workers….and thank you for building our great union.

In attendance at this convention are some 20 members of our staff who have retired since our last convention. I saluted these sisters and brothers at a staff meeting we held yesterday. I salute them in your presence today and thank them for a lifetime of commitment to our union.

I mentioned earlier our phenomenal growth since 1963. Today, we serve you, the members, through 64 offices in communities from coast to coast right across Canada.

Today, we employ just over 700 sisters and brothers, most of whom were rank and file CUPE members, to work on your behalf. Not all are present here in Toronto, but many are…..and I ask them to stand. Our activism creates a lot of work…..an ever increasing workload and our staff constantly rise to the challenge. They are in my view the best and most dedicated union staff in Canada, and I salute each and every one of them and thank them for their hard work and dedication.

During our convention held two years ago in Winnipeg, we passed an emergency resolution to offer our full support for BC’s Teachers as they confronted the Campbell government’s attacks on free collective bargaining.

CUPE BC President, Brother Barry O’Neill left convention early to attend to this serious matter. Three weeks later BC’s Teachers achieved a huge victory……recognition and respect for their free collective bargaining rights. How did this happen?

Well, 22,000 CUPE education support workers honoured Teachers’ picket lines for 15 days. Over 40,000 other CUPE BC members participated in one-day protest actions. We supported these members with $4 million from our strike fund.

I could not have been prouder of our membership and I salute CUPE BC leadership and members for your courage and solidarity with BC Teachers.

There is another fight being waged in BC…..in the city of Vancouver. 6,000 members of Local 15 (inside), Local 1004 (outside) and Local 391 (library) have been on the line…week 13. Local 15 has settled, Local 1004 has just settled also. Local 391 are starting week 14 and we will support them until we win a fair agreement for each and every member.

In 2002, our 40,000 members of HEU had provisions of their collective agreement legislated away by the Campbell Government’s Bill 29. In 2004, they were attacked at the bargaining table and despite a massive and effective strike, had a collective agreement imposed upon them, an agreement with a 15% wage rollback….contracted out jobs saw wages cut in half.

HEU never stopped fighting back. They “re-organized” thousands of workers whose jobs had been privatized. They fought in the streets, on the steps of the legislature and in communities throughout BC. And they led other health care unions in launching a Charter Challenge to Bill 29. Five years and hundreds of thousands dollars later…..on June 8th of this year…..the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Bill 29 violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms….that the Charter does protect Canadian workers’ right to free collective bargaining.

I salute and thank HEU members for their diligence…..their militancy…..and for this groundbreaking decision which will help workers for generations to come.

Our struggles do result in victories…..we often can’t measure these in days or weeks…..but in every corner of Canada…..CUPE is fighting hard.

On April 22, 2007 Quebecor Media locked out members of Locals 1450 and 2808, employees who publish the Journal de Québec. Members of Local 1872 voted to strike to back up their locked out sisters and brothers.

The owner of Quebecor Media is Pierre-Karl Péladeau, the same person who carried out our 13-month strike with Videotron a few years back.

M. Péladeau could not break our union at Videotron and he won’t at the Journal de Québec. Our members are producing a daily paper, Mediamatin Quebec… with a circulation of over 40,000 per day.

I salute the many CUPE locals who have adopted strikers. I salute our 252 members, after 7 months on the line….I pledge our entire union’s support for you…and I thank you and all members of CUPE Quebec for your inspiring leadership. Stand up Quebec!

CUPE is privileged to represent over 7,000 flight attendants in various airlines. These workers face many issues in a very stressed industry. One ongoing challenge has been constant lobbying by Canada’s largest non-union carrier, West Jet, to have the federal government amend transport regulations to increase the ratio of flight attendants from 1:40 to 1:50. Imagine one flight attendant for every 50 passengers.

Our Airline members won’t accept this. And I was pleased to be part of an intensive Parliament Hill lobby…..Twice we met with Federal Transport Minister, Lawrence Cannon. And guess what? The Harper government backed down…..announcing they won’t amend the 1:40 regulation.

Stand up Airline Division members…..I salute you for your work and for standing up for airline safety for all Canadians.

In Alberta…we are now in the post-Klein era…..yes…..King Ralph is gone….but the Tories remain in power…..36 straight years and counting.

And Canada’s hottest economy continues to downplay climate change. Companies continue to reap billions in profits from oil. And the Government…..overloaded with surplus revenue…..continues to talk about P3 schools, and private options for health care.

On each of these fronts, our union…..through CUPE Alberta is standing up…..for the environment…..against Big Oil and for public services.

I thank and salute all members of CUPE Alberta…..you are doing us proud…..

In Nova Scotia our union is very visible on many fronts. Fighting for pension fairness in health care. Organizing child care workers. Standing up for benefits and a fair agreement for municipal workers in Cape Breton. Fighting to end privatization of provincial highway work.

And in Stellarton, NS, members of Local 2330 at Valley View Villa Nursing Home successfully beating back plans to contract out support services to the multi-national corporation, SODEXHO!

And in a minority government situation, securing the support of all opposition parties to reject the MacDonald government’s plans to remove the right to strike from health care workers.

To all members of CUPE NS….. Thank you for standing so tall to defend our members.

In the province of Manitoba, we achieved a first this past May. A third consecutive victory for the Manitoba NDP…..one-third of the government MLA’s are women…..including two CUPE sisters.

Members of Local 500, my own Local, face an unprecedented privatization agenda, launched by Winnipeg City Council. The members of Local 500, with support from CUPE Manitoba are fighting back and they will win.

I salute all CUPE Manitoba members and thank you for standing up for public services.

CUPE PEI, our smallest provincial division…..constantly amazes me. In the past 2 years…..their first all local bargaining conference…..their first province-wide political action conference.

And in Charlottetown, on the protest lines to protest the selection of privateer Dr. Brian Day as president of the Canadian Medical Association.

Mighty PEI stands tall in CUPE, and I thank each and every one of our activists in that great province!

In NFLD & Labrador, Premier Danny Williams just won a landslide re-election victory…..Danny Millions to our members. I applaud CUPE NFLD and Labrador for your strong support for the NDP…..for re-electing provincial NDP leader Lorraine Michael.

In the past two years our leadership have pushed the Williams government to take some of that provinces wealth and re-invest it in unfunded provincial pension plans.

We will never forget being legislated back to work in 2004. As we prepare for 2008 province-wide bargaining we say to the Williams government…..”you can’t say you are standing up for Newfoundlanders & Labradoreans, while you attack your own employees’ bargaining rights”.

I pledge our entire union’s support for our 5,000 members in Newfoundland & Labrador and thank our activists for their great work day in and day out.

In Saskatchewan, our 25,000 members continue to profile the importance of public services. In the bitter cold of last winter 36 members, of Local 3207, Group Home Workers at Cheshire Homes, braved the elements and achieved a significant wage increase.

CUPE Saskatchewan fights hard for all employees of Community-Based Agencies (called Social Services in other provinces) and I salute our leadership for standing tall for some of the lowest paid public employees.

Today, our members are active in the provincial election, speaking to each and every member on the dangers posed by the Saskatchewan Party.

Thank you CUPE SK activists! Thank you for standing tall for strong public services.

In New Brunswick, our union has a history of militant job action to back up our right to free collective bargaining.

Similar to our HEU Charter Case, CUPE NB some years ago launched a Court Challenge on behalf of some 8,000 casual workers…..working in health care, school boards and throughout government departments…..who by law are denied the right to belong to a union.

We are on the verge of winning this dispute and I salute the leadership of CUPE NB and all of our activists in that great province! Stand up New Brunswick!

Here in Ontario, where over 200,000 of our members work….. CUPE is front and center on many, many fronts:

• Fighting against P3 Hospitals. To date, over 100,000 citizens have voted 98% against private hospitals. • CUPE Ontario has led the charge for joint trusteeship of the OMERS pension plan…..one of Canada’s largest plans. • In the Long-Term Care Sector we have forced the province to offer up new funding…..and we are demanding 3.5 hours of care per patient, per day. • In the Education Sector, we continue to fight against an unfair funding formula, one that has reduced needed funding for support services. • In the Social Services Sector we continue the fight against low wages. The fight continues for union rights for child care workers. • And university workers are standing up for fairness as 700 Carleton University workers did during a 10-day strike in September. • In the recent provincial election…..we had 11 members and staff run for the NDP….I am incredibly proud of each and everyone of these sisters and brothers.

There is an…..energy, a vitality and a militancy visible every day on the part of our members in Ontario and I salute them and our leadership here in the heart of Canada. Stand up Ontario…..you are doing us proud.

These accomplishments…..a fraction of our union’s activities from coast to coast speak to a fighting spirit…..speak about each of you and the activists in your locals assuming the responsibilities of leadership.

Yet, we all know we face many, many challenges. And our job this week is to put these challenges to this convention, debate them, forge policy and to motivate all avenues of our union to join together to fight for our members…..and to fight to support the needs and aspirations of other workers.

Our struggle must include supporting our sisters and brothers in other unions.

Members of the Steelworkers, the CAW and the CEP have been devastated by job losses. We read that our economy is booming, yet 250,000 manufacturing workers have lost their jobs since 2002.

Free Trade with the U.S. in the forestry sector seems to mean that we ship raw logs to the U.S. while Canadian communities are devastated by pulp & paper mill closures.

Autoworkers face layoffs while Japanese and Korean cars have free access to North American markets but we can’t export our vehicles to their countries?

I support fully the CLC’s Campaign to draw attention to this crisis and I commit our union to stand with our sisters and brothers in private sector unions and to demand that our federal government stand up for Canadian workers.

And I commit our union to forging even stronger ties with coalition groups who like us are committed to building and maintaining strong, caring communities; communities in which working families can live quality lives. We can’t do it alone. We need to work with the CLC, other unions, coalition groups and communities.

A few moments ago I welcomed our international guests. Our union throughout its history has actively pursued global solidarity links with workers throughout the world.

In 2006, CUPE activists were directly involved in global solidarity initiatives in 20 countries. Through the PSI, the CLC and other bodies we seek to strengthen our relations with workers around the world.

On Wednesday we will hold a demonstration to mark October 17th, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

And make no mistake about it; poverty is the source of our world’s troubles. The World Health Organization tells us that the average life expectancy gap between the world’s industrial nations and the developing world is 30 years…and rising.

As Stephen Lewis said to our 2003 convention, it is both repugnant and morally wrong that the world community spends $100 billion per year on military infrastructure, but can’t find $10 billion to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On your behalf, I re-dedicate our union to work with our sisters and brothers the world over to fight poverty and to the pursuit of social justice on a global basis.

At the level of the workplace we have over 3,000 collective agreements. All are important.

Our bargaining success rate is over 99%, but when we run into trouble such as we have in Vancouver, at the Journal de Québec, at the U of T Press earlier this year…..we must stand together.

So far this year we have supported members on the picket line to the tune of over $12 million. From our strike fund which only takes in $8 million per year.

We can deal with this because of a decision we made in 2001…..to segregate our strike fund and to only use it for strike, strike-averting or interest-arbitration reasons.

I supported this decision in 2001 as I do today. Twice in our history our strike fund went broke…..we had to stop paying strike pay to members on the line.

This can never be allowed to happen again…..our message from this, our 23rd Constitutional Convention must be loud and clear…..to each of our employers…If you choose to attack one group of our members, you will face all 560,000 of us.

We will ensure that our strike fund is there to defend any and all CUPE members wherever their struggle occurs…..for as long as it takes to achieve fair agreements.

You will hear much talk about equality this week….within our union and in society at large.

First and foremost I believe equality must be sought at the bargaining table.

One quarter of our members are part-time, temporary and casual employees and 85% of these members are women. How is it in Canada, in 2007 that women workers only earn $0.71 for every $1.00 earned by men?

Why do we have members in the social services sector, only earning $9, $10 or $11/hour? With few benefits and no pensions?

Our major policy paper this week will ask you all to set some goals to move wages to a minimum of $15/hr to secure pensions for all CUPE members.

And to put pay equity back on the front burner.

There are many dimensions to the equality debate. None more important than fair wages, benefits and pensions for all workers and we can’t let up until we achieve this.

Another equality issue is the role of women within our union….two-thirds of our membership…..yet CUPE sisters remain badly under-represented in senior leadership offices of our union.

Our NWTF has worked incredibly hard as you directed them to do at our last convention.

I will leave it to this remarkable group of sisters to report directly to you later this week. For now let me state clearly and unequivocally…..our union needs this debate…..we will be a stronger union when we recognize that barriers exist to CUPE women and it is our collective responsibility to bring those barriers down.

CUPE’s equality work also speaks to the diversity of our membership and the diversity of Canadians.

I am incredibly proud that since we last met in Convention…..we have formed our National Aboriginal Council.

While the Harper government turned its back on Aboriginal Canadians, our union has stepped its efforts to provide a focus for our Aboriginal work. Our workplaces must provide jobs and our union must encourage activism amongst Aboriginal members and all equality-seeking groups.

And, we must speak with one voice to Stephen Harper and demand the fair settlement of land claims and needed investment to end all boil-water orders in First Nations communities.

Stephen Harper cancelled child care agreements. Cancelled Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Cancelled the commitment of provincial and territorial governments to the Kelowna Accord. He, for the 2nd year in a row, applies $14 billion to pay down debt. At the same time, he slashes funding to literary programs, the court challenges program and women’s advocacy groups. And, in his last budget….financial incentives for governments that embrace P3s for infrastructure projects.

Mr. Harper….on behalf of Canada’s largest union…I say, you have no mandate to undo decades of needed social safety net provisions. We will resist your moves at every turn and we won’t rest until your government is defeated!

Equality within CUPE also means that the opportunity for work within our union needs to be available to all members who aspire to full-time union work.

I commit our union to fulfill the principles of the Vancouver Declaration arising out of our first ever National Human Rights Conference. This includes active steps towards ensuring that CUPE’s staff represents the full diversity of our great union.

Every CUPE President for the last 44 years has spoken from this podium about the greatest threat to CUPE members’ job security …..namely privatization…..in all of its forms.

Our NEB will place before you this week, a Strategic Directions Plan for our National Union for 2008/2009.

The focal point of this plan is a commitment to sufficiently resource all locals, sectors and divisions to fight back against privatization anywhere and everywhere it crops up.

The Harper Government now offers incentives for P3 infrastructure projects. Premier Campbell in BC has made P3 screens compulsory for all municipalities wanting provincial infrastructure money.

The Quebec and Ontario governments believe P3 hospitals are the way to go.

I say…..on your behalf to these governments and all others…..”Our parents’ generation built a Canada with strong public services…..a Canada in which our common wealth is measured by collective public good versus private wealth…..

We, the leadership of CUPE…..Canada’s largest union…..vow to defend public services…..and to fight privatization wherever it is proposed.”

CUPE is one large, gigantic Trust.

Trust with our members, through over 2,000 chartered locals.

Trust within and between our activists and our staff.

We hold in trust the great privilege of representing the bargaining rights of 560,000 members. 1 in 64 Canadians…..1 of every 11 workers in Canada.

We treat this trust with respect and care.

And we pledge to do our utmost to fulfill our members’ bargaining goals and their workplace and societal aspirations.

Let us pledge this week and every day to work together on behalf of the members who make it possible for us to gather here in Toronto.

Our unity and solidarity amongst ourselves and with other workers are our keys to success.

Let’s have a great convention.

It is my privilege to declare open, this our 23rd Constitutional Convention.

:/cope 491