By Sebastien Goulet
SG: Claude, why has CUPE chosen to dedicate a portion of its resources to international solidarity?
CG: Working on the international scene also benefits our own workplaces. Here’s the best example that comes to mind: recently, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of 45,000 members of CUPE’s Hospital Employees Union (HEU) in British Columbia. They had challenged Bill 29, a draconian provincial law that put a stranglehold on negotiations. The Court’s decision was based primarily on international conventions signed by Canada on freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. This is a reminder that international standards provide crucial support throughout the world and we must continually work to protect them.
SG: Why is Colombia a priority for CUPE in terms of international solidarity?
CG: The Harper government has tabled a bill to enforce a free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada. During the U.S. presidential campaign, in a debate on free trade with Colombia, Barack Obama asked his opponent John McCain: “Shouldn’t we be discussing the situation of workers in that country? According to the reports, workers are dying there.” It was eloquently put, and expressed a concern that Harper clearly does not share.
SG: When you say “workers are dying there,” you’re not referring to workplace accidents.
CG: Definitely not. There are more workers and trade unionists murdered in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. All the data indicate that at least 2,200 workers have been murdered or have disappeared in Colombia since 1991, including 600 since Alvaro Uribe came to power in 2002. So it’s still happening. And the Washington Post recently reported that 97 per cent of these murders have never been solved.
SG: More broadly, how would you characterize CUPE’s involvement in international solidarity over the years?
CG: Ever since CUPE was founded, we have been involved in international solidarity. In the 70s, there had been a tremendous, worldwide humanitarian effort following a major earthquake in Nicaragua, but the Somoza government squandered the donations. We got involved and strongly opposed this. In the 80s, South African resistance movements attempting to end apartheid made an appeal to us. At the time, as an activist in my local union, I received the president of an illegal South African health workers union (NEHAWU). He came to inform us, but also to learn how to organize a union in a democratic society. In the 90s, when the World Bank and the IMF were imposing their economic model of privatization, our colleagues from South Africa resisted with the support of CUPE.
SG: Elsewhere in the world, do we often find the same multinationals, the same “privatizers” as here?
CG: Absolutely. It’s “the same gang,” to put it simply. Sometimes they hide behind subsidiaries or consortiums, but they’re the same transnationals: the same enemy, the same struggle.
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