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MONTREAL – Participants from ten B.C. locals joined close to 200 CUPE university workers, staff and allies from across Canada to discuss issues of significance - including privatization and bargaining.

The October 12-14 conference in Montreal featured keynote speakers: French student activist Bruno Julliard, Elaine Bernard of Harvard University and Erika Shaker of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

Doug Sprenger, chair of CUPE BC’s Universities Committee, describes CUPE’s first-ever national conference on the state of Canada’s universities an “unqualified success.”

B.C. participants made a major contribution and we made a significant impact on the discussion and the recommendations. We had overwhelming demand for participation from across the country. It was an important step for our union,” says Sprenger.

I’m proud of the effort and good work coming out of CUPE’s first national conference on issues affecting university students and workers,” said Paul Moist at the conclusion of the conference.

The conference, which placed a major focus on bargaining and organizing in the university sector, was opened by National secretary treasurer Claude Genereux on Thursday night, and featured Bruno Julliard.

Julliard kicked off the conference by telling how the success of the French student experience relied on working with faculty, salaried workers on campus, and workers in the community. Julliard spoke of the need to work together and build alliances.

A Saturday morning panel moderated by Doug Sprenger featured stories from bargaining in B.C., Ontario and Quebec. B.C. universities sector coordinator and national representative Connie Credico eloquently described the process that led to a solid agreement for CUPE’s B.C. university locals in the 2006 round of bargaining.

Well-known Canadian labour activist and Harvard University professor Elaine Bernard joined Patricia Chong from CUPE 3906 at McMaster University to talk about the importance of aggressive organizing and the serious challenges facing university workers in the world of privatized universities.

The CCPA’s Erica Shaker presented on the sorry state of university funding in Canada. Shaker’s presentation was balanced by more positive though still worrisome news on the funding situation in Quebec.

The conference included a town hall meeting on privatization and corporatization in post-secondary education throughout North America, and included a presentation by Steve Storch from CUPE 3799 (University of Northern British Columbia).

Participants made many recommendations regarding coordinated bargaining and organizing and gave enthusiastic support to teaching assistants from McMaster University in Hamilton who had given their bargaining committee an 81-per-cent strike vote.

Recommendations will be followed up at the national convention in October 2007 and, where appropriate, will be acted upon as delegates return to their home regions.

CUPE’s national university sector comprises locals representing more than 70,000 university workers. The ten B.C. locals in attendance were: University of BC - 116, 2278, 2950; University of Victoria - 917, 951, 4163; Simon Fraser University – 3338; University of Northern BC – 3799; Royal Roads University – 3886; Thompson Rivers University – 900.