Candace Rennick | CUPE’s National Secretary-Treasurer
Recently I came across a wonderful document that summarizes the content of the many news publications CUPE produced over the first 50 years of our union’s life. I was struck by how many of the articles were about matters we still deal with today: privatization of public services, cuts to health care and education funding, violence and discrimination in the workplace, gender-based pay inequity, attacks on collective bargaining, and, of course, the ongoing fight to improve the working conditions and standard of living of CUPE members.
This year we mark our union’s 60th birthday. It’s an opportunity to celebrate how much we’ve gained over the years, and to honour the members, activists, leaders, and staff who worked so hard and achieved so much. But we must also remember that workers’ struggles are never-ending and now it is our turn take up that work, to protect past advances and break new ground.
We must continue and accelerate the fight for wage increases that exceed the rate of inflation. We must continue to grow our union by organizing unorganized workers. And in this, as in all our union work, we must make a much more concerted and better coordinated effort to put an end to gender and racial inequity in every workplace and community.
Often in our union’s history, members used their collective bargaining power to reduce and eliminate discriminatory wage gaps. Let’s make sure we do the same at every bargaining table going forward. Let’s resurrect the fight for benefits and pensions for those who still don’t have them. The majority of those at the bottom of the pay scale, those without job security, those without extended health insurance, and those forced to retire without pensions are women, Indigenous, Black, racialized and 2SLGBTQI+ people, persons with disabilities, or otherwise marginalized workers. Our union was founded to right these wrongs and our work is far from done.
Of course, our fight for real equity must go beyond the bargaining table. To achieve racial equity and advance reconciliation, we need big changes in the justice system, safe schools and safe streets. Our bargaining demands must be made together with demands for expanded public services and fair taxation to ensure equitable redistribution of wealth.
And we need more change, more equity, more safety, within our own union. Our Constitution says that one of our goals is the elimination of harassment and discrimination. Yet, 60 years after our union’s birth, both still exist within our structures and practices. It’s difficult to admit, but it would be a lie to pretend otherwise. The National Safe Union Spaces Working Group confirmed the problem through extensive surveys and focus groups. We have developed a strategy to address the issues, and we are implementing it.
It is true that change is inevitable, but it is also true that together people have the power to make the change they want. CUPE’s 60-year history is full of militant and victorious battles for justice — I am so proud that in the last two years we have contributed to that legacy. Let’s keep doing so.