Candace RennickNational Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick, in her first in-person address since being elected last fall, remarked on the power that comes from members meeting together, face-to-face. “I am so glad to be able to see you directly, and to be able to do things together in one place. The energy generated during this National Sector Council Conference will help build strength on the ground to meet the challenges in our workplaces and communities.”

One looming threat Rennick identified is runaway inflation. “Our earning power is being demolished,” she said. “Our battle for wage increases in line with inflation is already raging in every sector. It’s a battle that will require absolute unity and solidarity on our part.” That solidarity will be necessary as members face off against a powerful alliance of governments, public sector employers, and businesses big and small.

Yet, while workers are feeling the squeeze, corporate profits are soaring. “CUPE members were risking their lives to provide essential services, and corporations were making billions. Profits are up. Government revenues are up. Inflation is up. But workers’ wages—they’re down. It is crystal clear who is gaining from inflation, and who is to blame. It’s them, not us!” Rennick continued.

But while we have facts on our side, Rennick cautioned this is not enough. “Bargaining these days is a test of strength. Winning real wages and other necessary gains takes fighting power. It takes confidence, courage and coordination.” She points to the tremendous gains won by CUPE members in New Brunswick in 2021. Their  multi-sector, province-wide strike—one of the largest in CUPE history—has raised the expectations and confidence of members everywhere. The Ontario School Board Council of Unions is building on that legacy right now with a historic strike vote. Over 45,000 of their 55,000 voted, and 96.5 per cent of them voted in favour of strike action.

Rennick added that in addition to fighting at the bargaining table, working people must make strides politically. “We must fight against government austerity, which will once again sweep the country as it did in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite growing gaps between the rich and the rest of us, policies that support equity are being tossed aside in favour of measure that will only deepen inequality.” Taking lessons from the early days of neo-liberalism, she said, we must act. “We must fight for social justice, for racial justice, for gender equity, against colonialism and all forms of oppression, and we must fight for economic justice.”

“I am proud of CUPE’s long history of fighting together with other movements for all forms of justice. I am proud of CUPE’s long history of militancy when it comes to collective bargaining. As your new National Secretary Treasurer, I intend to do my part to build on that legacy,” Rennick concluded. “You can count on my support for every group of CUPE members that needs support. Every struggle is an opportunity to define the union we are. Let’s be a union of courage.”