More than a thousand delegates to the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ biennial convention in Vancouver rallied at noon today to support the worldwide “Occupy” movement.
Featuring speeches from CUPE members and leaders, the rally also heard from representatives of Occupy Vancouver, who thanked CUPE delegates for their support of the movement.
CUPE National President Paul Moist called on CUPE delegates and members to support the Occupy movement in their own communities across the country.
“I’m so impressed by the courage and passion of the people in this movement,” said Moist. “Their dedication to a fairer, more equitable society is very much in line with the values of CUPE members and of CUPE as an organization.”
Moist said that government and big corporations—the so-called “one percent”—ignore or dismiss the Occupy movement at their peril.
CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux donned a green mask to address the rally and call for a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions.
The rally heard from community social services worker Sheryl Burns, who spoke passionately about how government funding cuts have caused a crisis for people with disabilities. “Not only are the workers in this sector so poorly paid that many of them have to use food banks to feed their families, but the clients are being forced out of their group and care homes, with no consideration for the ability of their families to care for them,” said Burns, vice president of CUPE Local 1936. She said that government actions like this add to the economic inequality that sparked the Occupy movement in the first place.
Two speakers from the Air Canada division of CUPE, Nathalie Stringer and Kevin Beaith, said the Harper government’s decision to interfere in collective bargaining has eliminated the ability of workers to negotiate their own agreement. They said that government interference in negotiations casts a pall on other workers’ efforts to organize and as a result improve their economic circumstances.
CUPE General Vice President Barry O’Neill unveiled CUPE BC’s new community events trailer, which was built entirely with Canadian or North American materials and components. He said that a renewed focus on local economies could help reduce the gap between rich and poor.
“The courage shown by our sisters and brothers in the Occupy movement is inspiring, and we must do everything we can to support them,” said O’Neill, who is also President of CUPE BC. “But we must also ensure the momentum sparked by this movement isn’t lost. We have to translate the ideas and passion into concrete action, and CUPE will stand with activists and advocates to create the kind of society we all want for our children and their children.”
At the conclusion of the rally, more than 400 delegates—including MP Olivia Chow, who had spoken to the convention earlier in the day as part of a tribute to her late partner and NDP Leader Jack Layton—spontaneously marched to the Occupy Vancouver site at the Vancouver Art Gallery to extend their support in person.