The rise of federal Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre and the recent ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement, along with growing concerns about racism and increasing pressure for cost-cutting austerity, has made CUPE activism and solidarity all the more critical, CUPE National President Mark Hancock told delegates in his CUPE BC convention address.

“It’s been another difficult year fighting our way through the pandemic,” said Hancock, “but through the turmoil of the past twelve months one thing is clear: CUPE has stood strong and proud, and supported our members, and so much of that is thanks to you as leaders in your locals and in your communities.”

The CUPE leader reviewed some of the union’s important work at national convention last fall. In addition to advocacy around expanding the social safety net to include pharmacare and child care, and the fight for paid sick leave, stronger health and safety protections, and anti-scab legislation, CUPE also developed an action plan for the climate crisis, international human rights, anti-racism, and making CUPE a safer union space for all members and staff.

This work has become all the more important, said Hancock, amidst the growing threat of the extreme right.

“We’re not in the world we were in two years ago. COVID has changed so much about our world, and the frustrations and anxieties that existed in our society before COVID have only gotten worse,” he said.

“The pandemic has worn people down, and taken so much from all of us. The cost of living is skyrocketing. Russia’s war on Ukraine has shaken the entire world order. There is so much uncertainty about the future, and understandably, folks are feeling frustrated and let down by their governments. It’s only natural that people will start looking for solutions, or simply for ways of letting out that frustration.”

The problem, he added, is that too many people are taking their cue from American-style Trumpism—which tapped into that anger and responded to it with racism, misogyny and intolerance.

“We made the mistake of thinking that the Trump spectacle was something that could only happen south of the border, but the so-called Freedom Convoy protests this winter have shown us we were wrong,” said Hancock.

“There are a lot of bad actors out there who want to take advantage of that same frustration here in Canada by sucking in working people who are tired and angry, and filling their heads with propaganda that will make our country less tolerant, less generous, and a lot less compassionate. And, my friends, it’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Among those “bad actors”, he singled out Poilievre.

“A journalist recently said: if Andrew Scheer was Stephen Harper with a smile, then Pierre Poilievre is Stephen Harper with his fangs out—this is one nasty dude,” said Hancock.

“The right-wing in this country, led by folks like Pierre, know they have nothing to offer. Their power is built on stoking fear, anger, and frustration. Austerity, to them, is the battering ram they use to break our solidarity and turn people on their neighbours. It’s how they convince people they have to fight each other for scraps, instead of fighting for the rich to pay their fair share.”

CUPE members need to push back against the rhetoric and political agenda of the far right by advancing solutions that speak to the frustrations people are feeling, said Hancock, encouraging delegates to review and build on the agreement reached between the federal Liberals and NDP in exchange for action on key issues including pharmacare, dental care, and new federal anti-scab legislation.

Hancock cited two recent examples of CUPE resilience that demonstrated how our members can make a difference. In New Brunswick last fall, 20,000 CUPE members won a fair contract after facing down a government dead-set on holding back their wages and forcing other concessions. And in B.C., the efforts of CUPE child care activists helped make B.C. the first province in Canada to negotiate a new affordable child care agreement with the federal government.

“History is made by those who show up,” said Hancock, “and I know CUPE is ready to show up, and make our mark on history, by defending the things we believe in most and standing for a better future for everybody.”