Mark HancockSpeaking at the closing plenary of CUPE’s first in-person national meeting since the start of the pandemic, CUPE’s National President Mark Hancock told members that CUPE is stronger – and larger – than ever. Despite relentless attacks by governments and employers on public services, and despite the organizing challenges and layoffs inflicted during the pandemic, CUPE has continued to grow. Already Canada’s largest union, CUPE now has 715,000 members nationwide. “But isn’t just about strength in numbers,” Hancock stressed. “We’re also building our strength in organizing, engaging and mobilizing members for the struggles ahead.”

Hancock thanked attendees for the energy and enthusiasm they brought to the conference. “We’ve heard strategies on how to bring work back in-house, and how to fight privatization before it starts. We’ve heard how our members are fighting inflation at the bargaining table and making important gains during this cost-of-living crisis. And we’ve heard how CUPE members in all sectors are fighting back against austerity in the wake of the pandemic.”

Hancock also addressed the new threat that has emerged in politics with the election of Pierre Poilievre as Conservative leader. Like Conservatives before him, Hancock warned, Poilievre will attack unions and try to roll back workers’ rights. “Pierre is in this to privatize health care and starve our public services. And he’s in it to cut taxes even further for corporations and the ultra-rich.”

And it’s no better at the provincial level. “Almost everywhere, we’ve seen premiers claim the cupboards are bare, even as they rake in record revenues. These same politicians, who called our members heroes during the pandemic as we answered the call for our communities, are now saying we deserve a pay cut and poverty wages for our service.” An exception that stands out is British Columbia where, under an NDP government, health care and education workers recently negotiated wage increases between 5.5 and 6.75 per cent for 2023. Hancock said that’s a benchmark for upcoming fights, including the ongoing struggle for a fair contract for CUPE’s 55,000 education workers in Ontario.

“There is very little we can achieve on our own,” said Hancock. “But we know that when we stand and fight together, for each other and for our communities, we cannot be stopped.”