Pierre Ducasse: Claude, very soon you will be leaving your duties as National Secretary-Treasurer. Looking to the future, what do you see as the major challenges CUPE must prepare for?
Claude Généreux: First of all, as a union, we can no longer take anything for granted. As we have seen in the case of Canada Post and Air Canada, the federal government with its threats of special legislation, does not accept the principle of collective bargaining. This calls to mind the 1981 strike in the United States by air traffic controllers, who were crushed by Reagan—it was a major setback for union rights. We must counter the decline and continuous waning of the union movement that we have witnessed for close to thirty years.
It is also disturbing to see the disproportionate role of the speculative economy. We have a kind of “financial hyperreality” that is adversely affecting real jobs. The crisis we experienced and the public debt are the consequences of the folly of certain “financial engineers” who wanted to make billions through mere speculation, not through the creation of real wealth.
Thirdly, I would underscore the dangers of free-trade agreements, such as those with various Latin American and European countries. These agreements signify a return to a quasi-feudal, inegalitarian society. For example, in Mexico, ten people own ten per cent of the wealth of the entire country. Many private corporations would like to be able to use these trade agreements to get their hands on our public services. Also we need to continue the struggle against the privatization of resources, such as water.
Finally, I would mention the climate challenge. Social and economic justice implies that we are duty bound to protect our planet. Investments will need to be made to ensure a just transition to a green economy, while creating jobs. Our union must continue its actions to that end.
PD: In looking at the union movement generally and its challenges, what advice could you give for what lies ahead?
CG: First of all, the union movement must seriously think about ways to organize and communicate differently with its members. There are fewer “typical” jobs, such as industrial 9 to 5 jobs. More and more workers are in atypical, part-time or on-call jobs. Consider, for example, those who work in the area of home care. The union movement must adapt to these new realities.
Secondly, unions must not be reluctant to work closely with other allies of civil society, notably on issues of privatization. For example, private-sector unions undoubtedly gain from the existence of good public services.
Finally, the union movement has a duty to concern itself with issues that are not always confined to the immediate interests of its members. There are much broader social issues on which the union movement must act. I am thinking, for example, of tax justice, pensions and the lessening of social inequalities. The union must fight for everyone.
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