Marc Xuereb | CUPE National Services Department

Strongly-worded proposals and experienced negotiating skills will only get you so far at the bargaining table.

The work of bargaining includes the ability to mobilize CUPE members to speak out, take action, and show our employers that the costs of not giving us what we want are higher than giving it to us.

To mobilize, first we need to communicate with our members, both telling them what the union is doing and listening to their concerns. It means inviting members to participate in actions ranging from wearing union swag, to sharing social media posts, to attending meetings and rallies.

In short, it means campaigning to engage our members in action to change our workplaces – and the world. However, campaigning is not always a skill or role that union leaders assume they need. But it’s critical to the core work of our union.

Maureen O’Reilly knows this from her own experience. Shortly after she became president of the newly-formed CUPE 4948 in 2010, Maureen led a campaign to let everyone know who the employees of the Toronto Public Library were and what they did to provide a vitally important public service, despite the library sector’s woeful underfunding and the fact that half of the workers were in precarious part-time jobs.

That campaign is ongoing. Its creative tactics have included showing up at city council and library board meetings, hosting booths (and ice cream trucks) at community festivals, producing swag for members and the public, producing videos, and much more.

“Campaigning is a continual journey. You can’t just do it once and stop there,” Maureen advises. “You employ different tactics, but you can say the same thing over and over, because it takes so long for politicians and the public to digest your message.”

CUPE 4948 saw their work bear fruit through two rounds of bargaining, including a strike in 2012. That strike ended as a victory for the local. The city backed away from all 32 concessions it had tabled, and the members made gains on vision benefits, among other gains.

Our union is determined to make CUPE 4948’s experience more common among CUPE members across the country. At our 2017 National Convention, delegates committed to creating a campaign program and tools to build our members’ skills and capacity to defend public services, and to resist concessions across sectors.

It’s a win-win. The skills we learn and practice when we mobilize members to support a specific political campaign are essential tools for resisting concessions and gaining improvements at the bargaining table.