CUPE BC’s 58th annual convention concluded with delegates committed to building an inclusive union and labour movement where all voices are heard and meaningfully contribute to the fight for a better British Columbia.

“We need to ensure that all members can participate in our Union with as few barriers as possible,” President Karen Ranalletta said in her opening night speech. “Inclusion in our Union also means safe and accountable spaces. Talking about gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination that occurs in union spaces is difficult, stigmatizing and traumatizing. Our members need to know they can participate in our Union with confidence that we will not tolerate harassment, discrimination, or violence in our spaces.”

A highlight of convention, and an expression of the union’s commitment to inclusion, was the keynote address by journalist and activist Desmond Cole. The author of The Skin We’re In challenged delegates to speak the uncomfortable truths and challenge racism in all its forms. Decolonization is not just about justice for Indigenous peoples, said Cole, but also rethinking our relationships with the Indigenous territories we occupy. 

Consistent with this message, Elder Sam George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation was present throughout convention. In addition to supporting the Indigenous Committee, he led a cleansing ceremony each morning, which was open to all delegates, and served as an alternate to the ombudsperson for delegates who needed support.

Premier John Horgan provided a moving address in which he thanked CUPE members for their work and spoke with passion about the important role of public services in B.C. communities. He outlined the work ahead for his government in making a more fair and inclusive economy, addressing climate change, and strengthening healthcare and education.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh thanked CUPE members for their tireless political action in the past federal election, which boosted the NDP’s seat count through victories in the ridings targeted by CUPE BC’s campaign work. Singh’s address focussed on the historic Confidence and Supply Agreement negotiated with the federal Liberals, which will deliver the largest expansion of public healthcare in a generation. The agreement’s real title, he said, is the Anhad Accord—a reference to his baby daughter Anhad, whose name means “limitless”, representing the hopes of a future generation to live in economic prosperity and well-being without limits.

“You are some of our most ardent supporters, so you deserve to feel excitement about these changes. People are going to get dental coverage, access to medication, and more affordable housing, because of you,” said Singh.

On the final day of convention, BC Federation of Labour President Laird Cronk cautioned CUPE members to never forget the damage done to the province, and working people in particular, by the BC Liberals.

“We need to remember what’s at stake…. Let’s not forget what the BC Liberals did. Kevin Falcon had his hands on the levers. He wants you to forget, but the BCFED won’t,” said Cronk of BC Liberal leader Falcon, a union-bashing former cabinet minister in the Gordon Campbell government.

As the highest form of democratic decision-making in CUPE BC, the convention provides members with a venue to set direction. This year’s convention was focussed on making our work more inclusive of equity, diversity and reconciliation, and on creating safer union spaces for Indigenous workers, women and other marginalized voices.

“From resolutions seeking internal and societal change towards more inclusive systems and structures, to those calling on us to recommit to improving the lives of our most vulnerable, underpaid and precarious CUPE members, next year’s work is clear,” said Ranalletta.

With most elections scheduled for 2023, there was only one vote at this year’s convention. David Robertson was re-elected as a Trustee and will serve a three-year term.

National President Mark Hancock and Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick outlined their work to fight privatization in all its forms, support public services, and take a hard line against discrimination and intolerance inside our Union and across our communities.

“There will be no justice or equality without bargaining or political action,” said Rennick. “We must fight for those at the bottom of the pay scale. When we campaign, we must do so every time to improve equity.”

Much of what CUPE BC does to fight for members and support locals is made possible by the strong financial position of the organization, and the studious management of members’ resources. This was the message of Secretary-Treasurer Trevor Davies, who reported on the growth of CUPE BC’s net assets, the funds provided to support the unexpected costs of the pandemic and extreme weather events. He also expressed his vision for continued growth of CUPE BC’s resources and capacity.

“I am committed to developing the resources and structures to take on any fight, against any adversary, at any time,” said Davies.

Reflection on this year’s convention, Ranalletta said that CUPE’s politics have always been rooted in solidarity.

“We are one hundred and four thousand strong in this province,” she told delegates, “and the only way we win is when we stand together.”