The Public Services International (PSI) regional conference of the Americas held in Panama in October was an exciting opportunity to meet and work with our brothers and sisters employed in public services across North and South America.
Last spring, the National Executive Committee decided that as many NEC members as possible would attend the conference in order to build solidarity with other unions fighting to defend public sector workers and public services across the Americas. As a result, general vice-presidents Claude Gnreux, Wayne Lucas and Paul Moist all attended along with Mary-Lou Tanner who was there to attend the PSI womens conference as NEB liaison to the national womens committee.
As the Canadian vice-president on the PSI, I attended the internal executive board meetings in advance of the regional conference to discuss policy papers on privatization, global action as well as equity issues. The board meeting and regional conference were both valuable opportunities for CUPE to carry forward our anti-privatization work in the international trade union movement. We did this speaking out strongly, and making amendments to a policy paper so that it would have a strong anti-privatization perspective, as well as by developing contacts with unions in many countries who are taking on privatization.
The regional conference lasted for two-and-one-half days, its theme was Forward in Solidarity: Public Sector Union Rights for Equal Opportunities, Social Justice and Trade Union Rights. An ever-present backdrop for the conference was the brutal repression of active trade unionists in many parts of the world, including Central and South America. An ICFTU survey reports that at least 140 trade unionists were assassinated or disappeared, or committed suicide in 113 countries in 1999. And in Colombia, between January 1999 and June 2000, it is estimated that 116 trade unionists were assassinated, 782 received death threats, 33 were kidnapped, and 6 disappeared not to mention countless examples of legislative violations of basic trade union rights.
CUPE delegates were active in debating several policy papers at the conference in which all CUPE delegates argued for a strong action oriented approach. CUPE also submitted a resolution on water privatization that was adopted unanimously. I was asked to speak on a panel about our campaigns and fights against privatization and to improve public services and was enthusiastically received.
The conference underscored the importance of public sector workers, throughout the Americas, working together to formulate coordinated responses to the global forces we all face. The struggle to obtain basic trade union rights, particularly in Central and South America, remains a key priority for PSI, one which deserves the full and active support of CUPE.
The PSIs World Conference is held once every five (5) years. Canada will be hosting the next World Conference, which will be held in Ottawa, in September 2002. Canadian PSI affiliates (CUPE, PSAC, NUPGE and SEIU) have already begun preliminary discussions to plan for this event.
We continue to strengthen our ties with NEHAWU, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union in South Africa. Kgaugelo Ramodise, the international secretary of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union spent a week at the National Office where he took part in the International Solidarity Committees meeting and worked with staff to plan the visit of the general secretary of NEHAWU to CUPE in the new year, as well as meeting with Toronto-area locals.
The work of the International Solidarity Committee is moving forward with four new projects approved for funding out of the national Union Aid Fund. The first is a global sweatshop campaign with Cuban workers and the Ontario Division. The second is support to NEHAWU in its fight against privatization involving the Toronto CUPE Council. The third involves Local 2204, child care workers in Ottawa and Local 2191, workers with disabled adults in Toronto, in a caregivers unity project. The project, also supported by the Ontario Division, will allow members to learn strategies for maintaining social services. Cubans have maintained strong services even though the country has been experiencing economic crisis over the past number of years. And finally, Local 974, workers at the Saskatoon Community Health Clinic are linking with counterparts in Chile to assist with training members and connecting on common issues like the fight to save Medicare and womens wages.