CUPE members attending the national sector council conference got a powerful reminder that they are the heart and soul of winning campaigns to stop privatization and reclaim public services.

The third day of meetings kicked off with an energizing plenary panel that shared lessons from across sectors, and across the country.

A common thread in all panelist stories was that fighting privatization takes an all-hands-on-deck approach.

For CUPE 3247 grievance officer Patrick Hallé, that meant mobilizing members to defend public services within his local, as well as sector-wide and provincially. Hallé described how he and members of his social services local documented the sky-high costs of contracting out and used the strong language in their collective agreement to bring services back in house.

He also stressed the importance of in-house expertise in all aspects of public services, including administration workers who are behind the scenes but vital to supporting strong public services. The local took advantage of the fallout from a provincial inquiry into corruption and collusion in private-sector contracting to make their case. “Privatization has a bad public image,” said Hallé. “People are suspicious of everything to do with privatization.”

Every member has a role to play in defending public services, said Hallé. “We need to develop that reflex to be on the lookout every day,” he said.

CUPE members in Newfoundland and Labrador are staring down a sweeping program of asset sales and privatization in the name of austerity, but so far it’s the government that’s blinked, said CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador President Sherry Hillier.

A massive outreach and organizing campaign is mobilizing members and community allies across the entire province to “Reject the Reset.” Hillier said the work has one simple but essential goal: “get the members on the same page and ready to go and fight.”

Members and allies are holding the line, and nothing has been privatized yet, she said. Provincial elected officials are feeling the heat from thousands of emails, widespread media coverage, and high CUPE visibility - especially in the small and rural communities that will be hardest hit by cuts and privatization.  

The same persistence that’s on display in Newfoundland and Labrador is the backbone of the successful 20-year campaign to bring health support workers back in house in British Columbia. Hospital Employees’ Union communications officer Thi Vu shared the inspiring story of how HEU members never gave up after mass privatization led to the firing of 10,000 health care workers in the early 2000s. The effects were devastating. The vast majority of this highly racialized workforce is women, many of them new immigrants.

HEU fought back on every possible front, always ensuring the members were front and centre. “We needed to make these our members’ campaigns. We made sure members had ownership of the campaigns, that they could themselves at every stage and could see themselves in the fight,” said Vu. HEU focused on developing members as leaders, and shared members’ stories widely – which helped shift public opinion to the workers’ side.

Early in the campaign, workers were galvanized by a groundbreaking legal win at the Supreme Court of Canada that recognized collective bargaining as a constitutional right. At the same time, HEU reorganized privatized workers, against the backdrop of constant instability because of contract flipping. Coordinated bargaining left corporations facing a united front, and sustained political action elected an NDP government committed to reversing privatization. With about 4,000 workers coming back in house, Vu said the members are committed to keep fighting until every privatized member is reunited with other members of the public health care team.