CUPE’s municipal sector meeting focused on strategies to protect jobs and communities from the right-wing agenda of cuts, privatization and service reviews.
While municipal workers are under attack, they are also holding the line and even making bargaining and contracting-in gains in some locals and regions.
In a panel discussion, CUPE members and staff outlined a winning anti-privatization campaign in Penticton, an ongoing community anti-cuts campaign in Peterborough, and the dangers of the Canada-EU Trade Agreement.
CUPE national representative Zoe Magnus told the story of how CUPE 608 members organized to keep Penticton, BC’s community centre public.
The workers were alert and noticed an early warning sign of privatization. They called on CUPE research and communications support to immediately launch a campaign. Strong community support was another key asset, as was training for local activists.
Being prepared is absolutely key, says Magnus.
“It’s important that we do the daily work of building our capacity to fight back. We can’t wait for the threat of privatization – we must always be prepared to defend public services in our communities,” she told delegates.
CUPE 126 president Lynda Bolton shared a campaign that’s underway in Peterborough, where all three municipal CUPE locals are working together to protect services from new user fees, funding cuts and contracting out.
The locals are organizing community allies into the Coalition for a better Peterborough.
The local has trained its members to lobby their councillors. They’re also working with city staff. “It’s a smaller community, so we know city staff and they know us. We can go and sit down and talk with them,” says Bolton.
CUPE members are making themselves visible in the community, where many play leadership roles in sports teams and other local groups. They’re also encouraging Peterborough residents to tell their municipal councilors to keep services well-funded, affordable and public.
The meeting closed with a clear warning about the dangers of CETA, a new trade deal being negotiated between Canada and the European Union.
Water and wastewater services are major targets of the trade deal, says CUPE researcher Blair Redlin. “European water companies are behind this push. They want into our water sector, which is still overwhelmingly public.”
European multinationals want sweeping new investor rights powers, like those in the North American Free Trade Agreement. “Corporations want to be able to sue Canadian governments for policies they pass that deprive corporations of future profits,” says Redlin.
CETA will also hurt public health care. If the deal is passed, brand-name drug companies will have longer patent for their products, keeping cheaper generic medication off the market.
Redlin says the fight to stop this international deal starts locally. “Your provinces and your communities are the best places to fight this. Ask your municipal council to hear your concerns and pass an anti-CETA motion.”