Welcome to Ottawa. Bienvenue a Ottawa.
Great to be here.
Im told I cant tell any more blonde jokes since its been over a year now since my hair started to grow in blonde.
But I am still taking bets or perhaps I should say bribes over how much younger I look as a blonde. And just so you know where the betting begins, at a recent staff meeting, one brother said 10 years, another said 15 and dear Denis Regimbeault said I looked 25 years younger.
I want you to know he got the fastest promotion this union has ever seen.
No paperwork just straight to the top!
But anyway, I promised no more blonde jokes.
And after putting my foot in my mouth at the Ontario workload conference a few months ago, you can be damn sure Im not going to say anything about sex or drugs. Boy, I dont think Ill ever live that one down.
Maybe Ill stick to Mike Harris jokes from now on.
Although, as you know only too well, whats happening in this province these days is no laughing matter.
Its bloody awful.
And its getting worse all the time.
You know, I was originally planning to begin today, sisters and brothers, by congratulating you on all the great struggles youve taken on in the past year.
And there have been some really great struggles where CUPE locals have shown incredible leadership and courage.
- From tough strikes by mainly very small social services locals.
- To our historic strike at York University over access to post-secondary education.
- To our strikes at the Near North School Board, and at the Toronto District School Board strike.
- From our fights against the funding formula in education
- Against private universities and private hydro and health care.
- From our child care campaign.
- To our struggles at WSIB.
- To our campaigns to save municipal services and to take on workload.
- Nos luttes dans les commissions scolaires.
- Notre lutte contre la privatisation et les coupures.
- Notre campagne pour des garderies publiques.
As a union, we have chosen the path of resistance, not accommodation. And we can be very proud of that.
But the truth is that, despite all of our struggles, despite the fact that we ARE stronger, the situation is not getting any better.
Sisters and brothers, if it was the FAR Right in control of the Tory Cabinet these last few years well, its the ULTRA far Right now. And we are facing an unprecedented assault on the working class in this province.
I mean, this is a government that has singled out the most vulnerable people in our society for special attack.
Look at social services where were talking about mainly women and workers of colour, working for poverty wages, for small agencies that have been cut to the bone.
Look at our seniors in long-term care who have had their caregivers stripped away at a moments notice because Mike Harris sold the service to the lowest bidder.
Look at single mothers whove been told theyll have to take drug tests, and pass literacy and math tests to get the welfare cheques they need to feed their families.
This government is brutal. This government is ruthless. And it is getting bolder and more brazen every day.
Just look at what they did to Local 4400 13,000 members one of the biggest and strongest union locals in the entire country.
The government introduces one of the worst pieces of back-to-work legislation we have ever seen anywhere. Local 4400 and the Toronto District School Board reach an agreementyet this government rams through the legislation anyway.
This is a government that says that government should get out of the way, stop interfering in the marketplace, stop interfering in peoples livesbut doesnt hesitate to stick it to US every chance they get.
And, now, as if they havent done enough damage already, the Tories are going to take 300 million desperately needed education dollars to prop up private schools.
At the very same time, the Harris government is unleashing a vicious attack that could spell the end of medicare as we know it.
But, you know what, when most of this stuff comes down, there is barely a peep.
Its almost like weve gotten used to it all.
And, lets be honest, were also exhausted.
The fact is, weve hit a wall a concrete wall and we have to talk about how to break that wall down.
We have to bring that wall down!
Sisters and brothers, we are witnessing an attack on peoples rights, on workers rights locally and globally that is unprecedented in our lifetimes.
Whatever stands in the way of profits is under ruthless attack from the right to strike, to the right to demonstrate, to eliminating public services and social programs outright.
The forces of world capitalism have clearly decided that the era of compromise is over. They are determined to dismantle what we have fought for decades to achieve.
Thats what poor-bashing is all about.
Thats what the attack on aboriginal rights and people of colour is all about.
Thats what attacking pay equity and employment equity is all about.
Thats what expanding forced overtime is all about.
Thats what back-to-work legislation against Local 4400 is all about.
Thats what this bold and brazen drive to privatize health care and education is all about.
This is a huge moment for us, sisters and brothers in our union, in this province, in this country.
This is not a time for small measures.
This is a time for boldness.
This is a time to say, We have to STOP them.
Not just talk about it.
Not just protest about it.
We have to stop them from carrying out their agenda.
You remember when Mike Harris was first elected, and his Education Minister John Snobelen said, Were going to have to create a crisis. To bring about our Common Sense Revolution, were going to have to create a crisis. And they did.
Well, sisters and brothers, I say if were going to undo THEIR revolution were going to have to create a crisis too.
We have to make it impossible for Harris to govern and get away with his agenda!
How do we do that?
There arent any simple answers.
But I believe the following elements are absolutely key.
Number One: BUILD STRONG LOCAL UNIONS
Strong and powerful local unions are what make a strong union.
Its not enough to have militant leaders lead the charge. Real power is not about a union leader standing up and saying we have to go on strike. We all know its easy to talk the talk.
Real power comes from thousands of strong strike votes backed up by a willingness to walk the walk.
Real power comes from the hard, never ending work that activists and staff do to build the membership.
Real power comes from mobilizing our members to take action for themselves in every workplace, in every local union, in every community across this province.
Thats the kind of power Im proud to say we have been building throughout CUPE these last few years.
And I believe with every fiber of my being that we have to continue to build an even stronger, even more powerful membership-based union in this province and in this country in the future.
NUMBER TWO : We have to go on the offensive like never before.
We spent a few years in Ontario organizing Days of Action in one community after another.
The last few years, re-focused on collective bargaining and on fighting privatization and cutbacks at the local and sectoral level.
And, let me be clear, collective bargaining will always be our first line of defence.
- But when this government decides to hang our small locals out to dry for months on end on the picket line.
- When this government can legislate Local 4400 back to work and get away with it.
- When this government makes contracting out in municipalities a condition of getting transfer payments.
- When this government openly promotes private education and private health care.
I say its time to move this struggle to a whole new level.
I say its time to talk about co-ordinated action on a major scale in this province.
I say its time to call for an emergency Ontario summit of the OFL and our coalition partners like OCAP and the Ontario Health Coalition and child care coalition and youth groups in order to develop a set of demands and an action plan to take this government on.
We have to start hitting this government with the same force theyre using to hit us.
It is time to mobilize the broadest coalitions we have ever built to defend our rights and to defend democracy itself because that is exactly whats at stake.
And lets be very clear that youth must play a central role in that alliance, sisters and brothers, because they know its their future and this planets future thats at risk and they have shown incredible courage and leadership in taking on the right wing agenda.
We need to plan and strategize together with other unions and our coalition partners about what it will take to STOP this right wing agenda.
And that includes being prepared to take part in civil disobedience and economic disruption, sisters and brothers. I think we have to be clear about that as a union.
But lets also be clear that being effective in civil disobedience means being highly-organized and well prepared in advance to deal with tear gas, or whatever it is theyre going to lob at us the way Local 3903 from York University, for example, prepared their members in advance for Quebec City. Otherwise their tear gas will simply drive us away.
And one of the tactics we may have to use is building for a concerted general strike by the entire labour movement and our coalition partners if thats what it takes to stop this agenda.
The key, sisters and brothers, is to be strategic.
The key is to be effective.
The key is to build support for whatever tactic we decide on local by local, member by member and from other unions.
The key is to build massive resistance on the ground.
NUMBER THREE: ESCALATE STRIKE SUPPORT
If the last year has shown us anything, its that we absolutely must put together solid bargaining and strike strategies that will give us more clout.
And we have to make every single strike in CUPE a rallying point for our union and the labour movement.
Strike support has to become more than a few local union leaders bringing their banners to a solidarity picket. It has to mean mobilizing hundreds and thousands of CUPE members.
We can take a chapter from some of our own CUPE university local activists who, like other youth groups, organized their members into affinity groups for the protests in Quebec City and from the flying squads that Local 4400 organized during their strike.
These flying squads would ensure that 100, 200, or 500, people, whatever number was needed, could be sent to shut down a school or go to a rally on very short notice.
Imagine the impact we could have if every single CUPE local organized one or more affinity groups that could swing into action to supportanother CUPE local.
Imagine if we could do that for every single CUPE strike.
Imagine if we could organize not just solidarity pickets but solidarity WALK-OUTS when a local like 4400 is under fire.
Talk about solidarity! Talk about an injury to one REALLY is an injury to all.
It will take commitment.
It will take resources
And it will take planning and co-operation.
But I want to be absolutely crystal clear that I am 100% committed to making it happen.
Because the bottom line is No CUPE local should ever stand alone.
And sisters and brothers, no member should stand alone either.
When we have members forced to work in conditions that are hazardous to our health when we have members who are close to the breaking point over workload
I say its time to take job action over workload and other health and safety issues.
We have the right to refuse unsafe work and were going to start to exercise that right not just individually, but COLLECTIVELY, sisters and brothers.
NUMBER FOUR: ESCALATE THE FIGHT AGAINST PRIVATIZATION LOCALLY AND GLOBALLY
CUPE has been on the cutting edge of the fight against privatization.
The Canadian Council on Public Private Partnerships is very clear in its official documents that CUPE is the major obstacle in the path to privatization right across this country.
And were goddamn proud of that.
Thats exactly where we plan to stay!.
For 3 years now, sisters and brothers, as a National Union weve been saying: Water is a vital source of life and health and must not become source of profit instead.
We in CUPE have also been on the cutting edge in a campaign to save medicare and were going to continue to lead that fight.
Because we know, as CUPE members, that public services are a great equalizer in our society.
Public services are our public wealth.
We wont let anyone take them away.
And one of the most important ways to escalate the fight against selling off our public services, sisters and brothers, is for CUPE locals to get even more active in fighting against so-called free trade agreements.
They call it globalization. But its all about corporate greed.
In the name of free markets and free trade, they are giving employers free reign to run roughshod over workers everywhere.
In the name of bringing down barriers, they are bringing down the public services and the rights and protections we fought for decades to achieve.
In the name of opening our doors wide to the so-called new world economy, theyre slamming the door shut on democracy and on peoples rights.
Thats why in Quebec City there were thousands and thousands of young people determined to stand their ground despite tens of thousands of canisters of tear gasdespite rubber bullets and water cannons despite hundreds of arrests.
Thats why there was the most massive mobilization of citizens against free trade in Canadas history 60,000 people strong in that Saturday march.
And Im proud to say that the biggest labour contingent of all was from CUPE.
I also want to say solidarity gets expressed in many different ways, sisters and brothers.
Chrt0069en says good activists, bad activists. We in CUPE dont believe there are good activists and bad activists.
We should not focus debate on who went to the wall on a particular day and who didnt.
Many of us took part in fact initiated and led a march of labour to join up with the youth on Friday to go to the wall in an act of solidarity others were there for hours on end at different times all tear gased.
Lets focus instead on how the whole movement becomes more militant.
We need lots of different tactics. Both 100s of 1000s of parents and students and seniors
And even more people than ever before prepared to take part in direct action.
And Im committed to making that happen.
There is a very powerful movement building in this country to challenge the power of the corporations.
Quebec City was a great beginning. But it was only a beginning
The General Agreement on Trades in Services is being negotiated right now and despite what our government tells us about public services being protected the fact is theyre ready to give them all away.
When the WTO meets next in remote Qatar, we have to organize protests in every community to show them that they can run but they can never, ever hide.
And a year from now, the G8 will meet here in Ottawa, and already the mayor of Ottawa is talking about another wall.
Well I say its time we had, not just youth, but thousands of trade unionists too, saying: Dont go there. Were not going to let that happen!
As a labour movement, we have to be prepared to take direct action on trade agreements, the same way we do on collective agreements because the stakes are so high
We have to force the government to back off their dangerous agenda.
We have to build even more effective actions to tell our government in no uncertain terms:
- We want ALL our public services of the table.
- You have no mandate to trade them away.
NUMBER FIVE: UNITY IN THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
The fifth and final issue unity in the labour movement.
It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out that we cant defeat right-wing governments if we are fighting each other.
We cant protect medicare or water or public education if were fighting off raids.
And we sure as hell cant persuade unorganized workers of the benefits of joining a union if were divided against ourselves.
Cutthroat competition may be the order of the day in the corporate boardroom but I say it has no place in the labour movement.
I have already made it crystal clear at the CLC that I believe the rules in the CLC Constitution have to be changed so that raiding is stopped as soon as it starts.
And I have also stated very clearly that we need rules to ensure CO-OPERATION amongst unions so that we use our resources to work together to organize unorganized workers not to organize each others members.
In the past 10 years, Im proud to say CUPE has organized 60,000 new UNORGANIZED workers, and we have brought in 60,000 new members through mergers. Thats 120,000 new members in all!
And today CUPE is half a million members strong.
But I say that organizing the unorganized must also become a COLLECTIVE priority for the ENTIRE labour movement with us supporting private sector unions when theyre trying to organize a grocery store or a parts plant or a McDonalds in our communitiesand private sector unions supporting us to bring unorganized public sector workers into CUPE.
Because public sector workers are stronger and more powerful when theyre in a union with other public sector workers!
I also believe very strongly, sisters and brothers, and I think its time to make this a concrete goal I think its time to say were going to put the rivalries and egos and differences aside and work to build one big public sector union!
The enemy of CUPE members is not other unions.
The enemy of CUPE members is not inside this room.
Sisters and brothers, we are meeting today for an Ontario Division convention.
But we are very much a part of a world-wide resistance movement of workers and people fighting exactly the same fights were fighting.
And we have to build the kind of mobilization that when Local 4400 or any other local gets legislated back to work
They do not stand alone.
We have to build the kind of mobilization that when they come after OCAP again we all say:
No more poor-bashing. OCAP will not stand alone
We have to have the kind of mobilization that when the G-8 comes to Ottawa next year, that they dont DARE to erect a wall because WE say were not going to let it happen.
We have to be prepared to take direct action on trade agreements, the same way we do on collective agreements because the stakes are so high.
Sisters and brothers, we live in one of the richest countries on the face of the earth.
Its about time that workers who created that wealth started to share that wealth.
Its time to put that wealth back into public services,
back into our communities,
back into our workplaces where it belongs!
Thank you very much.