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CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill opened the union’s 44th annual convention last night with a passionate speech that praised CUPE members’ efforts to defend public services at home and abroad while pointing to some of the challenges that lie ahead.

O’Neill began his speech by touching on some of the union’s organizing efforts, including a mapping project that will give child care workers in schools, municipalities, colleges and universities throughout B.C. an opportunity to join the CUPE family.

“We understand there are other unions out there that have the same view when it comes to making sure childcare workers get the respect and recognition they so deserve,” said O’Neill. “This need not be a competition. We need to work together as a movement to make sure our goals are achieved.”

The CUPE BC president also praised the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination for its tireless efforts to make the union more welcoming for members who are people of colour, immigrants, people with disabilities, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, or aboriginal people. And he reminded delegates of the importance of the union’s international projects in Colombia, Cuba and Nicaragua.

“All three of these projects are again a reflection of CUPE members’ willingness to step up to the plate and make a real difference in people’s lives,” he said.

But O’Neill added that the BC Liberal government’s aggressive shift to public-private partnerships for all major infrastructure developments in B.C., and its promotion of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), mean that CUPE members cannot afford to be complacent about the future.

“If there was ever a time for us to stay vigilant, if there was ever a time for us to stand together, if we truly do believe in our communities and our future, then the time to fight back is now,” he said.

O’Neill also took time to single out the many activists, particularly those in CUPE 1978 and the Greater Victoria Water Watch Coalition, who are leading one of the most important P3 fights in the province involving the Capital Regional District’s proposed sewage treatment facility.

Today’s agenda includes guest speeches from CUPE National president Paul Moist and BC New Democratic Party leader Carole James.