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Delegates attending CUPE’s Ontario Division’s annual convention in Sault Marie, May 28-30, were in a fighting mood as they promised to step up their battles against the Harris government cutbacks and any attempt at privatization.

“We will not go down the road to the American model of health care, where the quality of care you get depends on the size of your pocketbook. The same with education,” CUPE President Judy Darcy said after her speech to the 550 delegates. (To see a complete text of Darcy’s speech click on “Darcy at Ontario Division on the CUPE Web site’s home page.)

“We are going to continue to be militant,” CUPE Ontario Division President Syd Ryan said. “We are going to continue to be a thorn in the side of the Harris government.”

In an interview with the media, Ryan said the Division is beginning to rally its members for the next provincial election.

“We’ve demonstrated we have the ability to move the government off course,” he said. “With workfare we’ve basically derailed the program and we played a major role in killing Bill 136 so we know if we pull together and work together we have the ability to make changes.”

But it’s going to take hard work on everybody’s part, said Ryan. “No one person, either staff rep or local president, can carry the weight of a local union on their shoulders any more. No matter how hard we try we can’t deliver on our own anymore.”

High incidents of burnout have been reported. As many as 20 staff reps are off on sick leave daily in Ontario, he said. In order to change that, and to make CUPE a louder voice and a stronger union, policy must change and membership must change with it, Ryan said.

“In too many cases it’s an overworked rep and a tiny handful of people trying to do it all. Our policy of organizing the organized declares this must change,” he said.

He also told the delegates it’s time to mobilize sectors, such as health and education, throughout the province in order to reach common goals.

CUPE’s strategy should also include renewed support for the provincial NDP, said Ryan. Relations between CUPE and the NDP government of Bob Rae were strained when the government instituted a “Social Contract” which cut public employee wages.

“In the past we’ve had problems with the NDP but I say let’s bury it right now, right here in Sault Ste. Marie,” Sid Ryan said at a noon hour demonstration

Ryan said the NDP now has a new leader - Howard Hampton - who has made changes and is listening to the public sector and what unions have to say about the Tory changes to the public sector.

“He’s demonstrated a need to listen and to consult with people on a wide basis and to listen to coalition groups and poverty groups and senior citizens,” Ryan said.

Ryan was acclaimed to his fourth term as president. Brian O’Keefe was also acclaimed in his position of Secretary-treasurer.