Candace Rennick | National Secretary-Treasurer

Bringing members together to raise our living standards is one of the most important things our union does. We do it when we bargain with employers and press governments for better social protections.

Government programs — like universal pensions, free dental care, accessible and affordable pharmacare, unemployment insurance, paid sick benefits and paid parental leave — are critical to our and our families’ well-being. It is why they are sometimes called social wages — and unions must fight for them just as hard as we fight for good pay.

CUPE has a long history of campaigning for universal social programs and comprehensive public services. With a recession looming, and governments signalling big spending cuts, this work has renewed importance.

For example, consider child care, which has suffered decades of chronic underfunding in this country, worker shortages caused by a pervasive, often sexist view of their role, and by the lack of decent wages and working conditions.

In 2021, we won a breakthrough when the federal government agreed to build a Canada-wide early learning and child care system. It is the first new large-scale social initiative since medicare. The impact will be profound for everyone, not just those of us with kids.

When mothers have access to affordable child care, they can fully participate in the workforce and earn more. Families are more economically secure. And high-quality child care gives all children, especially the most vulnerable, equitable opportunities for early learning.

Moreover, child care has far-reaching economic benefits. The public cost of universal child care is more than repaid through the higher tax revenues that come with more people working.

One economic study concludes that a universal child care program would create over 200,000 new jobs in child care and another 80,000 jobs in industries that supply the sector. The study also estimates an increase of labour force participation and employment by up to 725,000 Canadian women. This is massive job creation in every community in Canada. Annual GDP and extra government revenues would increase too — a counterpunch to the recession that high interest rates and spending cuts are bringing our way.

Of course, it is one thing for the federal government to promise a child care program. It is another thing to get it built right and in a way that will raise the pay of those who work in child care.

Fifty years of child care advocacy have taught us what to do to win improved social programs. We must direct resources to the challenge. We must build membership support just like we do when we bargain a contract. We must convince those who remain unconvinced. We must mobilize the full power of our union, working hand in hand with others who want change.

We have shown repeatedly that when our rights are under attack, our labour movement is strong — and we will stand up for each other as family. And after every win, we will keep fighting to ensure no one takes away the precious gains we have made.