One word hung like a spectre over the 21st national convention. A big word that holds nothing but misery for CUPE members and their communities across Canada. That word is privatization and delegates rededicated themselves to fighting it with all the might of Canada’s largest union.
Outgoing National President Judy Darcy called it a “a bull’s-eye on CUPE jobs placed there by multinational companies that are trying to convince governments to privatize public services.”
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton saluted delegates for CUPE’s massive victory in stopping the privatization of Ontario Hydro. “You have stopped the privatization of hospitals, schools and water systems in Canada,” he added. But there remain “many threats facing public sector workers from multinational companies.”
To help remove what one delegate called the “guillotine hanging over our bargaining tables,” delegates submitted no fewer than 18 resolutions dealing directly with privatization and globalization. Many others cited these concerns as linked to workplace and societal ills affecting CUPE members and their communities.
Equally significant, they adopted a Strategic Directions document, designed to help members fight the scourge of public sector workers everywhere.
The process for achieving consensus on the document was unique, allowing delegates to send it back for revision before voting on the final draft. When they did so CUPE members agreed to a two-year strategic plan that would:
- Fund local anti-privatization campaigns
- Ensure staff support and national visibility for these campaigns
- Fight for successorship rights when members’ jobs are contracted out
- Build capacity to represent workers in the privatized public sector
- Call on the CLC to mount a campaign against public private partnerships (P3s)
- Fight against pension fund investment in privatization schemes
- Negotiate better job security provisions
- Mobilize against free trade agreements that foster the corporate takeover of public sector work
- Strengthen links to help fight privatization globally
- Bring privatized services back under public control.
University members stood to support the plan and call for greater organizing against privatization on campus. Others spoke of the need to assist small locals to fight back.
But perhaps the strongest anti-privatization voice of all came from health care workers in British Columbia where thousands of CUPE members are losing their jobs at the hands of a privatization-mad government.
“Recently our members from housekeeping, laundry, security (Vancouver General Hospital) have all been tossed out of jobs on to the street,” said a Vancouver delegate. “These people had worked and shown loyal dedication to the public service for as long as 30 years. But they’re tossed out like commodities.”
A delegate from Victoria, BC rose to the floor microphone, tears welling in her eyes, and told how the Salvation Army had given her job to a private company. “Our members are going to the food banks…. We even tried to go to Vancouver to talk to the Salvation Army, but they called the RCMP and had us removed. So here I am as a fired employee, speaking to you.”
Privatization has failed miserably, the document says. Recent crises – the ice storm, SARS, forest fires, the power outage – have reminded Canadians of the value of strong, reliable public services. And, as Darcy reminded delegates in her farewell speech, “Canada would be a very different place today if CUPE had not fought back against privatization.”
Delegates agreed and, with the adoption of the Strategic Directions, they ensured that the fight against any employer or government that attacks CUPE jobs and services would go on.
Privatization ‘monster’ is new apartheid
Privatization and its twin brother globalization took a deserved beating at the Global Justice forum in Quebec City.
“Globalization is a monster consuming all of humanity,” said Guatemalan activist Eucebio Figuero Santos. “It brings development soaked in the blood of the people of the Third World.”
Puerto Rican trade union leader José LaLuz said “nothing is more important than for the people of Canada to wipe out the Harrises, the Kleins and the Campbells. They are the scum of the earth. Defeating them is the best thing you can do for the hemisphere.”
“Privatization is a new kind of apartheid,” said South African community activist Richard “Bricks” Mokoko. “It is a crime against humanity [that] frustrates the poor to get more poor.”
Nigerian public sector union leader Sylvester Ejiofoh said that “the madness of privatizing is not in the interest of the people and we must be united to fight it.”
“We need to fight privatization using the lessons learned from the fight against apartheid,” said South African public sector union leader Roger Ronnie, adding that “the privatization bubble is going to burst.”