It was a humbling week of networking, debate, learning and tears for CUPE delegates at the 100th anniversary world congress of Public Services International last week in Vienna, Austria.
On the last day of congress, delegates welcomed Peter Waldorff as the new general secretary of the 20-million-member global union federation. They also said a tearful farewell to the departing Hans Engelberts.
Waldorff comes to us from the HK-Stat, the Danish union for government and public employees, where he has been president since 2001. He has been a member of PSI’s executive board since 1998 and also sits on the European Federation of Public Service Unions’ standing committee. Waldorff beat out Keith Sonnet of UNISON, the United Kingdom’s public sector union.
“From today we stay united,” Waldorff told delegates. “I reach out two hands to all of you. We will go forward in friendship, solidarity and success in our future co-operation. We will not be the victims of yesterday’s agenda. We will set tomorrow’s agenda.”
Engelberts, having received repeated standing ovations for his 26 years of service to PSI, went to the podium in tears and speechless. Speakers gave him credit for providing strong direction in steering the world body.
Waldorff has been invited to attend CUPE’s national convention in Toronto, Oct. 15-19.
Workshop reports and resolutions adopted
CUPE delegates heard final reports from the six formal workshops. During the week, they attended and contributed their views to sessions on health, utilities, municipal services, worker migration, public administration and international solidarity.
Delegates also attended several informal workshops on privatization, labour rights, trade agreements, women and young unionists, Iraq and Palestine, water, sustainable development, worker fatigue and the future of unions in the public sector.
All 22 resolutions were presented, including amendments, but some were referred to the new PSI executive board. The final resolution document will not be ready before the end of October and will include emergency resolutions on Burma and Iraq.
CUPE’s resolution calling for the recognition of a Venezuelan union body was referred to the incoming board and will be discussed at its first meeting in April 2008.
Genereux on privatization at plenary session
National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Genereux addressed the plenary session on Sept. 27 to drive home the need to be ever vigilant about privatization.
“It is a constant threat to public services the world over,” he said, “Congress delegates have demonstrated their shared concern for this threat and a willingness to fight it together.”
Genereux emphasised the need to see that fight as one for quality public services, an overarching theme for PSI, and as the best way to fight global poverty.
CUPE delegates informed others at the congress about CUPE’s campaign with Oxfam to fight poverty through the promotion of better public services.
Delegates comment on congress
CUPE delegates were both humbled and inspired by the world congress. Here are some of there comments.
“The congress is a good reminder that despite some of the problems we face with regressive governments in Canada, there are millions of workers in other countries who need our solidarity,” general vice-president Rick Macmillan said. “Workers are still risking their lives in some countries for basic labour and human rights.”
“It was not so long ago in our own history that people put their jobs and indeed their lives on the line to gain the precious rights we now enjoy,” added the New Brunswick . ”We need to remind our members of this always.”
“Humbling is the word which comes to mind,” CUPE 500 member Denyse Lambert said. “What became clear to me during the week was that the thread which binds us is the agenda of governments to privatize and diminish the role of public services.
“More importantly, we saw how much we have: our collective agreements, our right to strike, our democracy and our ability to change legislation to maintain workers’ rights,” said Lambert, a member of the national global justice committee. “Others are killed, tortured, harassed or disappear in the struggle to maintain whatever democratic rights they have as trade unionists.
“They do not give up. Giving up is not part of their vocabulary. Neither is giving in or not getting started,” she added. “As a sister from UNISON in the U.K. said: ‘Complacency is the enemy of progress’.”
“Realizing the realities of our labour movement compared to those in Korea, Colombia, Iraq or Palestine certainly makes me appreciate what we have,” CUPE national executive board member Candace Rennick said. “But it also reinforces how important it us for us not to lose what we have because we set a bar for others to reach.
“I learned a lot about the gender inequities from around the world, about the desire of young people to claim their rightful place in the movement, about the realities of some countries, and about the constant threat of privatization,” Rennick, also on the executive of CUPE Ontario. “I learned how climate change is really about survival for so many. I learned that international solidarity has no borders.”
The next PSI world congress is set for 2012 in South Africa.