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Impromptu demo characterizes militant mood at Saturday session

More than 500 local leaders from HEU worksites across B.C. gathered in Richmond Saturday for an emergency meeting called in response to the all-out assault by the Campbell Liberals on health care, social programs and legally negotiated contracts. Discussions focused on planning a sustainable, long-term fight back against the Campbell agenda and were punctuated in the mid-afternoon by an impromptu demonstration on a nearby airport access road.

HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt says HEU’s local leaders established the need to further broaden the people’s opposition to the Campbell agenda in their own community.

“Building our coalitions is critical,” says Allnutt. “But just as important in the minds of our local leaders is continuing to educate our members and to engage them in a discussion on the range of actions they’ll participate in to fight a government that has no respect for legally negotiated contracts.”

Community groups along with public and private sector union leaders joined HEU representatives from locals around the province to put Campbell’s agenda in a broader context.

“Unity is imperative,” said B.C. Federation of labour president Jim Sinclair. “If we let them isolate us, we are lost before we start.”

Representatives from poverty, students, seniors, disabled, immigrant support and women’s groups told of what is happening to them. All the help available to the most vulnerable people in our society to help them live in dignity is at risk, condemning many to a lifetime of poverty, abuse, isolation, ill health and even death.

Seniors’ activist Ben Swankey spoke of the struggles his contemporaries waged to build a comprehensive set of social programs – only to be treated like so much dirty laundry at the end of their lives. “But,” he said. “British Columbians have a proud history of fighting for their rights. Now we are embarking on another historic movement.”

From Great Britain, researcher Dr. Allyson Pollock said the Liberals’ actions so far fit into the same pattern that resulted in mass privatization of health care services and facilities in her country.

The second half of the day was taken up with activists speaking of their frustrations and fears, but also of their ideas to fight back.

There was a frank discussion about how ready the rank and file are and how far they are willing to go to defend their jobs and the people they care for. It was in this context that one member got up and said, “I’m tired of all this talk. There’s a highway right outside this hotel. Let’s march out there and block it for a few minutes.” And march out they did, and then came back and resumed their discussion - much invigorated.

Judy Darcy, president of CUPE National, wrapped up the conference.

“This has been an inspiring day for me. I know the activists in this room are committed to going back to their locals and their communities to convince them they are central to this fight,” she said.

“I believe that by attacking so many people so swiftly and so viciously, Campbell has created his own worse nightmare!”