National Leaders Speak to Fed Delegates

November 29, 2012

MoveUP delegates headed out of an early-morning caucus meeting into their seats on the convention floor in time to hear talks from Lynne Dodson of the Washington State Labor Council and Celeste Drake of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition.

Dodson talked to BC Fed delegates about the lessons unions learned in the most recent Presidential election. In the end, Dodson said the vote showed a rejection of the right-wing attack on social services and working people.

“People voted and they showed we don’t want to take the low road for economic recovery. We don’t want to cut services to the elderly, to the poor, to the vulnerable. We don’t want to cut serves, programs, public education. We don’t want to weaken Social Security or Medicaid,” said Dodson.

Dodson went on to urge the labour movement to continue to articulate a more positive, fairer vision of our society: “We want those who have profited from our economic system to pay their fair share”

“We need to continue to see and articulate the big picture, a prosperous future for everyone where everyone pays their fair share. We need to continue to have vision and build policies that serve our communities, unionized and not alike,” Dodson concluded.

Next, Celeste Drake of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition talked about issues with international trade agreements, including the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), which Canada has recently signed on to. Drake pointed out this is an idea revived from the years of the Bush administration. It’s a proposed agreement between 11 countries including NAFTA countries plus New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brazil.

“It will function a lot like the WTO in that new countries will just join and they’ll sign on to whatever rules are set,” Drake explained. Drake said the TPP will be structured like other free trade agreements, with the same problematic chapters but nothing new on currency manipulation, elimination of precarious work, job security, or good job creation.

Like other agreements, the TPP allows corporations to sue our federal or provincial governments through an international arbitration panel that will only be allowed to rule on whether or not the agreement was violated.

“It’s not going to decide if the public good outweighs corporate interests,” Drake explained.

Next came the elections, but before that MoveUP President David Black rose on a point of personal privilege to speak in tribute to MoveUP Organizing Director Dave McPherson, who is fighting cancer. After describing Dave’s contributions to our union and the NDP, including recently managing Joe Trasolini’s historic by-election win in Port Moody, David Black asked the floor to: “Please stand with me as we recognize his contribution to our movement, and as we stand with him in his fight with cancer.”

The big morning debate was around a composite resolution on the Enbridge pipeline. The resolution proposed that the Federation oppose the construction of new pipelines designed for the transport of raw bitumen until an independent and comprehensive environmental impact review is completed and made public and First Nations communities withdraw their objections.  Although MoveUP supported the resolution, people on both sides of the issue had concerns with the resolution’s language and it was defeated after a heated debate.

Jim Sinclair was re-elected President of the BC Federation of Labour. He thanked challenger Michelle Laurie of the IBEW and promised to continue to work with her and all affiliates. Likewise, Irene Langzinger was re-elected Secretary-Treasurer of the BC Fed.

In the afternoon Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti spoke to the BC Federation of Labour Convention about the need to fight back against our anti-union provincial and federal governments. He pointed out our successes, including building a union advantage in Canada of $5.11/hour, just for wages, not counting the improved benefits and pensions union members are also more likely to receive. Georgetti talked about how important that income is because it gets reinvested as we pay taxes and spend money in our communities.

“Despite our accomplishments or perhaps because of them, the labour movement is under attack,” Georgetti said, highlighting the introduction of Bill C-377, which Georgetti called an attempt to infringe on union members’ deciding democratically how their dues are spent.

“We have to communicate with people about issues that attract their attention and not drive them away. But our message is simple…It’s about fairness. It’s our fundamental message and it’s our best defense and it’s our most salient argument that we stand for fair treatment, not just for ourselves,” Georgetti said.

Next was the Organizing Report and MoveUP board member Stephen Von Sychowski spoke in support of the recommendation to put more focus on organizing:

“The recommendations of this report are right – we need to work together and develop a plan for organizing in the new conditions we are faced with…we need strategies and tactics suited to the new realities and we need to work in unity to tackle the problem in a coordinated way and in a way that focuses on organizing the unorganized, never on raiding.”

After the report, federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair addressed convention.

Mulcair painted a stark picture of the Harper government’s attitude towards unions, from Bill C-377 to their immediate attacks on Canada Post, Air Canada, and CP Rail almost immediately upon taking office.

“It’s the very notion that some jobs – according to them – contribute to the economy, as if all jobs don’t contribute to the economy,” said Mulcair to explain. He called Harper’s policies, such as $50 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest Canadians, part of a “race to the bottom” that has exacerbated an unequal society.

“All of the pressure is to lower working conditions. In Stephen Harper’s economy our workers are no longer a source of pride…In Stephen Harper’s Canada labour is an impediment to profits, one that has to be overcome,” said Mulcair, saying that the NDP has a longer-term vision that includes prosperity for everyone, not just the few.

“That downward pressure…is one of the principal things an NDP government is going to stop. We will understand the importance of people having a decent working wage,” Mulcair promised.

Mulcair also raised concerns about Harper cuts to health transfers, which he said would result in eventual two-tier health care where access is based on wealth, and trade agreements that protect corporations and financial interests over worker and human rights.

“It is possible to vote for the change you want and actually get it,” said Mulcair, referencing a quote from late NDP leader Jack Layton.

“We can choose to build a Canada that is fairer, greener, and more prosperous…we’re closer than ever to making that vision a reality. We can choose to build a Canada that is fairer, greener, and more prosperous. Now, let’s get the job done,” Mulcair concluded.