By Evan Miller, External Liaison Officer
This year saw another productive CUPE Ontario Convention. Our local was involved in a number of solidarity actions, including advocation of resolutions that would improve our ability to strike and pushing for a greater degree of militancy in the action plan. Our social provided an excellent opportunity to network with other locals and to lobby for more a more aggressive fight against the privatization of Hydro One and the Liberals’ austerity agenda.
We placed greatest importance on two resolutions, both of which were overwhelmingly passed and sent to the CUPE national convention as bylaw amendments. The first resolution would eliminate the 10-day waiting period for the National Strike fund to begin covering strike pay. In an age of austerity, during which strikes will be increasingly necessary not only to make gains, but to hold off concessions—something made abundantly clear by the strike wave that is sweeping this province—this is an extremely welcome change. In particular, our local strike fund would be put in a much stronger position as it would no longer be on the hook for these expenses during future strikes.
A second resolution would allow double shifting (i.e. 2 four-hour shifts on the same day) in order to fulfill the 20 hours per week of picketing or alternate duties required to receive strike pay. This would substantially improve the ability of local members with precarious and part time work to strike effectively. I can say without a doubt that our strike lines were weakened by the inability to double shift picketers, especially once we became dependent on CUPE’s funds by the second week of the strike. We were forced to deny our members the flexibility to picket at times that suited their schedules.
On the social justice front, the Convention unanimously passed a resolution calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, in order to address the epidemic of violence against First Nations women. The Convention also overwhelmingly passed a resolution to call on CUPE members and institutions to boycott and divest from Chevron. Chevron has continuously refused to provide funds to clean up toxic oil waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon basin.
Our delegation organized two solidarity actions in support of striking locals. During one of our lunch breaks, we led a group of workers from the university sector (OUWCC) a few blocks south to provide picket line support to striking Kaplan language instructors, represented by Unifor 40. Our proximity to the lines provided an ideal chance to stand with other teachers fighting precarious conditions, as we had previously done. I am pleased to report that Unifor 40 has a new tentative agreement that addresses their concerns over layoffs and seniority, and lessens the precarity of their work. Our local has also been attending vigils in front of the Ministry of Labour, calling for the intervention of Crown manufacturing. We are also calling for the imposition of a binding arbitration, with the hopes for an end to a 21-month long strike. The Ministry of Labour was less than a 5-minute walk from the convention, thus our local was scheduled to participate in the vigil Friday morning. We decided to put out a call on the convention floor to encourage delegates to show their support for striking Crown workers by showing up before convention business began on Friday morning.
Our delegates also worked to add a degree of militancy to the CUPE Ontario action plan. Until now, the work of CUPE Ontario on the Hydro One privatization has consisted solely of rallies and ad campaigns. While these are important for raising public consciousness, we also believed it was important to recognize the limitations of these methods. Our delegation joined a number of other locals in calling for direct action. Together, we built up the possibility of a general strike, if necessary, in order to stop the selling off of Ontario’s power distribution to private investors. In addition, our delegation called on CUPE Ontario to pressure the the NDP to support free postsecondary education, a baseline requirement for any genuine social democratic political organization.
Finally, while CUPE Ontario is on the whole an extremely progressive institution and an excellent resource for our local, there were equity concerns about the conduct of business during the convention. We were frustrated by the Executive’s decision to shorten the time allotted to resolutions put forward by the OUWCC and the Equality caucus as a result of speeches going over. We were also frustrated with the treatment of first time delegates and women of color at the mic. Further, we were dismayed that a member of the Executive Board—an NDP candidate himself—would go onto the floor to call the question on a debate over CUPE Ontario’s relationship with the NDP. At this point, multiple speakers were lined up to continue the debate. Our local’s delegation has drafted a diplomatic letter to ask the Executive Board that these concerns be addressed in the planning of future conventions.
Credit photo: Lennart Maschmeyer