Report from the CUPE 2015 National Convention
Your CUPE 3902 delegation was a strong voice for militancy and equity at the CUPE national convention. We organized and fought for 3 key issues: changing the strike pay regulations to allow access to the national strike fund from day 1 of a strike, supporting survivors of sexual violence in the union, and fighting for more equity seats on the National Executive Board. While suffering a series of defeats on all of these issues, it nonetheless served an opportunity to meet like-minded union activists from across the country and build the connections that will help us to win these battles in the future.
One of the biggest battles of the convention was the resolution to eliminate the 10-day waiting period for strike pay, before the national strike fund begins to cover strike pay. The first struggle was simply getting this resolution to the floor. At the national convention, there are far more resolutions submitted to the convention than are actually dealt with, so a resolution committee decides what comes to the convention floor. Your CUPE 3902 delegation used every opportunity to ensure that this issue stayed fresh in the minds of the convention delegates: we carried “Strike pay, Right away!” signs on stage when we were brought up for the recognition of striking locals, we flooded the mics to point out the ways in which getting rid of the 10-day waiting period helps young and precarious workers in the union, we handed out fliers daily before the convention would begin, and we met with many individuals to convince them that this was the right thing to do. When we began a chant of “Strike Pay, Right Away!” from the stage during the recognition of striking locals, we were drowned out Billy Bragg’s “There is a Power in the Union” (apparently without any sense of irony). When the resolution finally hit the floor on the second to last day, your delegation, working with the leadership of CUPE Ontario, floor managed the campaign for Strike Pay, Right Away, lining up speakers from different provinces and sectors to talk about why they needed this change. Despite the fact that the strike fund currently has $83 million, and that it had revenues of over $15 million against expenses of only $2.5 million in the last fiscal year, the resolution was defeated by 35 votes (out of more than 1800 delegates) after substantial vote-whipping and outright intimidation by the leadership of other provincial delegations.
Your CUPE 3902 delegation also spoke out on a number of equity issues. Your delegation worked with CUPE 3903 (York University Education workers) to advocate for a number of resolutions that they had put forward around how the union deals with sexual violence, resolutions which were intended to replace the current trial procedure with a survivor-centric procedure in cases of sexual violence and harassment. Shamefully, none of these resolutions made it to the floor, despite the work by both delegations in trying to raise these issues from the floor. We also spoke in favor of creating 4 new equity vice-president positions on the national executive board for women workers, young workers, LGBTQ workers, and workers with disabilities, in addition to the two existing seats for workers of color and aboriginal workers. The equity caucus spearheaded the fight as their top priority, and we organized around the issue with other activists and caucuses. The women’s caucus pushed both of the national president candidates to take a public stand in favor of adding these equity seats to the National Executive Board. Our delegates attended this meeting to ensure that candidates were forced to take questions from the members of the women’s caucus, and not simply allowed to make stump speeches. This resolution finally reached the floor on the last day of convention. The debate was quite ugly, with much reactionary rhetoric around “merit” and “bootstraps.” Although the resolution received just over 50% of support from the delegates, it did not receive the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment.
This year we also elected a new national president, as former National President Paul Moist did not seek re-election. The two candidates for national president were our CUPE Ontario President, Fred Hahn, and CUPE BC President, Mark Hancock. The latter had the support of every provincial division except Ontario. Your delegation worked on Fred’s campaign, focusing on strengthening militancy and equity in our movement. It placed particular emphasis on fighting for strike pay from the first day, on a constitutional amendment expanding equity seats on the National Executive Board, and on pushing for an understanding of political action that is not solely restricted to electoral politics. Mark Hancock won this election by about 300 votes, with voting happening largely along provincial lines.
Despite these setbacks, the convention was still an important opportunity to connect with like-minded activists in other parts of the country. CUPE 2278 (representing contract academic workers at UBC), hosted a get-together of all academic locals to discuss common struggles. This opportunity helped us form some excellent connections with locals across the country, connections that will be extremely valuable when we continue these struggles at the next national convention in Toronto in two years’ time.
Credit photo: Lennart Maschmeyer