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October 31, 2012

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Activists develop new skills, strategies at week-long school

PARKSVILLE—This year’s Fall week-long CUPE school (October 21-26) was a big success, with 77 participants from throughout the province sharing experiences, comparing activist strategies and developing new skills through a range of contemporary union education workshops.

“This was a week in which members were engaged more than ever in their workshops, and in all of the activities there was a real sense of mutual respect,” said CUPE Education representative and Parksville School registrar Ruth Scher.

“This is encouraging, because the vast majority of participants this year were completely new to the week-long school. And many were precisely the young workers that CUPE is trying to reach and engage.”

The Duty to Accommodate workshop was the first that CUPE has held anywhere in Canada as a week-long course. “The enthusiasm of the 25 participants really reflects the growing interest in issues surrounding workers with disabilities in particular,” said CUPE Equality representative Conni Kilfoil, who developed the course. “That speaks well of the union’s commitment to ensuring that all of our members with disabilities and other needs are being accommodated in the workplace.”

The OH&S workshop revealed how BC Liberal government changes to WorkSafe regulations and programs directly affect employer enforcement—and employer compliance with its responsibility to provide and monitor workers’ health and safety in every workplace environment. Given that many employers don't know their responsibilities, and that the Liberals do not support workers’ rights, CUPE education is crucial to providing important tools for workers to learn their rights, participate in workplace joint committee duties, and recognize workplace hazards, trends, laws and the right to refuse unsafe work.

The Communications component was divided into three modules this year. To begin the week, sections on Representing Members and Note-Taking gave the 17 participants a firm grounding in CUPE members’ rights under the collective agreement while reinforcing the message that we’re all activists. The two days on Social Media showed how Facebook and Twitter can be powerful tools to help build capacity and engage members. Participants with varying levels of experience enjoyed learning and practicing together, and left with a greater sense of ownership for their Locals’ websites and Facebook pages.

The Building Strong Local Unions workshop focused on the changing demographics of our membership and the need to involve young workers. Members left with a greater understanding of the union’s work, of the opportunities and challenges before them, and of how they can carry out their local union’s work in a manner more inclusive and engaging of the membership. Participants in the Parliamentary Procedure and Public Speaking workshop expressed much enthusiasm for the course content and a passion for their activism which, according to the facilitators, will make them “future parliamentarians to watch out for.”

At the Wednesday evening plenary, participants heard from CUPE BC political action coordinator Rachel Champagne, who spoke on the importance of registering to vote in the upcoming provincial election. In a persuasive and at times moving presentation, Champagne recalled the sense of empowerment she gained from her first experience of political action as a union member. She also reminded participants how critical getting out the vote will be next May 14: in the 2009 election, she said, the NDP lost a few key constituencies by margins smaller than the number of CUPE members living in the area.

Following the Parksville School tradition, a Halloween party was held on closing night, and various other social activities were held throughout the week. For more photos, visit the gallery.

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