Apr 30, 2016

Unions: a poverty reduction strategy

VICTORIA - By bargaining for improved wages and working conditions—and building stronger, more sustainable communities where they live and work—CUPE members are playing a key role in the fight against inequality, BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger told delegates to CUPE BC’s 53rd annual convention on Saturday.

Lanzinger, bringing greetings on behalf of the BC Fed’s affiliates, which together comprise 500,000 members, recalled her many years teaching in public schools working beside CUPE members—part of the team looking after kids in schools.

“And what great support we had from our CUPE brothers and sisters,” she said. “The fact is that CUPE members are the glue that holds our schools, our cities and our communities together. As a union, your commitment to solidarity – in every sense of the word – is commendable.”

Noting that the labour movement’s fundamental job is to change the world, Lanzinger thanked delegates for their long hours of commitment—not only to representing their members but to working for social change.

“The better we are at that, the better and more equal our world is. It’s been shown time and time again that the greater the union density, the more equality there is. Unions are a poverty reduction strategy, and that’s why organizing is so important,” she said.

The BC Fed leader, noting that the two biggest problems of our time are inequality caused by poverty, and climate change, said that unions have a role to play in solving them.

“We can have responsible resource development—we can have good jobs and a clean environment,” said Lanzinger. “As a labour movement, we must call for a plan that makes use of our rich natural resources, protects the environment and moves to cleaner forms of energy. We have to continue that work because it is so important to future generations.”

As for poverty reduction, it has been proven time and time again that the greater the union density there is, the smaller the gap between rich and poor. But the labour movement at large needs to keep fighting for all workers—especially non-unionized, low-wage workers, she added.

Lanzinger recalled doing an interview with a small Northern radio station. The host who interviewed her had spent more than 30 years in broadcasting, and had moved to the B.C. north after being laid off by a large network in Alberta. After all this time, he still earned less than $13 an hour.

“We’re going to keep going until we get a $15 minimum wage or higher, or until we get rid of this government,” she said.

“Our premier is too busy with photo ops and rhetoric to bother noticing that school boards across this province are being forced to make deeper and deeper cuts to staffing and programing that will have a real impact on our children and our families. Our current BC Liberal government is just fine with giving massive tax breaks to millionaires, and letting one in five children in this province grow up in poverty.”

Lanzinger praised CUPE BC for its proud tradition of being deeply engaged in politics, and for its leadership in political action campaigns.

“Whether it is fighting for a better education system, advocating for stronger municipal services, fighting against the privatization of our community assets and resources, or standing up for workers' rights, your collective voice makes a difference,” she said.

“And I am excited about the work ahead as we get closer to a provincial election. We need to work together within the labour movement, and we need to work with the NDP. This is the time for us to come together to finally say goodbye to Christy Clark. The political landscape has changed a lot in the last year – we got rid of Harper, and we have an NDP government in Alberta. For heaven’s sake, if they can do it in Alberta, we can do it here.”

COPE 491