Day 5 “Looking back, surging forward”
The final two speakers served as a stark reminder of labour activists who came before us and built the legacy we’ve inherited and furthered by our work this week.
Ken Novakowski, Chair, BC Labour Heritage Centre opened the day by talking about the important work undertaken by the Centre. Video projects, lesson plans for B.C. classrooms and work with teachers, history walking tours, oral history program, remember working peoples’ plaque projects, the virtual exhibit for Solidarity which will be on the History Museum of Canada’s website. And Publishing On the Line: A History of the BC Labour Movement, a comprehensive chronicle by Rod Mickelburgh, who shared colourful tidbits of BC Labour’s history with the delegation.
And then it was down to business, passing resolution after resolution that will inform the lobbying and organizing activities the federation will take in the next two years.
Finally, a rousing round of ‘Solidarity Forever’ and the convention concluded.
We return not just to our workplaces, but to the work of the movement and the fight to raise the rights and powers of all workers.
Day 4 “Looking forward”
Day 4 was a resounding cry of solidarity.
First up, the election of a new BC Fed Executive. With support building all week, shoe-in running mates Laird Cronk and Sussanne Skidmore secured the presidency and secretary-treasurer, respectively, the same way their 5 new Executive Council members did: by acclamation.
Support for postal workers striking for safe work conditions and job security has been unanimous all week and today that ramped up further. BC union workers holding the strike line strike line at the Richmond mail processing plant the night before for the Canada Post Workers who’d been forced back to work by Bill C-89 on Tuesday, was a shot in the arm for the labour movement.
Another was delegates voting as one in favour of an emergency resolution on Bill C-89 brought to the floor this morning after hearing CUPW members present share their reality. Of single routes daily routes comprising 30,000 steps and 33 flights of stairs. Of backs, shoulder, knees & feet blown by routes that have doubled and tripled in size. Of bullying and pressure to work forced overtime. Of a Gov’t of Canada report that found disabling injuries among postal workers have jumped 93 per cent in three years.
Voices against such insane conditions were loud at a noon CUPW-support rally outside the Convention Centre.
After lunch the rallying spirit continued. Through an unanimous vote to increase financial support for the BC Federation of Retired Union Members. During a moving President’s Tribute for much-admired, outgoing-President Irene Lanzinger. And for Harry Bains, BC’s Minister of Labour, who declared during his address that all workers should come home from work in the same shape as when they went. He also promised to introduce legislation updating both the Labour Code and the Employment Standards Act and vowed to eliminate the “self-help kits”, a system that deters employees from filing complaints, and workers be fired for raising employment standards complaints.
When Ivan Coyote took the stage the rallying was of a different kind. With their masterful storytelling, Ivan rallies human capacity for empathy and evolution. Today they kicked our minds open to the realities of life a Trans person in the kindest of ways, weaving humour and heartache until their personal became our universal. Considering the storm of controversy surrounding us as a delegation arising from VPL’s booking of a mind closed to Trans life, Coyote couldn’t have been more on point. Solidarity in the movement and beyond!
Later that evening, dancing to the beats of Delhi to Dublin on a ballroom dance floor at the Westin Bayshore, delegates showed solidarity in appreciating another timeless tradition: kicking up your heels with friends.
Day 3 “Landmark moments”
It was a day of significant moments:
Tracy Prezeau, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) International Representative, gave a fresh talk outlining the renaissance of the IBEW and then drawing parallels between the IBEW and the general labour movement. Her approach to the daunting challenge of building capacity was inspiring. Hopefully members present will share her concrete solutions to reinvigorate the movement and rally non-believer union members to action.
Man-of-the-hour, Premier John Horgan, and his entourage of several dozen NDP caucus members entered the hall and slowly approached the stage to Serana Ryder’s ‘Stompa’ and a jubilant standing ovation.
The impassioned & laser-sharp speech from outgoing Secretary-Treasurer Aaron Eckerman following a micro-documentary on Eckert’s rise through the movement and his final report on the Fed’s “stellar financial position”.
Dr Kendra Strauss, Director of Labour Studies at SFU, expressing appreciation for the Fed’s work informally and on the department’s advisory committee and her announcement that SFU’s labour studies program is the now only one in BC with major, minor and certificate options and is one of only two co-op programs in Canada.
The happy inclusion in the Education Committee’s Report that nowhere in BC did racial bigots gain a majority on a school board in the most recent elections.
The appearance of Seth Klein, outgoing-President of Canadian Policy of Alternatives BC Chapter.
The Climate Change Committee’s Report that George Heyman, current BC Minster of the Environment, embraces inclusiveness and oversees an advisory council that includes labour voices – a huge change from the previous 16 years of interactions with incumbent governments.
Marissa Nahanee of the Squamish and Nisga’a Nations singing a ‘Greeting of the Day’ song composed by one of her ancestors who lived in Stanley Park that translates as ’no matter what happened yesterday, there’s opportunity today to make things better.’
Being present for the signing ceremony to renew a protocol agreement between the Federation and First Nations. Witnessed by the Indigenous Caucus and signed by the four First Nations elders present and the BC Fed Executive, the new protocol includes the 94 Calls to Action in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Report.
Day 2 “Keep going, despite the dark turns”
Tuesday highlighted a powerful legacy of conventions: putting a face to facts.
Whether they’re a seasoned speaker with a 1-hour slot or a “first time delegate, first time speaker” at the mic for a 3min piece of the floor, everyone who speaks invigorates the issues with conviction & firsthand experiences. Most fight nerves, many choke on emotion or shake with anger, all speak from the heart. And what may have been remote or hidden comes alive.
Tuesday was particularly poignant with the executive and delegates speaking to reports and resolutions from the Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) Committee, the Apprenticeship & Skills Training Working Group, and the Women’s Rights Committee.
Stories of sexism, prejudice and immigrant-worker abuses were shared in support of Resolution 51, which carried unanimously regarding application & expansion of the Community Benefits Agreement on publicly-funded infrastructure projects.
Karen Ranalletta, OH&S chair, acknowledged that there’s reason to be hopeful with the current NDP gov’t and Minister of Labour, Harry Bains, pledging to make BC the healthiest & safest province in which to work. But stories shared at the mic illustrated how far there is yet to go. Lack of corporation criminal accountability when workers die…high asbestosis risks on the job…lack of support for front-line workers suffering from PTSD… lack of compulsory trades certification…multiple injuries & deaths amongst dock workers resulting from non-compliance of employers, who are never held accountable…Each heartbreaking account included gratitude to the Fed, who’s efforts have brought many gains already. Criticisms were few, mostly calling for more action sooner. One dissenting voice gave the report a poor grade for missing drug addiction & dependency.
In 2012, the Fed’ Women’s Rights Committee identified 3 pillars of work in which to engage: women’s safety, women’s economic security and women in leadership. In the report presented today, Donisa Bernardo, chair of the Women’s Rights Committee, stated that safety has been at the forefront since the last convention in 2016 due to “a number of women from male-dominated industries who have been educating the committee on the issues they face at work”. Delegates from the floor voiced those issues and more. Indigenous & non-indigenous voices spoke of lost friends and relatives on the highway of tears… partner violence… workplace assault… discrimination against calling in auxiliary women in trades.
An upbeat moment came when Diane Wood of BCFORUM & the BCGEU was presented the Joy Langan Woman of Distinction award by Langan’s daughter.
Canadian Labour Congress president, Hassan Yusseff is a face of federal labour and his fiery address focused on 3 national labour challenges: 1) the Liberal’s legislation ordering Canadian Union of Postal Workers back to work, effective this afternoon, violates the Supreme Court’s ruling on the fundamental right to strike and hands all the bargaining power to the employer; 2) GM ’s 5 North America-wide plant closures announced Monday, resulting in mass job losses in Oshawa; 3) the pharmaceutical monopoly that leads Canada to have the 3rd highest drug costs globally, after Switzerland and the US. New Zealand pays $0.115 to Canada’s $1 for the same 7 most common drugs made by Canadian manufacturer Apotek!
After lunch, Kevin Rebeck, President of the Manitoba Fed, summarized Manitoba’s inspiring labour history and the dark turn its taken since Brian Pallister’s Conservative government took over in May 2016 and scrapped the Ministry of Labour while imposing severe collective bargaining restrictions.
Each person at the mic strengthened the delegate’s resolve to continue the fight for workers’ rights for equitable access to a safe and secure workplace.
Day 1 “Similarities rather than differences”
The BC Federation of Labour’s 58th Convention opened today at the Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre with a lone voice singing a song of welcome and closed with the 949-strong delegation repeatedly voting with one voice. Proceedings began with Alec Dan of the Musqueam Nation welcoming the delegation to his ancestral lands with a traditional prayer and song and the day closed with the unanimous passing of five Human Rights resolutions supporting Indigenous Nations, people with disabilities, asylum-seekers and those LGBTQI2S.
What we heard between the sound of Dan’s drum and motions carrying was a call for unity in action. First up, newly-elected mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, who graciously acknowledged that his win, and that of the four other labour-endorsed mayors present on the large stage, wouldn’t have occurred without the support of BC’s workers.
In her President’s Address following Stewart, outgoing president Irene Langzinger shared 10 lessons she’s learned on her long road as a teacher/activist, at once encouraging and admonishing. The first woman to serve as BC Fed president urged delegates to “organize, organize, organize” and set aside differences and seek common ground to find big and bold solutions for the huge challenges we face, particularly poverty and climate change.
Jagmeet Singh, candidate for Burnaby South MP & federal leader NDP, echoed Langzinger in his rousing opening “we’re all one and when we lift each other up, we all rise”. Singh hit all the notes befitting a campaigning politician speaking at a Vancouver-based convention: affordable housing, secure healthcare, the environment and proportional representation. Combine Singh’s personable charm and seemingly sound policy ideas with his high-energy walkout song and call to recognize data as a public infrastructure and it’s not hard to see our current Trudeau has met his match. One CUPE 15 member cheekily suggested a ‘walk-off’ a la Zoolander between and Singh and Justin Trudeau could be in the works.
Following with a more subdued but equally heartfelt address, Brian Ramsay, director of the CFL Association, briefly outlined how players’ day jobs and a lack of adequate medical support-players are exempt from the current Workers Compensation system-leaves many with unresolved injuries and insurmountable medical bills. In a room of intelligent, driven activists Cheryl Casimer, Political Executive of the First Nations Summit, stood out. Casimer began by pointing out that the year of the inaugural BC Fed convention was the year that status indians were able to vote without losing their status. She urged building partnerships and relationships in seeking reconciliation, asking delegates to “look for similarities, rather than differences…because we have more in common than not”. It’s easier to believe this is possible coming from one of the Ktunaxa people who achieved sociocultural alchemy by turning their residential school in what’s now known as Cranbrook into a profitable resort, casino and golf course.
Many delegates left to fulfill the call to committed action by heading to evening caucuses and an International Solidarity Night at the nearby Westin Bayshore, fulfilling Langzinger’s call to achieve the highest level of engagement possible. Others of us simply caught the bus home to digest all we’d heard and rest up for Day 2.