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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 3, November/December 2005

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CUPE support never wavered during Bill 12 fight

BC teachers found they had a steadfast ally in the Canadian Union of Public Employees when push came to shove with the BC Liberal government this fall.

When the Liberals introduced Bill 12 in the legislature on October 3, Canada’s largest union passed a unanimous motion at its national convention, tabled by the BC division, to support the BC Teachers’ Federation "in any way possible" in its fight with the Campbell government.

This was a fight, after all, that affected more than the BCTF’s 38,000 members and CUPE’s 25,000 support workers in K–12. With several contracts in the public sector expiring soon, and private-sector employers like Telus playing an increasingly brutal hand, many observers saw Bill 12 as a litmus test for a much larger union-busting campaign.

"The (convention) resolution reminded everyone that CUPE university members were the first education workers in BC to be legislated back to work by the Liberals," recalled CUPE BC President Barry O’Neill.

"The Liberals’ long-term privatization goals had already resulted in thousands of job losses, reduced wages, and eroding working conditions for our sisters and brothers in community health, social services, and the Hospital Employees’ Union. Our members have never forgotten this, and that’s a major reason our campaign was so successful."

Putting plans into action
With the national union’s support, O’Neill and almost every K–12 delegate and staff rep left convention early and returned to BC to prepare CUPE locals for the looming job action. Daily conference calls were held and "K–12 Alert" bulletins released, while the CUPE BC website was boosted with regular updates and "CUPE Tools Down" posters announcing rotating protests throughout the province.

From October 7 onward, CUPE members joined BCTF members on the line and at rallies throughout B.C.—support that never wavered, even after a Supreme Court ruling that declared the teachers’ strike illegal.

"Once CUPE began our broader political protest, we were clear that the only thing that would have us step down was a letter from the BCTF asking us to do so," O’Neill recalls. "We followed through to the end, where on Saturday (October 22) we received just such a letter from Jinny Sims."

On the line: a provincial tour
On October 17, a week-long series of CUPE protests began with actions on Vancouver Island and in Powell River. On this day, a multi-union rally at the provincial legislature was complemented with actions by thousands of CUPE members from the Capital Region to Gold River. In Saanich, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Tofino, Comox, Campbell River, and Powell River, CUPE members walked side by side with teachers.

October 18 was "CUPE Day" in the North, featuring a demonstration in front of Education Minister Shirley Bond’s MLA office in Prince George. CUPE rallies and other actions were held in Smithers, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, Prince Rupert, Masset, Port Edward, Stewart, Kitimat, Terrace, Quesnel, Houston, Telkwa, Hazelton and Fort Nelson. In Mackenzie, CUPE members hosted a candlelight vigil.

On October 19, CUPE members joined the BC Fed for actions in the East and West Kootenays. In Trail, CUPE members from as far away as Castlegar attended a noon-hour rally at the cenotaph and shut down services for the day. In Cranbrook, CUPE members attended a noon-hour rally outside MLA Bill Bennett’s office.

October 20 was CUPE day in the Interior. In Kelowna, 1,000 people attended a rally at Kerry Park, while in Kamloops hundreds of people rallied and shut down services including the university. Rallies were also held in Vernon, Penticton, and Summerland.

Walking the talk
CUPE followed through on its promise to support teachers on October 21 with rallies and job actions throughout the Lower Mainland, Howe Sound/ Sunshine Coast, and Fraser Valley.

In the morning, CUPE members at the Vancouver Public Library began the day’s actions by putting up protest lines in front of the VPL’s main branch. At the Pacific Coliseum, 8,000 attended a rally where O’Neill and Sims were joined by CUPE National president Paul Moist and HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy.

Later that afternoon, more than 3,000 attended a rally at Cloverdale’s Stetson Bowl, where the same union leaders congratulated CUPE members and teachers for their tremendous courage in standing up and letting their voices be heard.

Reasons for pride
In just five days, nearly 2,000 visitors to the CUPE BC website used a special page to send protest letters to Premier Gordon Campbell and the ministers of Finance, Labour and Education.

As BCTF and CUPE K–12 support workers returned to work on October 24, following an historic struggle to defend B.C. teachers’ bargaining rights, O’Neill thanked CUPE members for their hard work and congratulated BCTF members for their courage during the three weeks of resistance to Bill 12.

"We can all be very proud of the role that we played standing up for the workers and students in our public education system," he said.

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