||Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008
BC Fed convention
51st convention marks BCTF's first year as full affiliate
By Glen Hansman
Delegates to the 51st annual BC Federation of Labour Convention were kept busy for the three-day event held November 26–28, 2007. As this was the BCTF’s first convention as a full affiliate, several locals brought their own resolutions to supplement the ones coming from the BCTF Executive Committee, and there was a definite sense that the convention was now "our" space as well. Our space, was not only to bring public education issues into the broader labour discussion, but also to more meaningfully learn from, and react to, the working conditions faced by other workers provincially, nationally, and globally.
For instance, while the convention adopted a BCTF resolution calling for the repeal of the Liberal government’s education bills from last spring (Bills 20, 21, and 22), BCTF delegates also participated wholeheartedly in the $10 Minimum Wage petitioning activities during the convention. The convention diverged from its usual practice of not entertaining amendments from the floor by accepting one of ours, which added a reference to school boards to a resolution about municipal elections. Teachers at the convention were proud to attend the lunch-hour demonstration at the nearby Sears store in support of the 77 service technicians from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Local 213). They have been locked out since October 1 after Sears imposed a collective agreement with no wage increases for four years, cuts to holiday time, and a longer work week with no overtime.
The convention is primarily about finding consensus, about the sharing of stories and information, of which we heard much:
- about the BC Fed’s successful campaign in honour of Grant DePatie (the young worker who was killed in 2005 following a gas-and-dash in Maple Ridge) to get new Worker’s Compensation Board regulations requiring employers to ensure that late-night retail workers would either work with at least one other worker or the employer must implement security measures.
- about BC Hydro workers, whose employer is now prevented from producing new power due to an agreement that sees new projects being in the control of private companies.
- about childcare workers who do not receive a pension.
- about the 2006 gold mine disaster in Mexico, which saw dozens of bodies left behind in the mine at the behest of the wealthy mining company, which also happens to be a large supporter of Vicente Fox. Napolean Gomez (president of the Mine Workers’ and Steelworkers’ Union in Mexico) addressed the convention, telling delegates about the five-month strike following the mining disaster, and the imprisonment and torture of union leaders that ensued.
- about the efforts of UniteHere! hotel workers (such as those at the Vancouver Airport Delta Hotel where the BCTF Representative Assembly is held) to bargain reasonable workloads, improved pay, and sick-leave provisions.
- about the continuing plight of migrant farm workers in Canada, who continue to face extremely unsafe conditions in their workplaces (e.g., having to travel in overcrowded vans, 40% of which need to be taken off the road), and for very little pay. BC Fed President Jim Sinclair reported that after the deaths of several women farm workers a couple of years ago, recommendations for change from the WCB and coroner went to the BC Liberals. At this point, changes have yet to be made to protect these workers. Farm contractors have an effective lobby of the Liberals, Sinclair said, resulting in a situation where migrant farm workers are effectively treated like slaves. "The minimum wage has to mean you can live on that wage," said Sinclair. Yet approximately 100,000 of these migrant farm workers earn less than $8 per hour.
The conditions of migrant workers and temporary foreign workers in Canada and abroad were also addressed during the International Solidarity Night, which was definitely the highlight of the 2008 convention. A panel of activists and organizers from both North and South America outlined the harsh realities facing workers in both continents–and, in particular, Canada’s role in contributing to those harsh realities. In Colombia, for example, more trade unionists were killed there last year than anywhere else in the world, three million people have been displaced from resource rich areas, indigenous cultures are being annihilated, and human rights conditions in general are among the worst globally. Canada is pursuing a free-trade agreement in that country, which in effect will completely surrender 44 million people to corporate interests.
Meanwhile, temporary foreign workers are being brought into Canada at an increasing rate—without adequate protections in place, with a high level of exploitation (e.g., low pay, few enforcement mechanisms for safety and other employment standards that do exist), along with racism, bullying, and threats of deportation.
Delegates also attended a full day of workshops built around the themes of this year’s convention: Labour confronts the challenge of global warming, Organizing to meet the challenge of the global economy, and Mobilizing our members to participate in the democratic process.
As teachers, we were proud to be there, and look forward to continuing working in solidarity with our allies in the labour movement.
Glen Hansman is president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association.
- about the efforts of hotel workers to lift one another above the poverty line: www.local40union.com and www.hotelworkersrising.org.
- about why a Canada—Colombia free-trade agreement is a big mistake: http://tinyurl.com/2mtbv4
- about the new WCB regulations protecting late-night workers: www.bcfed.com/node/1133.
- about how Sears is treating its service technicians belonging to IBEW 213 by not shopping at Sears until the dispute is resolved, cutting up your Sears card and returning it, and writing letters to share your disapproval to Sears Canada Inc., National Customer Service Centre, c/o President’s Office, 500 College Street East, Belleville, Ontario K8N 5L3.