"Why I’m supporting Jim Sinclair and Irene Lanzinger": FPSE President Cindy Oliver

Next week, over 2,000 delegates will gather in Vancouver for the 55th Constitutional Convention of the BC Federation of Labour. Like every BC Fed Convention, this one will give union activists the opportunity to debate the critical issues facing the labour movement in BC. As well, it will provide a forum for delegates to assess the work done by the current leadership of the Federation.

As every union activist in BC knows all too well, the labour movement in our province has been a target for the BC Liberals since they took power in 2001. We saw their anti-union bias within months of their first term election win. It was hard-edged and combative. It rewrote labour laws to strip workers of important rights. It deregulated employment standards and set in place poverty-producing minimum wage conditions. It tilted health and safety rules to satisfy employers, a tilt that caused hardship and injury for thousands of workers. It used its legislative hammer to rip up signed collective agreements, a move that the Globe and Mail described as “legislative vandalism” when it was passed in 2002.

Through all of these assaults, the BC Fed, under Jim Sinclair’s leadership, was the voice for workers fighting back. Much of that fight-back effort took years to show results. In the case of contract ripping legislation, it took a five year court fight before the Supreme Court of Canada finally said that the unions were right and the BC Liberals were wrong. In the case of the minimum wage campaign, it took almost a decade and the demise of Gordon Campbell to finally get an increase in BC’s minimum wage and some economic justice for BC’s lowest paid workers.

Some now suggest that Jim’s leadership at the BC Fed has taken our movement on the wrong path, a path on which the emphasis has been too much about protest and fighting back and not enough about striving for a more moderate approach. For those of us who have lived through the last three terms of the BC Liberals, such an assertion completely misses the point. Without the strong and forceful presence of the BC Federation of Labour, uniting unions in their common cause of protecting workers and their rights, the BC Liberal attacks on those rights would have been that much worse.

Others contend that the focus of the BC Fed needs to be directed at the priorities of union members. That too is a misplaced view of what our movement is all about. Workers, whether they have a union card in their pocket or not, have rights that need to be protected. Moreover, the most effective way to build our movement is to reach out to those who are currently non-union, and the work that Jim has done over the last decade to speak out for all workers has advanced that outreach effort enormously.

I have no hesitation in supporting Jim Sinclair and Irene Lanzinger. Just as important, however, is the need to leave this convention united. Strong leadership at the BC Fed will help galvanize the entire labour movement in BC as we work to defeat the BC liberals in May 2013. With Jim and Irene’s dedication to that cause, our movement will prevail.

 

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.