From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Mon Jun 26 17:15:17 2000
Defending Health Care: Unions Lead the Way
By Greg McMaster, President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Edmonton, 26 June 2000
Unions have played a central role in the recent campaign against cutbacks and privatization of health care, which featured a broadly-based public movement against Bill 11 - which shook the Klein government's popular support and resulted in the sweep of the by-election in Edmonton Highlands by the New Democrats' Brian Mason. At the same time, 10,000 health care workers defied Alberta's restrictive labour legislation, forcing a settlement of their contract issues, including raises.
The Alberta Federation of Labour launched the campaign against Bill 11, in coalition with the United Nurses of Alberta and others, in the Friends of Medicare. CUPW's National Executive deserve thanks for joining with other major national unions in support of this campaign, which is obviously not over with the Bill now passed.
The successful AUPE strike shows that employers backed by labour laws and governments can be defeated, if the conditions are right. The public climate of discontent with Bill 11 and the use of closure to pass it helped to create those conditions, combined with the unity and militancy of the members of AUPE, and CUPE as well (three CUPE Locals also joined the "illegal" strike). In the aftermath, the Health Sciences Association also reached a settlement, without a strike.
However, this struggle is also not over. AUPE executives were threatened with fines, and the union ended up facing a $400,000 fine (which is under appeal). Potentially more dangerous though is the move by the health care employers to have a suspension of the collection of dues by AUPE imposed at the Labour Relations Board. Other unions are fighting this, both out of support for AUPE and because of the dangerous precedent that could be set by such an infringement on union rights and functioning. Along with the AFL and the Nurses union, the National Executive Board of CUPW is seeking status at the LRB hearings in July, to intervene as interested third parties against this move.
Meanwhile the struggle continues on the ground. CUPW delegates to the Prairie Region educational courses in Edmonton joined with CUPE members, and representatives of AUPE, UNA and the AFL at a noon-hour rally outside the Misericordia Hospital - part of a National Day of Warning on Privatization of Health Care, June 14.
WATER - THE NEXT BATTLEGROUND
Last year, CUPE launched a national campaign to preserve Canada's clean water resources, which was endorsed by other unions at the Canadian Labour Congress. Deregulation and privatization of enforcement of clean water standards was already an issue for unions and consumers under the Harris government in Ontario. Tragically, the important and necessary role of unions on this area was vindicated by the crisis and deaths in Walkerton.
Next time someone tells you "unions were ok in their time but they've outlived their usefulness", let's stand up for the vital role we continue to play in the defence of public services - postal, health care, education, water...
- Greg McMaster