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CLC President Ken Georgetti speaks at the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC AGM and Convention

Presented by Ken Georgetti on Tuesday, 15 May 2012

(Check against delivery)

Sisters and Brothers – I am pleased to bring you solidarity greetings on behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress’ 3.3 million members.

It is always my pleasure to speak to FPSE and to talk about the issues that are important to you and your members – and tell you about what the CLC is doing on your behalf.

Let me start with the unfair and outrageous imposition of Bill 22 on your colleagues in the BC Teachers’ Federation.

And I also want to talk about Bill 18 – the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act and how it dramatically affects your members and your union.

First, on Bill 22 – removing workers’ inherent right to collective bargaining – and their right to strike if necessary – is always wrong.

But here in British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark heads a government that has repeatedly violated both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international laws protecting workers’ rights for 11 years.

And as CLC President, as I represent our country’s labour movement in international meetings, I’m astonished that British Columbia has one of the worst records in the world of trampling on workers’ collective bargaining rights!

With a government that fails to even obey the courts!

Let me briefly talk about Bill 18 – which forces faculty members like yourselves to make an unacceptable choice: between being active in your union or in your academic institution, as part of the democratic process.

I have no doubt that once again, the courts will eventually rule in your favour – but why do we constantly have to seek basic common sense by going through the justice system?

So I say this to Premier Christy Clark – labour rights are here to stay – get used to it!

What’s also here to stay – thanks to Clark’s government – is a severe shortage of well-educated workers.

BC urgently needs to fill key jobs with workers trained at post-secondary education institutes like the ones you teach at – and with apprenticeships.

And everyone here knows that higher education is synonymous with better wages and, in turn, more government revenues to pay for public services.

But the last BC budget ensures that colleges, universities and other institutes will actually

shrink – not grow – and students will face less funding, fewer spaces and higher tuition fees.

The BC Liberals are going in exactly the wrong direction – for your members, for this economy, for our province.

Unfortunately, the federal Conservative government is just as bad as the BC Liberal government when it comes to labour rights, public services and negotiating fairly with unions.

In fact, Prime Minister Stephen Harper would rather see a free Conrad Black than free collective bargaining!

It’s outrageous that Black can get into Canada in a matter of minutes after being sprung from jail – thanks to the Conservative government – but they ban a British Member of Parliament – George Galloway – from speaking here because he offered humanitarian aid in the Middle East.

Under this Conservative government a corporate fraud artist who was convicted of obstructing justice in the United States is welcome, and an elected official – who has never even been charged with a crime – is not.

That’s just wrong – but it’s not all that’s wrong.

Look how many times this Conservative government intervened in the Air Canada disputes – are they now saying that even private sector workers have no right to strike?

It's gotten so bad that we now refer to the Labour Minister as the Honourable Minister for Air Canada!

Air Canada mechanics and ground crew were prevented by federal legislation from taking job action – a clear violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights that guarantees freedom of association and freedom of expression.

The same thing happened to workers at Canada Post.

So now the unions at are all challenging Conservative legislation in the courts.

And I predict that once again, the unions will win – as the BCTF and Hospital Employees Union have done in the past.

Millions will be spent to confirm what we already know – that workers have the democratic right to strike and bargain collectively.

This Conservative government, the BC Liberal government and truly all governments in Canada should know better.

And they should act accordingly.

They should work with both parties to resolve disputes over contracts – not impose them.

Because all of us in this room know that imposed contracts do not solve problems – they create more problems.

Just look at the wildcat strikes and pilots booking off sick at Air Canada.

But the Conservative government doesn’t just want to take away workers’ rights – it’s intent on removing other basic democratic rights as well.

Look at federal scientists.

The Conservative government has put a muzzle on its scientists – literally stopping them from speaking about important public issues – like their own research on the disappearance of wild sockeye salmon here in BC.

The Conservatives are also intervening in independent research – directing funding to research that has commercial applications instead of the public interest.

And there’s certainly no concern for the public interest from a government that has borrowed $13 billion this year to pay for the corporate tax cuts they've introduced since taking office in 2006.

$13 billion a year while we run a huge deficit – and all without big business creating the jobs we need!

And now the Conservatives are significantly cutting needed federal public sector programs and thousands of jobs to pay for those corporate tax cuts.

It’s reverse Robin Hood – robbing the poor to give to the rich!

They're not only robbing Canadians of vital public services, they're even robbing Canadians of their heritage.

The department of Foreign Affairs was planning to sell its collection of original art of some of Canada's finest master painters – some of which would fetch millions of dollars from private collectors. 

That is until the scheme was made public in the media and the Minister John Baird backed down.

But they aren't backing down from starving Library and Archives Canada to save money, and turning over collecting vital historical documents to the private sector – as the Canadian Association of University Teachers has uncovered.

So how can the Conservatives and their big business backers get away with all this?

Unfortunately, it’s partly because our unions’ public image is just not strong enough to stop them.

We know their rhetoric – “big labour” goes on strike to hurt the public or to ruin private employers’ businesses.

It’s complete garbage.

But the Conservatives and corporate spin-doctors keep pounding out these twisted messages.

And unions have not yet managed to counter their fiction with our facts.

Does the public know 98 per cent of negotiations end with a new contract – not a strike or lockout? No.

Does the public understand that the “union advantage” in wages and benefits means local small businesses win – because union members have extra income? No.

The future our labour movement depends on our ability to better communicate to the public the enormous contributions of unions to Canada

We have to step up our game or the corporations and right-wingers will take us out of the game!

That’s what’s at stake.

And I know that FPSE has been working hard at using social media to build support for post-secondary education – particularly in your efforts to oppose Bill 18.

But you know – there’s a silver lining to all these increased attacks on labour.

The attacks are happening not because we are failing – but because we are succeeding – they are running scared of us.

And nothing scares Conservatives, CEOs and big banks more than our Canadian Labour Congress campaign for retirement security for all Canadians – by expanding the Canada Pension Plan.

Retirement in Canada is truly a story of rich…and poor.

1.6 million seniors live on less than $16,000 a year – in poverty – shameful!

We’re fighting for fair pensions so no senior ever again lives in poverty.

And mark my words – we will win!

Our CLC plan is simple, affordable and popular.

Stephen Harper’s plan is simply unaffordable…and unfair and unpopular.

He would make seniors wait till they are 67 years old to collect Old Age Security – instead of 65.

But the CLC would double CPP benefits for today's young people so that when they retire, they don't face a future of a poverty level pension of $12,000 a year but a liveable $24,000 a year.

Mr. Harper’s plan would download the cost of supporting seniors onto the provinces.

Waiting till age 67 for OAS and the Guaranteed Income Supplement means the provinces would be forced to pay social assistance for poor seniors for an extra 2 years – an estimated $425 million a year.

That would cost BC about $34 million a year.

An Ipsos-Reid poll this spring showed that 74 per cent of Canadians oppose the government’s plan to raise the OAS eligibility age.

But an Environics poll for the CLC found 76% of Canadians support increasing CPP benefits.

And expanding the CPP has support from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the Canadian Federation of Students and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The CLC plan would expand the CPP because it’s safe, secure, indexed to inflation and its management costs are lower than exorbitant rates of banks and financial institutions.

Our CLC plan is obviously the best one – now we have to convince the government.

Provincial finance ministers meet soon – probably next month – to look at research from their ministries about a “modest” increase in the Canada Pension Plan

So we urgently need to keep up the pressure – and need FPSE members’ help.

We need you to talk to elected provincial representatives, to federal MPs, get into the media – tell them we want an improved Canada Pension Plan.

It won’t be easy but neither was getting Medicare – we can do it!So we have our work cut out for us.

We face unprecedented attacks on labour from the federal government, right wing provincial government like BC’s and from big business.

The threat to our labour movement is very significant.

But unions have always been threatened – and we’ve always fought back and survived.

We will do so once again – if we improve our public image, if we fight to help all Canadians and if we work together in solidarity!

Thanks for listening!