PV Vancouver Bureau
Delegates to the 54th annual convention of the B.C. Federation of Labour will start their work on Nov. 29, with a contest for a top executive position on the agenda.
A year ago, President Jim Sinclair opened the 53rd convention with a powerful speech that articulated the attack on working people. Pinning blame for the present crisis on capitalism, he went on to demand government action to protect the interests of workers, not bankers and CEOs.
“This is the fight of our lives,” Sinclair said, “and it’s between the vast majority of working people fighting to survive tough times and the corporations and their right wing governments… The corporate tax cuts are so deep, that in 2011 students will pay more in tuition (in BC) than corporations will pay in corporate taxes.”
Reflecting the anger of workers like the Paramedics – legislated back to work without even getting to conduct a full strike – Sinclair’s speech outshone the executive report, and infused a militant tone into the convention. In response to the channelled options presented to workshops on the second day, delegates made some pointed criticisms of the lack of a solid fightback plan. Late on the final day, a composite resolution hit the floor, setting out an “Action Program” which was adopted with enthusiasm.
Analysing the “Action Program”, B.C. Communist Party leader Sam Hammond later wrote that it was “a good start. Not perfect, but perfection is not needed as much as determination and a call to arms…”
The highlight of the Program was a call to build “a province‑wide movement with our community partners to escalate opposition to stop the Liberal Government cuts to services and restore funding, including developing a unified message, co-ordinated advertising campaigns and regional actions leading to a province‑wide day of action.”
Other points included plans to produce popular education materials, lobbying of New Democratic Party MLA’s “to ensure the party and the caucus embrace a progressive economic and social strategy for British Columbia,” co‑ordinated bargaining strategies for public sector unions, a campaign against the HST and for fair taxes, work with community partners and First Nations to hold a Summit on Poverty, support for the Young Workers Committee and the fight to win a $10 minimum wage, and campaigns to defeat the Campbell Liberals. The convention called for a strategic planning meeting of all affiliates to implement the Action Plan.
Since then, much water has gone under the bridge, including the slow-motion resignation of Premier Campbell, but the crisis facing working people in British Columbia has not disappeared.
Initial efforts to build a broad-based fightback coalition stalled after a rally of some 2,000 labour and community activists held in Vancouver last spring, and the province-wide action did not materialize. On the other hand, mobilizations around the minimum wage demand have continued, and the Liberals are under pressure to adopt the first increase in a decade.
Delegates at this Convention may have the opportunity to consider to what extent the Action Plan has been carried out, and to assess their leadership. The contest for secretary-treasurer, between longtime incumbent Angela Schirra and former B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Irene Lanzinger, may indicate whether delegates want a more dynamic and militant executive body.
The debates on the convention floor may also send a signal to the B.C. NDP, which faces sharp internal divisions. The strategy by provincial leader Carol James to court the business sector continues to rankle many rank and file New Democrats and labour activists. Last year, about 15% of BC Fed delegates sat on their hands during the usual standing ovation for the NDP leader. It will be interesting to gauge the reaction this year.
The pledge by James to maintain Campbell’s tax cuts to the rich and the corporations is a particular bone of contention, since this would cripple a new government’s ability to restore Campbell’s deep cuts to social programs, health and public education.
During the upcoming referendum on the HST, the labour movement could play a critical role by fighting for the tax fairness proposed in the Action Program. This will be one of the most critical issues facing delegates, but also the incoming BC Fed executive.