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CUPE Ontario’s historic Coordinated Bargaining Conference (March 12-14, in Toronto) brought together private and public sector unionists from Ontario and across Canada to pool their knowledge. At this perilous moment in time, faced as we are with a national economy in decline, it is critical that the Labour movement in Canada has decisively proclaimed that it pool its knowledge and power in order to protect Canadians.

At a moment when the CAW are fighting hard to save the auto industry in Canada and the Steelworkers are bracing for the impact of the slowdown in industrial production, CAW’s Ken Lewenza and USW’s Wayne Fraser took the time to come to CUPE Ontario to say that the only way forward is for working people to support one another. Private sector unions support public sector workers because they know that public service workers provide the best services for them and their families. In turn, CUPE members understand that strong private sector unions mean a stronger Ontario economy.  The message was clear and reiterated by all: strong unions, united, make for strong communities.

From CUPE BC to CUPE in Nova Scotia, from Health Care to School Boards, we know that coordination pays off for members with gains in wages, working conditions and benefits. Here in Ontario, we have all reaped the benefits of coordination in the ACLS and in the School Board sector: we have better care in communities and improved conditions in schools as a result of CUPE’s coordination of bargaining. This past weekend was an opportunity for members in these and other sectors to learn from each other about the organizational models and communications strategies that worked for them.

Beyond messages of solidarity, and the sharing of knowledge from CUPE leaders across Canada, this conference produced an Action Plan that reaffirms CUPE Ontario’s commitment to coordinated bargaining. Moreover, each Sector and occupational jurisdiction emerged from the conference with sector-specific work plans for coordination in their own jurisdictions. Next year, in 2010, CUPE Ontario will bring together its annual Sectoral Conferences so that we can go even farther in the important task of coordination by bringing together CUPE’s Sectoral and Local leaders. The 2010 conference will also give CUPE Ontario and its Sectors a headstart in designing a comprehensive campaign strategy for the provincial elections of 2011.