NUPGE – Costly and Ineffective


by Julius Arscott

The triennial National Union of Public and General Employees’ Union (NUPGE) convention, held June 20 – 23, drew 350 delegates to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Many of them witnessed the unveiling of the Winnipeg General Strike memorial, situated across from City Hall, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic strike when workers took control of their city, and laid the basis for the expansion of the labour movement – which today is threatened by aggressive employer and state actions.  NUPGE is a federal umbrella of provincial unions.  To affiliate to the Canadian Labour Congress and its over three million members, unions like OPSEU across the country (except for Quebec and the Territories) must join NUPGE.

As a delegate and member of Socialist Action, this writer spoke about the need to defy back to work legislation by any means necessary, stressed the urgent need for massive construction of affordable housing, the fight for eco-socialism, and called on affiliates to urge their members to vote for the labour-based NDP in the October 21 federal election. These interventions were well received.  However, there was a much higher percentage of labour bureaucrats than rank and file members at this convention, so the only attempt to amend a resolution occurred on the issue of the upcoming federal election, and it was defeated.

NUPGE claims to be a campaigning union.  Millions of dollars of affiliate dues go to it annually, but with very little positive effect. Because those who set up the body did so mainly to join the CLC, NUPGE was designed to be a glorified post office box.  The flat tone of the convention, and the lack of action coming from it, shows that little has changed in this regard.

Delegates visited the Manitoba Museum and gathered around the rocked streetcar sculpture, perhaps the most significant tribute to militant working class struggle in Canada. At the reception, participants eagerly took copies of the NDP Socialist Caucus magazine, Turn Left, and bought Socialist Action newspapers.

Other highlights included a free tour of the Human Rights Museum, which includes an exhibit on Nelson Mandela and the fight against South Africa Apartheid, as well as a free concert featuring Buffy St Marie and Randy Bachman in celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day.