BCGEU convention underscores dedication to social justice and solidarity

BC Labour Bureau  

From May 29 to June 1, over 600 delegates to the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) triennial convention met in person in Vancouver to debate the future of BC’s fastest growing union.

Representing 90,000 public and private sector union members, delegates voted on BCGEU constitutional changes, fiercely debated over 300 resolutions, and elected a new executive. The convention showcased the BCGEU’s commitment to addressing critical issues affecting its members and laid out a strategic path for the future.

The convention opened with formal caucus meetings on equity and human rights, women and gender rights, and included caucuses for young workers, Indigenous workers, workers with disabilities, workers of colour, and workers of the 2SLGBTIQ+ community. Labour for Palestine held a significant presence throughout the convention, with a table on the main floor advocating for support of specific resolutions on ceasefire, anti-apartheid demands, BDS and international solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Following the caucus meetings, an opening statement calling for unity of purpose and solidarity was made by outgoing President Stephanie Smith, emphasizing the importance of collective action in advancing the interests of workers and marginalized communities.

Despite the efforts of numerous delegates calling for radical changes in solidarity stances, a significant resolution to add references to social justice, anti-racism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-settler-colonialism, anti-apartheid principles, decolonization, equality, workplace safety and decent wages and working conditions to the preamble of the BCGEU constitution failed to meet the two-thirds threshold. This resolution also included a specific demand for the BCGEU to fight for a world in which capitalism and oppression have been eradicated.

The debate over this resolution brought attention to the ongoing discussions within the union regarding its ideological stance and the degree to which it explicitly integrates principles of social justice and anti-oppression into its foundational documents. The supporting delegates were not deterred, recognizing the need for further revolutionary education on the topics of social justice and equality.

In front of over 800 people, numerous delegates bravely approached the mic in support of Palestinian self-determination. Through the significant organizing efforts of Labour for Palestine, and with delegates sharing personal experiences and connections to Palestine, a composite resolution from five locals and the Provincial Executive passed, enabling the BCGEU to initiate a lobbying campaign for peace.

Specifically, the resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire in Palestine and an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, while advocating for an end to Canada’s arms sales to Israel. It also supports lobbying on the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, pressures Israel to comply with international law and halt settlement expansion, educates members on political rights and solidarity, stands with Labour for Palestine, and supports BCGEU members advocating against Israeli apartheid.

With quick thinking and a significant understanding of the rules of order, a subsequent resolution that failed to acknowledge the decades of systemic oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people was deemed out of order. Unfortunately, the call for the BCGEU to adopt BDS measures did not pass.

Other major resolutions passed included the addition of an Executive Vice-President position for an Indigenous person and structural changes to Executive Vice-President roles, ensuring equitable representation in leadership. A resolution supporting Ukrainian refugees was amended to include demands for lobbying for a peaceful end to the conflict. Delegates in Community Social Services celebrated the call for the BCGEU to support the opening of the Presumptive Clause, which aims to provide critical assistance to workers in accessing compensation for job-related mental health challenges. Additionally, a resolution urging the BCGEU to research legislation related to Indigenous workers’ tax exemption under Status, assess its impacts on CPP contributions, and explore potential discrimination challenges in collaboration with First Nations legal experts, was passed. Delegates celebrated the defeat of a proposal to restrict union dues to regular time hours only, ensuring continued funding for staff, educational programs and organizing efforts.

Former Treasurer Paul Finch decisively won the election for President. His tenure as Treasurer has been marked by significant reforms aimed at enhancing accountability and maximizing the union’s impact. In his statements, Finch has pledged to prioritize the needs of members, strengthen communication channels and foster inclusive practices to ensure the BCGEU remains a powerful advocate for economic justice and social equality.

Other members of the executive include Maria Middlemiss as Treasurer and Executive Vice-Presidents Masoud Aminzavvar, Coralie Gregoire, Doug Kinna, Megan Washington and Tristen Wybou.

Speakers at the convention included Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle, Washington State Labor Council President April Sims, BC Federation of Labour President Sussanne Skidmore, BC Premier David Eby, NUPGE President Bert Blundon, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Canadian Labour Congress Vice President Siobhan Vipond.

Throughout Premier Eby’s speech, a dozen delegates bravely held signs in silent protest in support of Palestine and against his recent reactionary measures to recriminalize drug possession. The signs read “Solidarity with Palestine”, “Safe-Supply Saves Lives” and “Your Policies Killed My Friends”, underscoring the convention’s commitment to international social justice and solidarity with marginalized communities.

The convention engaged delegates in discussions on crucial matters and charting the union’s trajectory ahead. Amidst debates and concerted organizing endeavors, the meeting underscored the union’s steadfast dedication to social justice and solidarity, particularly evident in its support for Palestinian self-determination and resistance against oppression. Paul Finch’s presidency, marked by a commitment to ongoing reform and advocacy, supported by a diverse executive team, signals a promising direction for the union. As the BCGEU progresses, these steadfast commitments will continue to shape its agenda and priorities.

[Photo: BCGEU]

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