Defending Medicare

Taking on Gordocchio

How we are defending Medicare and health care workers

The Liberal government’s attack on HEU members, the public health system and legally negotiated contracts is unprecedented in British Columbia’s history. Never before has a provincial government broken a collective agreement mid-term by using “legislative vandalism” to unilaterally redefine the terms and conditions under which people work.

The contract clauses that have been targeted go right to the heart of our public health care system — the clauses that protect public health care services and the health care workers who provide them. Doing away with those key clauses paves the way for hospital closures, the elimination of many community and social health services and privatization of huge chunks of our public health care.

HEU’s Provincial Executive presented their Action Plan to more than 500 local leaders gathered for an emergency meeting on Feb. 9, 2002. Discussions focused on planning a sustainable, long-term fightback against Campbell’s agenda.

“Building our coalitions is critical,” said HEU secretary-business manager, Chris Allnutt. “But just as important in the minds of our local leaders is continuing to educate our members and to engage them in a discussion on the range of actions they’ll participate in to fight a government that has no respect for legally negotiated contracts.”

HEU members across B.C. have been rallying, meeting and protesting together with seniors, students, youth, women, people with disabilities, churches, anti-poverty groups, community organizations and other trade unions.

On February 23, tens of thousands of British Columbians found their way to Victoria — by car, on foot, bike, chartering hundreds of buses, even chartering a ferry — to tell the Campbell government to stop tearing apart this province at the expense of so many for the benefit of so few. It was a powerful and enabling experience for those who were there, but the work is only beginning, said Allnutt.

“The coalition-building between labour and the community is essential if we are going to win this battle,” he said. “And HEU members have been finding new and wonderful ways to bring us closer to our community partners, ranging from writing letters to editors, petition campaigns, leafleting and community meetings.”

With enhanced consultation in the garbage can, finding ways to engage in workplace-based fightback actions that will frustrate employer efforts to downsize is essential. The objective is to put as much pressure as possible on the government while minimizing pressure on health care workers, residents, patients and clients.

Appropriating a favourite Liberal word, we will have to be “flexible” in our fightback plans and actions. That will mean changing plans very quickly sometimes.

“The boss is going to try and divide us, so it is paramount that we work with other unions in our workplaces,” said Allnutt. “We need to work with local labour and CUPE district councils, even inviting them to our local meetings. And with them reach out to the community at large, so we can continue to build those coalitions in our communities.”

Politically, HEU members can follow Campbell’s advice and hold their local MLAs accountable and promote labour-friendly candidates in the November municipal elections.

HEU and other unions are working with the B.C. Federation of Labour to fight the Liberal attacks. The government’s assault is clearly designed to dismantle this province’s strong labour movement, and it is mandatory that a strengthened commitment to organize the unorganized must be part of this fightback campaign.

That commitment will be sounded out with a canvas of the province’s 450,000 unionized workers. HEU’s participation in this canvas is dubbed “More Than a Strike Vote” and will be carried out in March.