It is perhaps not surprising how many people, even those who have heard of the Labour Council, do not have any idea what it is or what its function is. This is a pity since labour councils can, and should be a force for good in our community. Whether it is being a good ally for union affiliates or for community groups, or speaking out on an important issue, Labour Councils have a role to play.
But first let us deal with the basics. Labour councils are the parliament of unions in a specific area and are creatures of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the national union body. Each union affiliated with the CLC send a delegate to the council. At meetings, delegates give reports on their unions, debate motions, and decide on the overall activities of the labour council.
Labour councils in Canada have been in existence since 1881 when unions in Toronto gathered to promote the union cause. Vancouver and Victoria Labour Councils were founded in 1889 and 1890 respectively.
The Campbell River, Courtenay and District Labour Council is considerably younger than those two but it has an honourable history as an active and progressive council. Some of the past Presidents have been Marianne Bell, Mike Keelan, Anne Davis and John Fitzpatrick. The current President is CUPE member Andrea Craddock.
The Labour Council covers a geographical area from Qualicum Beach to Sayward and west to Gold River, but the majority of delegates come from Campbell River and the Comox Valley. For the past few years, the council has met at Halbe Hall in Black Creed, halfway between the two cities. Meetings are usually held on the 4th Monday of the month at 7:00 and they are open to the public, though only delegates may vote.
This labour council has gone through some ups and downs. When the Elk Falls Mill closed down in 2010 and 1800 CEP members lost their jobs, the labour council suffered a serious financial setback. Labour councils are funded by each affiliate paying a per capita amount based on the number of their members. However with some well thought out strategies, the labour council survived and is actually growing.
Another low point was the election of the B.C. Liberals. Their anti-working class and laissez faire business policy devastated some of our affiliated unions, such as the Hospital Employees Union. The Labour Council helped start up and fund the Comox Valley Action Coalition so ensuring there was organized resistance by the whole community to the Campbell government’s actions
So, what does the Labour Council do?
Delegates lobby our two MLAs Clare Trevena and Don McRae, and our MP, though with the present Conservative Party member John Duncan it’s like talking to a brick wall. We also make presentations to the various city, town and village councils.
We are also becoming more involved in municipal elections, interviewing candidates and then making recommendations to our members as those who best represent their values. We are still working to improve the process, but our success rate is already good. We want to make sure that labour’s voice is heard and respected, so that candidates actually seek out Labour Councils endorsement..
The Labour Council takes an active role in supporting historical and cultural events including:
World Community Film Festival, which we have supported financially every year since it began. You may have stopped by our table at the Bazaar for a chat or a pamphlet.
Labour Day Picnic at Halbe Hall is a family oriented event but has included guest poet such as Kate Braid and Mark Warrior and musicians such as Meaghan Cursons and Bobby Herron.
Mayworks Festival has included an amazing variety of events including theatre, visual arts, mural workshops, poets, and musicians. Now that Mayworks is winding down, the labour council continues to support the Words and Song evening, as well as Writing on Work.
In addition, we have brought in performers such as Anne Feeney, David Rovics, Enoch Kent and Zach Stevenson for one off performances throughout the year.
Miners Memorial Day: besides being financially supported by the labour council and by individual unions, a number of our delegates have been involved in planning the event since it began. As the biggest single fundraiser for the Cumberland Museum, this event helps to keep coalminers’ stories and the spirit of Ginger Goodwin alive. The Labour Council also supports the museum’s annual May Day Bean Dinner.
In 2014, the labour council was a co-host of the Pacific Northwest Labour History Association’s annual conference, with 180 delegates from B.C., Washington, and Oregon.
Day of Mourning: an annual tribute to workers killed or injured on the job, with ceremonies held in both Campbell River and Courtenay.
The labour council has been involved in or has organized many demonstrations and rallies around a whole variety of issues, including the current issue of elimination of door-to-door mail delivery.
With the Council of Canadians, the Labour Council co-sponsored a recent workshop on free trade agreements with the European Union and China.
When unions go on strike or are locked out, the labour council gives support by publicizing their struggle and organizing support for the picket lines. The casino workers in Campbell River who were on the picket line in December certainly appreciated the hot coffee and warm smiles from Labour Council delegates.
This list is certainly not exhaustive but you get an idea of all the activities we are involved in. Labour plays an important role and as one of the most visible icons of Labour in our community, labour councils need to become more familiar to citizens. Like any organization we have to become better and more effective but we are working at it.
For more info go to www.crclabourcouncil.com