Larry Brown, President of the Canadian National Union of Public and General Employees, recently delivered an incisive presentation to IEU staff on the big picture issues affecting unions and union members today.
“I’m a fair distance from home, but it’s amazing how little distance I’ve come in terms of the issues,” said Brown, who heads up a federation of 11 unions with 370,000 combined members.
“I read you local paper and I take out a couple the names, and a couple of the nuances and I’m reading my home paper news,” he said.
Brown delivered a couple of sobering statistics about the current state of income inequality around the world.
“There are now five people in the world who have as much income as half of the rest of the population.
“If we took half of their accumulated wealth, we’d end poverty around the world.”
Brown named governments as one of the culprits responsible for this gross inequality.
“Government after government decided that corporations were paying too much in tax.
“Once you cut taxes then you turn around and cut services because otherwise you have to run a deficit.”
He determined that many governments were intentionally “setting up the conditions for shrinking the public sector”.
Regarding the treatment of unions in his own country, Brown was not optimistic.
‘Trudeau reversed some of the attacks on the labour movement . . . [But] that’s only the absence of a negative. We can’t fix the fundamentals by tinkering around the edges.”
Throughout his presentation, Brown emphasised the importance of having a strong labour movement.
“A labour movement is one of the key factors in reducing income inequality and a key factor in increasing the level of democracy in a country.”
“If our member is getting a decent wage at work but the community that the member goes home to is falling apart due to social illness caused by income inequality, how does that make sense?
“We have to get involved in all of the issues that are affecting our members.”
IEU Assistant Secretary Pam Smith outlined some IEU’s initiatives that fell outside the ‘eight hour day’, including an environment committee and actions around women’s rights, such as paid maternity leave. After the presentation, Brown answered several questions from IEU staff, including how to better engage a millennial audience with union activities and how to confront the issue of a retiring ‘baby boomer’ membership.
To conclude the presentation, IEU Secretary John Quessy presented Brown with a reproduction of an Aboriginal artwork Waterhole Dreaming, and thanked him for “his time and wisdom”.