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CEP, CAW forge cutting-edge vision for new union

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"It is a new union for new times, a new political and economic reality."

That's how Dave Coles described the recommended association between The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) during a press conference Wednesday morning at the Ryerson Student Centre in Toronto where the New Union Proposal Report was released.

Last summer, leaders of both unions began initial discussion around the formation of a new union. Beginning in November, they held small group meetings with the top elected leadership of both unions. By January, they'd formed a Proposal Committee.

From March to June, the Proposal Committee met five times for three to four days each. They also visited locals, attended Council meetings and various bodies of both unions.

In June and July, they began to write the New Union Proposal Report and to prepare for both the CEP and CAW conventions.

"The rules have changed in our relationship with governments and with corporations," said Coles, CEP National President.

"And we envision this new union as being able to more effectively and efficiently take forward the needs and desires of working people across Canada."

The final report will be presented to members of both unions during their annual conventions, where they will debate and vote on the proposed new union.

If it passes, there will be a founding convention for the new union some time next year.

The CAW convention will be held in Toronto from August 20 to August 24 and the CEP convention will be held in Quebec City from October 14 to October 17.

"The new union will have the largest organizing capacity of any union in Canada," said Coles. 

"We will have a very significant defense fund to take on the struggles that our members want us to take on."

It will also ensure that the new union has members in every community across Canada, ensuring change in the labour movement and in its relationship with those communities.

"We are going to do things differently," he said. 

In doing so, the new union hopes to represent workers who may never have a traditional collective agreement or a single employer, workers seeking employment or students about to enter the workforce.

"We are not going to be constrained by the old rules of law about how you represent workers. So those who don’t have collective agreements will have an opportunity to be represented by a union."

CAW President Ken Lewenza said both unions recognize that they can no longer continue to operateseparately if they expect to take on corporations and governments in the years ahead.

"We intend to change the unequal labour rules in this country," said Lewenza. "In every province workers should have the right to organize and not be impeded by employers’ threat of them losing their jobs."

By partnering with labour councils, affiliated unions and grassroots activists across Canada, the new union hopes to become a powerful force that won't be walked all over by governments and corporations.

So how will this union differ from any other?

"This isn't a merger," said Peter Kennedy, CAW Secretary-Treasurer/ Proposal Committee co-chair.

"It isn't what would normally happen in these types of situations where, perhaps out of desperation, one union seeks a home with another union."

In this instance, said Kennedy, the new union will have a new name, a new identity and a new logo. Not simply a list of the current organizations.

"It will be truly a national organization," he said. 

"Both our unions today claim to be national, but if you look at the demographics in some cases on the ground we're pretty sparse."

The new union will represent private and public sector workers from coast to coast. And not just those in certified bargaining units.

It will be open to the unemployed, students, self-employed and freelance workers.

"It will be open to anybody who shares the values that our organization will represent," said Kennedy.
In terms of attracting new members, 10 per cent of the revenue from the new union will be dedicated to organizing. 

In the first five years, over $50 million dollars will be spent on organizing campaigns. "There will be a commitment to equity and diversity that exists in no other organization today," said Kennedy. 

Nineteen positions on the 25 person national executive board will be filled by rank and file leadership.

"This will not be a top-heavy union bureaucracy," he said. "This will be an activist organization led by rank and file leaders."

To ensure sustained growth, the new union will commit more funds to education than ever before.

"The results of our report will be studied for many years by academics because it’s going to change the face of this country," said Gaetan Menard, CEP Secretary-Treasurer/ Proposal Committee co-chair.

Over 80,000 women will be members of the new union. As a result, the report recommends that women be represented on the national executive board in proportion to their level of membership.

Every year, thousands of delegates will come together to give direction to their leadership.

"That is democracy. And this is how you build an active union."

Menard said even though there were some "difficult" discussions over the last several months, one thing that everyone agreed upon from the beginning was the "national character of Quebec."

Both organizations were of the same mind that Quebec is distinct and agreed that the province would have its own structure within the overall structure of the new union. 

In the end, the new union wants to create an impressive presence in every community across Canada.

"This is where we have to be connected," he said. This is where we have to be present. And this is where we have to be active."

They want a union that becomes the benchmark for social justice issues everywhere. An organization with more than 20,000 local union activists.

A union that promises to stand up for the working class in general. To defend their rights while demanding more social justice.

"That will be the key to make sure that we connect with the community," said Menard.

"This is where it all starts. This is where it's going to happen."

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