CUPE conference: Building an economy that works

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $1 per month!

Change the conversation, support today.

 Quality public services provided by union members drive our country’s economy. Yet far too often, discussions about our economy are only framed from the point-of-view of banks and corporations, neglecting the interests of workers.

Finding ways CUPE can open up the public debate on our economy was the topic at a plenary session at CUPE's first ever National Bargaining Conference, now underway in Ottawa.

The panel discussion -- moderated by Anne Lagacé Dowson, president and general director of ENSEMBLE -- explored the current economic climate, what the labour movement can do to reframe the public discussion, and what can be done to start building an economy that works for all Canadians.

Panelist Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) kicked off the discussion by clearly laying out what’s at stake if the labour movement isn't part of public economic discourse.

"Unions are being targeted, not because they are unions, but because they are middle class," said Yalnizyan. "You smash unions, you are clearing the terrain for corporations to do whatever they want."

Letting corporations have free rein, Yalnizyan pointed out, not only hurts workers directly. Corporate backed policies -- like so-called "right-to-work" legislation and two-tier workplaces -- hurt the entire economy.

"If everybody gets less, capitalism doesn't work. So what is sometimes best for a corporation in the short term, cutting what workers make, effects the whole economy because they have no money to fuel the economy," said Yalnizyan.

Panelist Deena Ladd, coordinator of the Worker’s Action Centre, an organization that works with migrant workers in Toronto, agreed that too much is at stake to let corporate interests dominate the Canadian understanding of the economy, and that unions must take a leading role in broadening perspectives.

Ladd stressed the need to work beyond the labour movement in standing up to right-wing attacks.

"We need to build strong alliances, that back us up when times are tough," said Ladd. "If we don't do that, when the attacks come down, it's much easier for governments to turn the conversation to 'they are fat cats, they have pensions but you don't.' We need to build alliances so the discussion is 'Yes they have a pension, I want one too.'"

To tackle these misconceptions, both panelists agreed on the need to work with, and advocate for, non-union workers.

"It means standing up for migrant workers. It means fighting for a minimum wage. It means getting involved in campaigns that are maintaining our floor," said Ladd. "If we don't stand up on these attacks, what do we think will happen to us at the next round of bargaining?"

Ladd stressed the importance of on-going organizing and political action in making sure the voice of workers is heard. "We need a political base of power, so that regardless of who gets elected, they have to listen to us and follow through with our interests."

Yalnizyan, added, "while public policy is trying to push down the floor, unions must fight to push up the floor. When you do that, you raise your credibility with people in the community ... If you want to raise the floor, you have to raise the roof. We need to hear your voice everywhere."


Greg Taylor is a Senior Communications Officer at the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.