"Values like sharing, caring, love, respect, and taking responsibility for our lives and how we want to be treated. These are the values that define us. They are what breathe meaning into the word solidarity. They are what give motion to our movement." — James Clancy, NUPGE National President
To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget. — Arundhati Roy, author and activist
Ottawa 17 June 2016
Dear NUPGE members
I am not reoffering for the presidency of our union at our convention next week. This very personal decision was difficult to make, but it feels wonderful. Let me explain why.
For one thing, I’m not leaving the labour movement. How could I? It has inspired and defined and guided my entire adult life. I could no more leave the movement than I could willingly stop my heart.
More on that later. First, I want to tell you what a great privilege to lead as president for 26 years. I’ve loved every moment of it, even the difficult ones. I have loved speaking up about fairness — Let’s beat the boss! What a great feeling every morning.
Listening is more fruitful than speaking
I found, however, that listening was more fruitful than speaking. Listening to members and marrying that with a conviction that when it’s all said and done, it is our values that bind us together.
Values like sharing, caring, love, respect, and taking responsibility for our lives and how we want to be treated. These are the values that define us. They are what breathe meaning into the word solidarity. They are what give motion to our movement.
We are all individuals. But we are also all part of a vast river — a union river that stretches back generations and forward into generations to come. As an activist, local president, and member and president of OPSEU and NUPGE, I have been part of that river for the past 40 years. During these four decades, I’ve worked with thousands of activists and great staff. I’m proud of the work we have done. And of course, I pay tribute each day to the work of those who came before us in this great river. What a joy — it’s a calling I embrace.
Still, it must be said: the last 30 years have been incredibly difficult for our movement.
The neoliberals sought to destroy us
Thatcher, Reagan, Pinochet and their various acolytes set out to destroy us. These “neoliberals” do not share our values. In fact, our values stand squarely in the way of their lust for power and money and so they made us their primary target.
British author and economist Paul Mason puts it very well:
These pioneers of neoliberalism drew a conclusion that has shaped our age: that a modern economy cannot coexist with an organized working class. Consequently, they resolved to smash labour’s collective bargaining power, traditions, and social cohesion completely …
Neoliberalism's guiding principle is not free markets, nor fiscal discipline, nor sound money, nor privatization and offshoring — nor even globalization. All these things were byproducts or weapons of its main endeavour: to remove organized labour from the equation.
I am incredibly proud to say that they have thus far failed to remove us from the equation. They have dealt us serious blows, attacking relentlessly the ability of working women and men to join a union and engage in collective bargaining. But none of these attacks have been fatal.
As Canadian trade unionists, I know that our values are strong and that our actions have made and continue to make a difference both here and abroad.
Unions matter more than ever
Today, unions matter more than ever. The scourge of growing wealth and income inequality is causing great suffering and growing intolerance.
As NUPGE members, we have an obligation to continue to speak out — to act — to demand fairness for our families, our communities, and for suffering peoples around the world.
Even after my time at NUPGE ends, I will be privileged to continue to pursue this work with you.
Following our convention, I will begin working to establish the Canadian Labour Institute. The Institute will continue our NUPGE work on income inequality. I will lead the work of the foundations we have created over the last number of years— the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights, Canadians for a Modern Industrial Strategy, and the Public Services Foundation of Canada.
The values that bind us will be the values that underpin the work of the Canadian Labour Institute. With your support, it will complement the work of activists in our union, and activists across Canada and abroad who recognize that in solidarity, we will prevail.
Thank you for your work.
See you on the streets!
NUPGE National President
James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE