In a fiery opening speech to convention delegates and guests, CAW President Ken Lewenza lamented the constant attack on workers wages and benefits in Canada and encouraged progressives to put forward new, alternative ideas that challenge growing insecurity, inequality and injustice in Canada and around the world.
“Everyday I wake up on the wrong side of capitalism. And everyday I wake up knowing there are more people with me,” Lewenza said. “Enough of us are waking up to fight back.”
Lewenza’s speech set the tone for the union’s Constitutional and Collective Bargaining Convention, held at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre Hotel from August 20-24.
The convention theme is “A Better World is Possible”, something Lewenza said should be read as a call to action for working people across Canada.
“I believe we are in the early days of a popular movement that will redefine our country, and the same is true for countries around the world,” Lewenza said.
Lewenza noted the challenges Canadian workers face three-years removed from the global economic crisis, with new jobs more insecure and precarious. Lewenza also reflected on the specific challenges the union faces heading into a critical round of bargaining with the Detroit Three automakers in the coming weeks.
“We need to work out a way of sharing in the success which all three companies have enjoyed since the dramatic events caused by the financial crisis.”
Lewenza roundly criticized the Harper government’s attack on collective bargaining rights especially through their unprecedented interventions at Air Canada, Canada Post and CP Rail – likening them to other attacks seen recently in Ontario, Saskatchewan and the United States.
Lewenza said he has been encouraged by actions taken by the Occupy movement in 2011, students in Quebec, as well as Canadian doctors and scientists speaking out against the Harper government’s austerity agenda.
Lewenza said it’s time for Canadians to consider radical economic reforms that break from the status quo in order to help protect good quality jobs and rebuild Canada’s faltering industrial base.
“We need to establish a publicly-owned national development bank to direct spending toward real investments in key sectors and regions. We need to tame the uncontrolled power of private banks to control the flow of credit and set interest rates. And we need to assert public control over the financial sector,” Lewenza said to loud applause.