A new book co-published by the NB Media Co-op and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) vividly documents the historic 2021 strike in New Brunswick.
About 100 people filled a room at the Delta Beauséjour hotel in Moncton on Wednesday to hear from CUPE organizers and the authors of Bargaining Forward: The story of the 2021 CUPE strike in New Brunswick. The 94-page volume, co-authored by Susan O’Donnell and David Gordon Koch, includes dozens of full-colour photographs and other illustrations.
Ten chapters tell the story of how front-line workers stood together and won against a hostile government led by Premier Blaine Higgs. The 16-day strike involved approximately 22,000 members from 10 province-wide locals.
The text includes an introduction by labour historian David Frank and a conclusion by CUPE NB president Steve Drost and CUPE regional director Sandy Harding. They spoke at the launch along with the authors and CUPE national president Mark Hancock.
The launch event was also live streamed, and you can watch a recording of the event here:
Based on extensive interviews with union leaders and front-line members, the book traces the strike back to 2017.
That’s when CUPE members voted on a resolution for the union to fight back against wage stagnation and a provincial government eager to blame its financial mismanagement on public sector workers.
Union organizing over the next four years led to a dramatic showdown with the government of Blaine Higgs, after he tried to impose a severe wage mandate on the public sector. The premier announced the wage mandate at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, while asking union leaders to help roll out the province’s vaccination program to workers at the frontlines.
The wage mandate (zero per cent pay increases in the first year, followed by one per cent annually for three years) provoked indignation and generated a memorable rallying cry: zeros for heroes.
The book details how those events “woke up the beast” and mobilized workers for a fightback that culminated with the 2021 strike, which ultimately broke the wage mandate.
Using an accessible journalistic prose style, the book describes how CUPE issued a 100-day ultimatum to Premier Blaine Higgs in the lead-up to Labour Day in 2021.
In the autumn, CUPE members voted overwhelmingly for strike action, setting up picket lines in high-visibility locations across the province, and staging one of the biggest rallies in provincial history in Fredericton on Tuesday, November 2.
Other key moments include a dramatic face-off between Premier Higgs and CUPE members on the steps of the legislature on Friday, November 5.
Later that day, the province issued a back-to-work order affecting more than 3,000 workers under pandemic state of emergency powers.
The book is richly illustrated with photographs from across the province, showing the high-spirited nature of the strike and widespread public support for the frontline workers.
The story is centred on the conflict with the Higgs government, but with an analysis that challenges years of anti-union policies under successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments sharing an austerity agenda.
Congratulations to @CupeMaritimes & @nbmediacoop on the launch of Bargaining Forward, the story of the historic 2021 strike in New Brunswick. And thank you to our members who, with their courage & conviction, added a new chapter to CUPE’s 60-year history. https://t.co/AZb7uxml20 pic.twitter.com/8VeFMSC8c2
— Candace Rennick (@CandaceRennick) January 25, 2023
The launch event was held during a week-long series of training workshops for CUPE members to plan for future campaigns to prepare for the ongoing fight for fair wages and quality public services.
The full-colour coffee table-style print edition of Bargaining Forward is available for purchase in CUPE’s online store in both English and French editions. Copies are $25 each.