Telephone workers’ voices in the streets
BC Federation of Labour demonstrates in support of the Telus workers’ struggle
An Interview with the demonstrators
By Ivan Drury
On Thursday July 28th the BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) called an emergency rally in support of the Telus workers’ struggle against the Telus lockout. This rally was organized as part of a call to action by the BCFED against the attempted ripping up of the Telecommunication Workers’ Union (TWU) contract by Telus. In a press release issued the day of the rally, BCFED president Jim Sinclair called for “consumer action” by Telus customers in support of the TWU by “canceling their call features and canceling automatic bill payment.”
The rally itself brought together over a thousand TWU members and supporters outside of the Telus skyscraper straddling the borders of Vancouver and Burnaby. Called out with just 24 hours’ notice, people swarmed the steps and sidewalk outside the Telus building with TWU signs and flags from nearly every union you can think of. On the lips of every person present was the chant of determination to hold out “ONE DAY LONGER” than Telus.
The BCFED-organized rally is an important step in a struggle that is led by the TWU workers but is loaded with implications for the entire labour movement. The Telus lockout is a blow against the wages, benefits, job security and rights of all Telus workers, but also, it is an attack on the collective bargaining rights of the entire labour movement. The struggle for the rights of the TWU is the struggle of all workers against wage rollbacks, cuts to benefits, contracting out, and privatization and the sight of a thousand workers united in the streets is a welcome one indeed.
Just by walking through the crowd that assembled in support of the TWU, Fire This Time had the opportunity to interview ten people, rank and file workers as well as union presidents from different unions, about why they were there and what they think the struggle of the TWU means for working and poor people in BC. These short interviews capture the voice of people in BC and they show that when people come together in a struggle of shared interest, we also share our confidence, our hope and our belief in our ability to win.
Bruce Bell (TWU President)
Can you say a few words about what you think the significance of the rally is today for the strike and for the labour movement?
It’s very important that the labour movement sticks together. We’ve seen lots of unions pushed around and it’s now time for the labour movement to equal the sides and level out that teeter-totter, that pendulum has swung too far.
The bosses in Telus are going to be quaking in their boots after seeing the rally in the streets today… can you give us a picture of what it’s going to take to win this strike?
Just a word about the bosses… I want to tell you there are a lot a Telus bosses who have talked to us, and me, and said ‘we’re rooting for ya – we’re tired of this guy and you guys are the only ones who can stop him because he’s running roughshod over us.’ There’s a lot of bosses who are supporting us, there’s a lot of new bosses, I gotta say, that aren’t… and shame on them, but they’ll come along.
What it’s going to take is this kind of solidarity. Stick it out. You heard the chant tonight, “one day longer”. We’ll get back to the bargaining table, that’s just a matter of time. We’ll probably need the help of a special mediator. One’s been offered but the company won’t take them up on it. It’s under section 105 of the federal code entitled industrial peace – we’re a peaceful union, that why it’s under industrial peace so, you know what can happen if it doesn’t get solved eventually.
I’ve been talking to a lot of your members and they all have the same sentiments as you and the same level of confidence and we all wish you the greatest luck.
Thank you very much and thank you for being here brother.
Thank you very much Bruce.
Helma Nuyten (TWU Worker)
How do you feel about the rally today? What do you think it means for the TWU struggle?
I think it shows that the support of the entire labour movement is with us and it is a boost to the people who are in this situation.
The strike has already captured a lot of media attention and I think it has captured, in a lot of ways, the hopes of a lot of people in the province. What do you think it has come to represent for TWU workers themselves?
We’ve got a leader whose motto is ‘my way or the highway’ and in this case he’s met some people who are not going to give in to him, as opposed to some of the executives who are no longer working for him. We’re out here for however long it takes.
I want to assure you that people all across British Columbia are here with you. Thank you.
Tina and Elise (locked out TWU workers)
What does the rally today mean for TWU workers?
Elise: For me, it means the support of all the union members and organizations. For me, it’s the support from all the unions, that’s why they’re here.
Why are you yourselves on strike?
Tina: We want to fight against the contracting out of the bargaining unit. The wages are not the main issue, as the president of TWU said, what we are fighting for is job security. If we win here, all the unions of all the other organization will win too, they will have job security in the future also.
If you had one message to give to people in BC who wanted to support you, what would you say?
Support us! (laughs) Switch [phone companies]! (laughs)
Thank you very much.
Jim Sinclair (President of the BC Federation of Labour)
Jim, I want to ask you, what was the significance of the rally today for the struggle of the TWU and the labour movement overall?
Well, to start off with this is a very significant strike for the labour movement and for working people in this province. This is a demonstration called on very short notice and there are hundreds and hundreds of people from different unions and their supporters are here. And they’re pumped and they’re ready to fight this company because we know that if they get away with this then, like every other strike, they push these people back then the rest of us are going to pay that price too. And this is a strike, lockout, whatever… this is a struggle about whether or not a decent job with a decent pay cheque and respect is still possible in the global economy. Telus wants to take these jobs and send them somewhere else, they want no responsibility to people in this province and we’re going to win. It’s that simple, we’re going to win this one.
Can you give a message from the BC Fed to unions, other union members and people in the province in general about why it’s important to support this struggle?
I want to say one important thing. If you believe in a society where we get decent pay cheques and we have a heath care system where no one has to line up behind someone with money. If you believe in a society where every kid who gets born has every opportunity to be a decent good person who lives with creativity and opportunities, then you have to stand up for these people. Because the kind of society that Darren Entwistle wants is the opposite. He wants a corrupt, greedy, poverty stricken, despairing society where he creams the crop of the money for himself. That’s what this strike is about, that’s what the strike of the truckers is about, it’s about working people getting their share of the wealth so our communities work.
Let me tell ya, I got nothing against the Phillipines, or India or any other place that Telus wants to go work there, but the customers are here, the jobs are here and they should stay here.
Thank you very much Jim.
Rennie Amundsen (TWU member, Telus credit services worker)
Rennie, what do you think the rally today means for the strike and for the labour movement?
Well this sends a really big message to Darren Entwistle and the entire board of directors of Telus that they need to get off this idea that they are going to break our union and start to negotiate a real contract, basing it on what we’ve had. We’re not going to give them our jobs and we’re not going to give them the right to destroy every union in this province.
There has been a series of attacks on public sector unions in British Columbia by the BC Liberal government, and this is one of the first huge open bore attacks on private sector. What do you think this switch signifies for workers overall in BC?
For the TWU it’s a life or death situation. If the company wins, and we are forced back on their contract, all of our jobs will be gone within a few months. Our union would be destroyed and it would be open season on unions in this country. That’s what will happen.
The Liberals got away with it in the public sector, and now the private sector is trying to get away with the same thing. They can destroy unions, they can attack them, they can put people out of work; exactly the union busting tactics from the US.
To speak to community groups and people who are not TWU workers, what would you say is necessary from supporters like us to win this strike?
Well, the union is calling on supporters to take the services off their phones, disconnect those services and come out to the picket lines, come out to the rallies here. Come out to the picket lines, even if you just drive by and honk at us, it’s a help, it really, really makes things different. And you know that management hates it when they hear that honking.
Thank you very much brother.
Vicki (TWU member)
What do you think of the lockout?
I’m a supporter of TWU and a supporter of our president Bruce Bell as well. All we want is for our jobs to stay here in Canada, we don’t want our jobs to be contracted out, they haven’t negotiated with our union whatsoever. We’ve got a union in place, that’s what our union is for, to negotiate for the employees. They’re our voice and Darren Entwistle is not listening to us. He is just not negotiating and as far as I’m concerned he’s not a very nice person. He’s getting richer and the rest of us are going south.
Can you tell me, how did the rally today make you feel?
This rally today was awesome. Everybody that turned out was great, they were wonderful. Thank you! (to the cars driving by honking)
Can you tell people who want to support you what they can do to help?
They can drive by our picket lines and honk… and they can bring us some water… (laughs)
Thank you very much.
Kyla (CUPE 2278, UBC Teaching Assistants).
Can you explain to me why you’re here at the rally today in support of TWU?
Supporting brothers and sisters in unions across the board is important and the TAs at UBC had a lot of support when we were on strike so we’re just paying back to our brothers and sisters, it’s just one big community.
What do you think this strike means for workers in BC?
I think the message to Gordon Campbell’s government is that the people are furious and the workers are revolting. You know? We’re tired of this. We were legislated back when we TAs were on strike and that’s just not right, it’s not a democracy.
What do you think it’s going to take to win this strike?
I think it’s a tough battle but when we all stand united together that eventually the government is going to have to listen to the people. We put them there and we can take them away.
Thank you very much.
Ken Hiebert (International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 500)
Can I ask why you are here in support of the TWU?
I’m not well informed on the specific issues, but even a group of workers who are better off, it’s not in anyone’s interest to see them pushed back. I know that sometimes people find it hard to identify with the workers who have achieved more in their contracts, such as the longshore workers or the telephone workers, but if they’re pushed back, everybody gets pushed back and it won’t help the poorer off workers in any way.
What does this mean for the labour movement?
This is not a routine strike, there is going to be a movement in support of the telephone workers, and that is very important.
Thank you very much.
Lilly Longcar (CUPE Local 1004)
Can you tell us which union you’re with and why you’re here in support of the TWU?
I’m with CUPE Local 1004 and I’m at the rally today to support my brothers and sisters and members of the TWU in their fight and the struggle against the scum employer Telus.
Can you tell us the significance of this lockout for other workers in the province besides TWU?
If Telus gets away with imposing a collective agreement on the TWU workers, then what’s to stop other employers from doing the same thing? We have to win this, for everybody, not just for the telecommunications workers.
In your opinion, what is it going to take to win this battle?
I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I think we should do whatever it takes to win it.
Thank you very much.
Fred Muzin (President of the Hospital Employees Union)
Just over a year ago, there was a massive rally in support of the strike and struggle of the HEU. Now, just over a year later, the TWU, which is private sector, is on the hook in a lot of the same ways that the HEU was. Can you explain the significance of this struggle and why it’s important to support it?
I think it’s tremendously important to show that the public in BC is not buying the corporate agenda. The corporate agenda believes in privatization and contracting out regardless of whether it’s public or private sector because, quite frankly, they believe that all services should be private for profit.
The fact that 15 months after the government ordered us [HEU] back to work by legislation and rolled back our wages, the fight and the militancy and the numbers of people who are coming out to say ‘this is not the way we want our society in BC to operate’ is tremendously significant.
The energy is there and the people are sending a very clear message that it’s not if we win, it’s how long it’s going to take and we will be here until that day comes.
You gave a very clear message of that in your talk today, in a very strong and confident speech. Can you tell us why the HEU is supporting the TWU workers?
The contract is being broken by Telus imposing a contract, disregarding the collective bargaining process. We had our bargaining truncated 15 months ago, we had four days of legal job action and then the government didn’t negotiate anything on the incredibly legitimate issues. Instead they imposed a longer work week, and a 15% wage roll back regardless of the work we do. All the problems are still there, they’re still festering, there’re lots of issues that have to be addressed and they can only be addressed by both parties sitting down in good faith and using the collective bargaining process. That’s not happening here, it didn’t happen in our dispute and it’s just a matter of time before that comes back to haunt the captains of industry.
Could you give us an idea of what it’s going to take to win this fight and what this rally today meant for labour?
It’s going to take a lot of people inflicting some economic damage on the company. What they care about is their share price and they have no regard for service for the public. They have no regard for the workforce, which in any service industry is your number one investment, the investment you have in your people, so it’s tremendously significant that these numbers of people are willing to stay the course, to fight the fight and inflict that economic pain until the company understands that without economic justice for everybody, not just Darren Entwistle, there will be no peace and there will be no adequate service levels for the public.
Thank you very much Fred.
Fire This Time encourages all our readers to support the TWU by going by picket lines and offering support and participating in the consumer action called by the BCFED, canceling all ‘extras’ on your Telus phone account.
For more information on the Telus lockout of the TWU and for ways that you can support it see:
and for information on the consumer action see:
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