Crystal Warner, National Vice-President, BC/YT, of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, interviewed Irene Lanzinger, the Secretary-Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour, about her candidacy for President of the BCFed. The BCFed’s convention will take place in Vancouver from November 24 to 28.
Crystal Warner: Tell me why you’re running to be President of the BC Federation of Labour?
Irene Lanzinger: I have spent the last twenty-five years as an activist and leader in the labour movement. It has been an honour to serve my union, the BC Teachers’ Federation as a local president, chief negotiator for 41,000 teachers and ultimately as president. Four years ago, I was elected to the position of Secretary Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour. I have learned great deal from our affiliates. I am passionate about the role the BCFed plays in coordinating the work of unions and making the labour movement stronger. The BCFed is the voice for all workers in the province whether they belong to a union or not and I am proud of our record in standing up for workers’ rights. I am running for president because I want to offer my skills, experience and commitment to the workers of B.C.
CW: What are some challenges facing the labour movement that you’d like to address as President of BC Fed?
IL: The political environment is very challenging for unions and progressive activists. Right wing governments, aided by their supportive think tanks, have vigorously attacked unions and workers’ rights. This has made bargaining for better wages, benefits and working conditions extremely difficult. It has also severely hampered the ability of unions to organize more workers into unions. At the BCFed we need to help unions with bargaining and organizing by coordinating the work of unions, assisting with training and helping unions share their expertise on these issues.
We also need to aggressively attack the argument for lower taxes and the resulting attack on public services. We need to convince the public that fair taxes and good government is the key to producing an equitable society where everyone has the chance to earn a decent living and we look after the most vulnerable members of our society.
CW: What are your plans for engagement with regards to marginalized members of the labour community?
IL: We need to bring our organizing skills to our own unions and the labour movement. Engaging marginalized members requires inviting them to be part of the discussion about the future of our movement and asking them about their experiences in the workplace and in their union. We need to genuinely listen to the issues faced by marginalized workers and help construct a plant to deal with those issues.
Social activities and celebrations of our successes can also play a useful role in engaging members. Finally we need to use all the tools available to us. That requires us to use social media, webcasts, podcasts etc. to take all the opportunities we have to communicate with our members.
CW: What are your plans to get young workers engaged in the labour movement?
IL: Engaging young people requires the time and resources to support an active Young Workers’ Committee. We must also be committed to listening to what the committee says and to give them some power to organize campaigns and activities that speak to their issues. About 6 years ago we set the goal of having 100 delegates to the BCFed convention under the age of 30. At the last Fed convention there were 150 delegates under 30. Young people are the future of our movement. We need to take every opportunity we have to bring them in and tap their energy and enthusiasm to make our movement stronger.
CW: What would you do to combat the recent attacks on defined benefit plans?
IL: In a number of sectors we have bargained defined benefit pension plans and we need to protect them using all tools at our disposal. This means vigorously defending these plans in bargaining. It also means convincing governments and employers that these plans are good for workers, good for the economy and affordable. Pensions are deferred salary and workers who have deferred their salary deserve the benefit of that.
No one benefits if seniors are poor. We have a more stable and healthy economy if we have financial security in our retirement years. If this is not the case, seniors will end up costing more in terms of social services and health care. Ensuring that seniors are well looked after is an important moral value in our society.
CW: What is the role of the BCFed in fighting climate change? Specifically what should the BCFed be advocating for in terms of its stances on pipelines and forestry?
IL: The BCFed has built a strong alliance with a number of environmental groups called Green Jobs B.C. The success of this coalition relies on focusing on common ground. There are plenty of areas where we could increase the number of good jobs in this province and also reduce our carbon emissions. Some examples are: better forest management, more public transit, retrofitting public buildings and residential properties and encouraging more clean energy production.
The BCFed represents a wide variety of unions with very divergent views on resource projects such as the construction of pipelines. This makes it difficult for us to take position on individual projects that involve jobs for members of our affiliates. Not all projects are beneficial to the province but some projects should go ahead. Each project needs to be thoroughly assessed in terms of its benefits to British Columbians and the potential harm that may result.
CW: What changes would you like to bring to the BCFed as President?
IL: I would like to see the BCFed engage more with rank and file union members across the province. We have initiated regional conferences across the province which have allowed us to begin this work but we could do more. We should take our campaigns around the province. We will be launching a minimum wage campaign at convention and I would like to see a series of community events involving union and community members around the province as part of the campaign. Also, we should be encouraging our affiliates and their locals to invite speakers from the BCFed to meetings to talk about our work.
The BCFed needs to vigorously pursue a number of issues. One of them is shifting the public narrative on fair taxes to pay for good government and critical public services. We have seen an unprecedented attack on public services both provincially and federally. The BCFed must be part of changing that and convincing British Columbians and Canadians that the strength of our country has been to pool our resources through taxes to provide citizens with much needed services.
CW: Do you think unions should be restricted on how many delegates they can send to BCFed?
IL: The BCFed convention is the ultimate decision making body of the B.C. Federation of Labour. Affiliates are entitled to send delegates based on the number of members they have. I support the principle of representation by population for decision making bodies. However, the convention also involves a number of free events open to all members of unions and the community. I think this strikes the right balance between fair rules for the decision making body and the need to involve a wide variety of workers in important issues facing working people in B.C.
CW: If elected as your Secretary/Treasurer, how do you see yourself working with Aaron Eckman?
IL: I have been in elected office most of the last 25 years. During that time I have built a strong record of being able to work with everyone on the various teams I have been on. I am confident that I would have no difficulty working with Aaron Eckman.
CW: Why should delegates to BCFed Convention elect you as President?
IL: In the face of increasing inequality in our society, unions and the labour movement play a critical role in gaining better wages and working conditions for all workers and contributing to building a more equal society. I am passionate about the fight for workers’ rights and a more socially just world. I have been involved in that struggle all of my working life, as a teacher and as a union activist and leader. I will bring all my energy to that fight and to representing the workers of B.C.