Courier editorials: Supporting the worker and not the cause; how to be an ally regardless

From the Tuesday, Nov. 2 edition of The Saint Croix Courier

Today, I’m struggling as to where I should begin. It’s been such a whirlwind of information and press briefings, conversations with CUPE workers on picket lines, and reading innumerable Facebook posts by friends who work within not only the provincial system, but within the locals which are currently on strike.

And I’m not for one second going to suggest I have the answer to the absolute mess we find ourselves in, as CUPE remains deadlocked with the province.

This whole issue has been such a moving target that some of the information I’ve presented in this edition may be moot by the time you, the reader, sees it, but that is something over which I have no control.

Anyway, as the situation stands as I write this, several CUPE locals are on strike and the impacts are being keenly felt in our education and health care systems.

The province has known for months this strike was imminent, and while Premier Higgs likes to put on his affable uncle demeanor and seem surprised or even wounded at the action, he certainly is not. He’s watched this brew for his entire time in office.

For CUPE’s part, it has been working for four years to find a suitable deal, according to the information it has provided, and its members have gone for a decade without tangible wage increases.

For CUPE, this is about wages. Not pensions, not the $500 COVID pay, but wages. The CUPE members I’ve spoken with have all said that very clearly to me. CUPE has said its members in New Brunswick are the lowest paid in the country and I can’t confirm or deny the claim. I’ve seen some evidence that would bring the statement into question, but having not sourced any numbers myself, I will have to sit on the fence for that one.

Here is what I can say definitively; it is a divisive issue.

Once again, New Brunswickers find themselves in a “you’re either with us or against us” position and I’d like to offer an alternative.

My opinion on CUPE’s strike action is irrelevant. Whether I think they should or shouldn’t be exerting their frustration in this manner or if I think this is the ideal way to stand-up to the province means doesn’t matter; I don’t have any skin in this game, but I can be an ally regardless.

You can support your fellow New Brunswickers and not their cause; the two are not mutually exclusive. Your support is not contingent on your agreement. The CUPE members on strike didn’t get there overnight. It follows years of being without an agreement, years of working in understaffed conditions. It’s on the heels of wage freezes but the province touting an over $400 million surplus during a pandemic.

So to the CUPE members I may reach, whatever brought you to this fight, I stand behind you, and I know I’m not alone.

Krisi Marples