Two years ago today, on the fifth day of the CUPE strike in New Brunswick, workers and allies from across the province assembled in front of the New Brunswick Legislature.
In the introduction to the book, Bargaining Forward: The story of the 2021 CUPE strike in New Brunswick, labour historian David Frank writes:
It was the biggest strike in Canada that year. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in early November 2021, thousands of people marched through the streets of Fredericton. Stopping traffic, waving banners, sounding noisemakers, and chanting slogans, they made up one of the largest and most high-spirited demonstrations ever to take place in the New Brunswick capital.
When they reached the provincial legislature grounds, the crowd easily exceeded 5,000 people. Surrounding streets were blocked off for several hours as they cheered speakers, exchanged news about the progress of their strike, and welcomed supporters and members from other unions. In communities around the province, pickets walked up and down the sidewalks at major intersections and in front of shopping malls, holding up signs and waving to passing drivers who honked their approval.
The strike by 22,000 workers, members of ten province-wide locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), lasted sixteen days, but these events were in the making for months, even years.
The Bargaining Forward book was written by two NB Media Co-op journalists: Susan O’Donnell and David Gordon Koch. O’Donnell was part of the crowd at the Legislature that day in 2021 and she vividly recalls the mood and excitement. “It was electric. People were playing music, dancing, and singing and of course, waving the big yellow fists and fuschia CUPE flags. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day, and everyone was smiling and excited. The camaraderie and solidarity was powerful. There was a strong shared feeling that CUPE was going to win this one.”
One of the book chapters is devoted to that rally two years ago at the Legislature. A number of CUPE members are quoted, along with CUPE NB President Steve Drost:
Standing on the steps of the legislature holding a microphone, Steve Drost kicked off the rally with the kind of land acknowledgement the Attorney General had recently banned among civil servants. As the crowd cheered, he declared: “I give thanks and I recognize that we are on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Mi’kmaq, the Maliseet and the Passamaquoddy.
“I just want to tell you how proud I am to be a member of CUPE NB today,” he continued. “Your leaders have heard you loud and clear. For too many years you have been attacked. For too many years they have not paid you your worth. And you have given us a very strong message. You know your value. You know your worth. And we’re here to stand with you.
The NB Media Co-op covered the lead up to the strike and the strike itself extensively. After 16 days, the strike ended with a win for CUPE members, and afterwards, the union invited the NB Media Co-op to write a book to capture the story. Under the guidance of David Frank, the book tells the story in 10 chapters and dozens of photos, with the first chapter starting more than four years before the strike when a fateful decision was made at a CUPE convention.
CUPE NB President Steve Drost and CUPE Regional Director Sandy Harding write in a concluding chapter:
In 2021, workers fought and won. To onlookers, our province-wide strike might have seemed like a spontaneous event, or something planned just a few months ahead. In fact, it took us more than three-and-a-half years of hard work and planning with the Bargaining Forward campaign. Our victory was not an easy one, but it was well earned. CUPE’s 2021 strike was one of the largest successful acts of resistance in New Brunswick’s recent history. We hope it can serve as an inspiring example for working people facing hostile and powerful adversaries.