Longtime labour activist honoured in Vancouver

Almost a half-century after he helped found CUPE, Bill Ferguson says the labour movement faces even greater challenges as manifested in the global Occupy movement.

A labour and peace activist for much of his life, Ferguson, 83, was honoured by CUPE at its national convention in Vancouver Monday. He received a standing ovation from the 2,500 delegates as they saluted his more than 60 years of service to the union movement.

"It feels great," he said Tuesday from the convention. "I'm not used to all this praise."

Ferguson retired as CUPE Local 900 representative with the City in 1995 but has remained active in labour circles.

When two national public service unions agreed to merge to form the largest affiliate of the Canadian Labour Congress, he hopped the train to Winnipeg to be part of the historic union. He is also a charter member of the Kamloops and District Labour Council, having been with the council since 1956, and remains on the board as executive member-at-large.

Many local presidents still call him for advice and strategy, said CUPE Local 3500' John Hall, who called Ferguson a "true friend of the workers."

"I hired Bill as a labour consultant when I first started as president of union," Hall recalled. "Bill I would consider my mentor in the labour movement. There's nobody I respect more than Bill in labour or in life itself."

Decent wages and working conditions was the common rallying cry back in the 1950s and '60s. In some senses, the struggle has come full circle.

"I think more so today," Ferguson said Tuesday. "We hear all about the one per cent and the system seems to be coming unravelled. People are not giving up their decadent and powerful positions without a fight. The union movement faces huge challenges as these things develop.

"That one per cent doesn't have any country left to exploit. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and they can't exploit ecology anymore. More and more people are beginning to understand that."

Eleven delegates representing three Kamloops locals are at the convention. The union represents 85,000 workers nationwide and about 2,000 in Kamloops, where they work for City, school district and university sectors.

Resolutions from Kamloops members include a call to lobby government to ensure access to clean, safe drinking water and to maintain B.C.'s unofficial moratorium on offshore drilling and exploration.

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