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Workers rally for 'place at the table'

While business leaders gathered to hear Premier Gordon Campbell reflect on "leadership in tough times," workers, politicians and other B.C. residents rallied outside Vancouver’s Convention Centre to share their frustration with the government’s policies and demand their voices be heard.

“We’re all gathered here to say that we want to be at the table,” Vancouver City Coun. Ellen Woodsworth told the crowd, saying workers are central to these discussions.

“You’re the ones who built the province – you know what’s wrong with the province,” she said.

The event was organized by the B.C. Federation of Labour and a wide array of union flags showed representation by many of British Columbia’s labour unions.

Speakers included Michelle Dodds of the North Shore Women’s Centre, B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair and Manjit Sidhu of United Steelworkers Local 1-3567.

Sinclair said those gathered in the crowd represented the “real British Columbia,” those who provide the many services British Columbians rely on.

“It’s the people and the workers of this province that do this job, not the people in that building over there,” he said, referring to those gathered to listen to Campbell.

Speakers criticized the government over school closures, tax cuts, the handling of the forestry crisis, cuts to welfare and legal aid, unaffordable postsecondary education and refusing to raise the minimum wage.

The impact of these policies has been devastating, especially for those in the province who have been marginalized, said Dodds.

“We’ve witnessed the impact of Campbell’s policies on children and women living in poverty,” she said.

“It’s not acceptable that women can go to work hungry and that children can go to school hungry.”

Cheap hot dogs were sold at the rally to contrast the expensive lunch paid to hear Campbell, something speakers and crowd members alike said reflects the government’s treatment of workers.

“The juxtaposition is very good” said Nicola Firstner, a human resources worker who attended the rally.

“They’re inside enjoying a $125 a plate lunch while we’re out here eating $1.25 hot dogs – that pretty much says it all.”

At many times the speeches and crowd responses sounded like a campaign rally with many calls for the election of an NDP government on May 12.

“There is a need for change in this province,” said Firstner.

“The government we’ve had for the past eight years is not working in the best interest of British Columbians.”

Garrett Zehr reports for The Hook.

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