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An Occupy Vancouver participant and his dog stand near his tent at the encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery Nov. 4, 2011. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)
An Occupy Vancouver participant and his dog stand near his tent at the encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery Nov. 4, 2011. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)

B.C. union leaders divided on next Occupy Vancouver actions Add to ...

The Vision Vancouver council is facing pressure from some union leaders not to move so aggressively against the Occupy Vancouver protest camp, representatives from both city council and the unions say.

“With some labour leaders, I’m urged to have the city not take this action,” Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs said. “Some are supportive of the city’s direction but some are not.”

The president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council says she is also hearing mixed opinions from the council’s members about the city’s approach to the Occupy camp.

“A lot of people think the city could have taken a different approach,” said Joey Hartman, whose group is one of several trying to help figure out a compromise between the city and the Occupy Vancouver protest.

Ms. Hartman said, however, that her impression from watching city staff talk to council last week about what actions they’ve taken at the camp is that they were “very thoughtful” and that the city was taking a balanced approach.

The mixed messages from B.C.’s influential labour movement, directed to a party that receives considerable union support, is one more part of the fallout of shifting public opinion on the Occupy Vancouver protest.

That’s quite different from what’s happening elsewhere. The New York Times reported this week that unions, at first cautious about the Occupy movement, have been inspired by the positive public reaction to the movement’s unusual protest tactics.

The Teamsters were expected to join Occupy protesters outside Sotheby’s in New York Wednesday night.

But in Vancouver, where the camp has become mired in negative developments that have included a drug overdose, a death, scuffles where police have been bitten by protesters, and disruptions of public meetings, union support is mixed.

Unionized firefighters and police have been attacked, while unionized city sanitation workers have ended up picking up the camp’s garbage.

Those kinds of incidents prompted Bill Tieleman, a long-time NDP and union communications specialist, to say in a recent media opinion column that Occupy Vancouver has turned into “a sad parody of a revolution – with absurd demands and no recognition that a squat at the Vancouver Art Gallery does diddly-squat to build support for reforms that would curb corporate control.”

Ms. Hartman said local unions very much like the message that the Occupy movement has brought to the public forefront about economic inequality.

“But it feels like the issues are getting lost,” she said.

Her group hopes “to get things back on track” so that the focus is on the original target of the Occupy movement.

She said she was encouraged by the protesters’ decision Tuesday night to ban propane, candles and open fires and to allow the fire chief to inspect the site.

“That sounds like progress.”

The B.C. Federation of Labour, which initially endorsed the movement and participated in the protest, is now trying to help find a compromise that the city and the Occupy protesters can live with.

“We still support the Occupy movement,” Fed president Jim Sinclair said. “But we had two conditions: that it be safe and that it be peaceful. Otherwise it’s counterproductive to the whole thing.”

He said he’s made the point to protesters that they need to have a good relationship with the city if the protest is going to continue.

“This isn’t a fight between tents and the city hall. It’s a fight about the 1 per cent that’s taken so much from our society.”

The Canadian Auto Workers union supplied the camp with plywood and portable toilets and was paying to have the toilets emptied regularly.

Susan Spratt, the CAW’s area director and spouse of Occupy Vancouver activist Bob Ages, has not returned calls saying whether the CAW is still providing that service.

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