The atmosphere was electric this morning as OPSEU’s Eighth International Youth Day got underway at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Toronto. Running until noon on Friday, the event has brought together 140 enthusiastic, energized and engaged young people from every corner of the province – more than double the number who attended last year.
Designed to motivate, educate and mobilize young workers, the conference will help ensure that the future leaders of Ontario’s labour movement are equipped to counter the forces advocating austerity, low wages and private ownership of public services.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas kicked off the conference by hammering home the absolute necessity of young workers’ involvement in the union and highlighting the diverse paths that involvement can take. Following his remarks, more than four-fifths of attendees indicated their desire to become union activists. Thomas was joined by OPSEU First Vice-President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida and 12 other board members, as well as Farley Flex, longtime judge on Canadian Idol, who spoke to his passion for community activism, and youth in particular.
The conference also marked the launch of the “Don’t Vote” campaign. As Canadians head to the polls this fall, the Provincial Young Workers Committee is reaching outside of OPSEU’s membership to help ensure that young people make their voices heard. Committee members are targeting the 18‑to-24 age demographic, fewer than 39 per cent of whom voted in the 2011 federal election.
More than older Canadians, younger Canadians want to see an activist government in Ottawa that favours greater social spending and higher taxes in exchange for better public services. However, “Don’t Vote” will be non-partisan, focusing on getting young workers and students to vote. The multi-platform campaign will be edgy, funny, fun and sarcastic – as indicated by its paradoxical title.
Thomas is convinced of the need for this initiative. “More than anyone else, young Canadians face an uncertain future. They must not make the mistake of leaving their fate solely in the hands of their parents and grandparents. I believe the most important thing that young people can have on their resume is that they voted in the 2015 federal election.”