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inSolidarity, Number 1, 2019

In Solidarity - The newsletter for OPSEU stewards and activists, Number 1, 2019

Editorial policy

The content and editing of this newsletter are determined by the committee. We want members to feel ownership of inSolidarity and view it as independent of any particular segment of the union. Content comes from our base of activists, staff and other labour sources.

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Where an article has a byline, the views are those of the author and not necessarily the views of OPSEU. While we welcome your contributions, we ask that these be constructive. All articles should be signed and include Local number and should contribute positively to the welfare of OPSEU.

We encourage thoughtful discussion of all related issues and reserve the right to edit for libel, length and clarity, and reply to those that seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the union and its policies.

A Note from the editor

We’ve already witnessed a rollback of worker rights in the Employment Standards Act aimed at hurting Ontario’s most vulnerable workers. But the hurt doesn’t stop there. It’s being stra- tegically spread out to the elderly, with legislation to remove rent control; and to children, in the form of cuts to schools and autism funding.

Most recently, steps have been taken that could very well result in a two-tier health care system, threatening quality health care for anyone who isn’t wealthy.

The narrative remains the same, and the catch phrases “Ontario open for business” and “for the people” are merely guises to transfer the savings and wealth of the many to the few, in the name of deficit reduction.

The simple reality behind Ford’s neoliberal agenda is that it’s built on lies. After all, if the government’s goal is to reduce pro- vincial spending, they wouldn’t be racking up the bills by adding countless high-paying patronage positions. They wouldn’t have meddled with Hydro One, costing taxpayers $137 million. Nor would they have privatized cannabis sales, which would have added countless millions in revenue for public services.

India, women joined hands to form a 385-mile long protest called the “women’s wall” to fight for gender equality.

Domestically, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers held rolling strikes to advance workers’ rights against the ex- tremely profitable Crown Corporation Canada Post – and our members lent their support on the picket lines.

Provincially, UNIFOR and OPSEU’s joint agreement to fight the closure of the GM plant in Oshawa vividly illustrates that Unifor’s fight is OPSEU’s fight – and vice versa.

That’s why I’m a proud OPSEU member. We step up to help others, even if there’s no direct benefit to our organization. We step up because it’s just the right thing to do.

In 2019, count on OPSEU to set up the battle lines against a government that shows no signs of modifying its right- wing agenda. And count on OPSEU to help its members in every conceivable way, whether its lobby and picket training, leadership training, transportation to protests, or just about anything to empower our members.

If you haven’t participated, then the only thing missing is you. Will you step up?

Are EAPs worth the cost?

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

Anxiety in the workplace and managing workload are common issues in today’s workplace. In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. Mental illness costs Canada $51 billion annually.

Employees experiencing mental health symptoms face workplace challenges. A Conference Board of Canada survey found that few employees have confidence in their managers’ and supervisors’ ability to effectively manage employees when it comes to mental health issues. Further, most managers and supervisors reported they received no mental-health related training.

That’s one reason many employers now have employee assistance plans (EAPs), as recommended by the Men- tal Health Commission of Canada in 2013. EAPs are one way organizations can help support employees’ mental

health. They are an extra group of health benefits provided through third-party providers. Benefits include medical screening or referral, nutritional or wellness coaching, and other resources. They offer easy access and timely support.

Additional resources that help with stress can mean re- duced disability insurance costs and claims for the employer. Both absenteeism and presenteeism (working while unwell) lead to underperformance and lost productivity.

With improved wellness, fewer sick days need to be taken. Employees can more easily focus on their work and report greater satisfaction. Talent is retained.

Although there are cost savings, the advantage tends to be inflated by the wellness industry. Built-in, additional health screenings can lead to unnecessary medical care. Un- less lifestyle changes are long-term, there’s little improvement in wellness.

Despite the range of benefits to employees, EAPs are typically unde- rused. By not making full use of EAP services offered, Canadian workers are losing out on $3 billion annually.

Many employees are simply unclear as to what services are available. Employers should look at regularly promoting their EAP plans and consider other value-added services, like financial counselling.

Our system of government? No confidence!

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

Canada’s form of government is based on the British parliamentary system. This is a democratic system adapted from centuries of English tradition.

The federal government has three parts. First, there is the House of Commons, the lower chamber, which consists of 338 Members of Parliament (MPs). MPs are elected by the people for a maximum five-year term, although elections are usually held every four years. There are no limits on how often they can run for government. They represent 338 geographic areas called ridings.

There is also an upper chamber called the Senate, which consists of 105 senators. The senators are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. They review and modify laws passed by the House of Commons and can also introduce legislation.

Third, there is the Queen herself, represented in Canada by the Governor General.

The Members of Parliament have two purposes: choosing the government and creating laws.

After elections, the Governor General names the leader of the party who will be Prime Minister. Usually they are from the party that has the most MPs. The Prime Minister forms a Cabinet from among their MPs, e.g., the Foreign minister and the Finance minister.

The second-largest party forms the Official Opposition, and its leader becomes Leader of the Opposition.

The government can either be a majority or minority government. A majority government consists of one party having more elected members in the House of Commons than all of the other MPs combined.

When one party has more seats than any other, but not more than all of the other parties combined, that is called a minority government.

An MP can make a motion at any time to declare that the House of Commons has lost confidence in the government. If the motion passes, the government has lost its right to stay in office, and the Governor General calls an election.

This is called a vote of no confidence. It will only be suc- cessful in a minority government, since it would have to pass with a majority in the House of Commons. That’s why minority governments rarely last longer than two years. Six Canadian prime ministers have lost power in this way.

When we have a majority government, we’ve essentially given one party permission to do whatever it wants for four years – to make laws and decisions that can affect mil- lions of people positively and negatively.

Yes, debates happen among the parties. But when it comes to the vote, the majority party wins – it’s extremely rare that MPs vote against the leader of their own party.

In Canada and in Ontario, we currently have majority governments. I think it’s time Canadians said they had no confidence in a parliamentary system that allows majority governments to thumb their nose at democracy for the vast majority of the time. We need a system that keeps governments listening all the time, not once every 48 months. It’s time for a debate – and a country-wide vote – on true democratic reform.

Hindu temple protests test gender equality

Julie Hunt, inSolidarity

On September 28, 2018, India’s Supreme Court struck down a centuries-old ban on females aged 10 to 50 enter- ing a Hindu shrine as being discriminatory and unconsti- tutional. In reports carried in The Guardian and on the BBC, video footage of two women in their 40s entering the Sabarimala temple triggered a predominantly “female-led demonstration that surprised liberals.”

The temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Ayappa, is located on a hilltop in Kerala, India, which has been described as

a “progressive state that has called for reforms to India’s caste system and challenged sexism.” The cultural belief is that menstruating females are disrespectful to the celibate deity because they could “tempt” him.

Hindu groups called for a state-wide strike to protest the temple’s so-called defilement. Sreedharan Pillia, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one of the two major political parties in India, called the visit “a conspiracy…to de- stroy Hindu temples.” The BJP’s head of information and technology wing, Amit Malviya, referred to it as a “des- ecrated…shrine by facilitating entry of women of restricted age group…”

Also against the ruling are the custodians of the temple, the Indian National Congress (other main Indian party, now in power), and large numbers of female devotees, including a student who said she was prepared to wait till age 50 to make an entry.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the ban was a matter of religious belief, not gender equality. On the other hand, the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, is quoted as saying, “We had many such wrongful traditions. Some traditions need to be broken.” BJP MP Udit Raj said he didn’t understand the protest, adding, “This is a first: …Women saying, ‘Make me a slave…unequally…inferior to men.’”

The public outcry is described as “upholding religious tradition as being more important than gender equality” and that the ban was not anti-women but rather an “old custom the Supreme Court should not have interfered with.”

Thousands of protesters intercepted vehicles, checking for female passengers, heckled women suspected of going, and threatened to lie across roads to prevent oncoming vehicles. Female journalists were attacked, while police clashed with the protesters.

However, the Guardian article and BBC video footage reported that millions of women formed a human chain 375 miles across the length of the state to demonstrate for gender equality. They have dubbed it the “women’s wall rally.”

Petitions against the court’s decision were heard on January 22. But whatever the final verdict, the women of India have demonstrated that they’re not prepared to suffer discrimination for the sake of tradition – even a pious tradition.

Labour Reads: Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike in Canada, and 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

I’m old-school, I admit. My records are vinyl. My tapes are reel-to-reel. I don’t own a mobile phone (smart or otherwise). I shall go to my grave without ever having tweeted, texted or downloaded a song or a movie from iTunes or Netflix. And although I do read the comics in the daily paper, I have so far resisted illustrated narratives purporting to deal with serious ideas and events.

However, that is changing, thanks to the Graphic History Collective: a group of artists, writers and researchers who produce accessible alternative histories that reveal the historical forces shaping the patterns of people’s struggles and troubles today.

Between the Lines Books has already released two similar resources – May Day: A Graphic History of Protest in 2012, and Drawn  to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle in 2016. Now two more are rolling off the presses – Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike in Canada, and 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike, published on the centenary of that much misrepresented milestone in Canadian labour history.

Meticulously researched, brilliantly written and vividly illustrated, these books are excellent introductions to what trade unionists must know about their living traditions.

They connect past and present to provide inspiration and understanding of what it means to confront authority and take bold steps towards justice in the workplace and society.

At no time do these books talk down to their audiences. They tell dramatic stories of victories and teach the lessons from defeats in a straightforward, no-nonsense style that will rouse people to action, while arousing in them a passion to dig deeper, to learn more and to become leaders and teachers themselves.

Useful instruments of education and mobilization can have a tremendous effect. And as we face over three years of arrogance and ignorance at the highest levels of government, we must use all available means to inform our membership and fellow citizens in Ontario that Premier Ford will be doing his best to undermine the public sector and to privatize the public   interest for the profit of himself and his cronies. We must be prepared to resist.

Graphic History Collective, Direct ActionGets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike in Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2019. 64 pages. ISBN: 9781771134170.

Graphic History Collective and David Lester. 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike. Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2019. 120 pages. ISBN: 9781771134200.

Disposable jobs for a disposable world

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

Past generations, and particularly those that lived through the Great Depression, knew the meaning of financial hardship. When they saved enough to buy a car, they kept it until it died. When the washing-machine broke down, they called someone in to fix it. When their pants tore, they patched them. When their shoe heel broke, they took their shoes to a cobbler. Try to find a shoe-repair shop close to your home now!

The reality is people have created a disposable world. Not only are things not made to last – they’re actually de- signed to be replaced. When items break down, it’s usually cheaper to buy a new one, rather than fix the old one.

People and society are focused on new and improved models, rather than repairing what they have. Most cars are now leased so people can get new models in a few years.

As an example, the first iPhone was produced in June 2007. Since then, new models have been produced every year, making the previous model disposable and strongly encouraging people to upgrade. Models purchased in 2013 had five years’ support from the Apple Corporation. With the newest model, support is down to three months.

While we are recycling more, it’s apparent the waste from items we dispose of is causing big problems for our environment. Our now-disposable world is having a calamitous effect on our environment, causing pollution and climate change, among other impacts.

The labour world has also become disposable. Contract, part-time and temporary work are now the norm. Many workers are forced to accept disposable labour: “If you won’t do it, someone else will.” Workers struggle to find solid, good-paying, full-time jobs.

It used to be that getting a college or university degree would virtually assure you of a good job. Now, many graduates are stuck in part-time or contract work. A two-year contract sees them looking for a new job as the next graduate takes their place – even as they face a mountain of student debt.

Our graduates are stuck with disposable jobs, rather than benefiting from disposable income. Is this the world we want for future generations?


Craig Hadley, inSolidarity

You know what takeout Swiss Chalet fries, air travel and Doug Ford have in common? They’re all terrible. Awful.

Swiss Chalet fries are like no other food on the planet. They go from delicious, golden-brown, deep-fried delights to inedible, soggy trash the second they leave the restaurant. It’s like Swiss Chalet created a fast food afraid to travel.

Speaking of travel, have you booked a flight with your family lately? Most airlines, even charters now, offer the “option” to pay $25 extra for each seat on the plane. This “seat selection fee” guarantees you’ll be sitting with your children. Depending on how many loved ones are travelling with you, the peace of mind of knowing your children will not be sitting alone somewhere else can get pricey.

So I look at it a little differently. If I don’t pay the fee, I sit away from my kids and save money. How am I losing here? I get to offload childcare onto other passengers, enjoy peace and quiet and, maybe, even have a restful nap. I’d rather pay for that!

But you know what really grinds my gears? OP- SEU members and other working people who voted for Doug Ford. I feel a special kind of rage for those same members who corner me or my fellow OPSEU stewards and demand to know what the union is doing to protect their jobs from Doug Ford’s machete.

For those who voted for Ford, let me get this straight: Was your hatred for the previous Liberal government so strong that you’d sooner vote against your own interests and elect a right-wing elitist regime? You voted for a man who campaigned on cheap slogans and buck-a-beer promises, with no plan – or a plan so diabolical, he had to keep it secret from Ontario voters.

Was it the Harris years that had you yearning to go back to paying more service fees, while wealthy corporations and the rich got generous tax breaks? It certainly wasn’t debt reduction, because under Harris-Eves, the provincial debt ballooned, and it will almost certainly increase under Ford.

Was it the Liberals’ minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour? I’ve done the math, and it checks out. If minimum wage went from $14 to $15 an hour, and you’re making $16 an hour, you still make $16 an hour. Your wage doesn’t go down; you just lose the “I’m $2-an-hour better than the poorest of the working poor” bragging right.

Maybe I’m a cranky dreamer who insists on the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Or maybe I’m just a grumpy guy who doesn’t appreciate be- ing ripped off by Doug Ford and his ilk, greedy airlines and fries that self-destruct as they go through the restaurant doors. You decide.

Labour Reads: When the State Meets the Street: Public Service and Moral Agency, by Bernardo Zacka

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Wherever they work– in government, business in private practice – “professionals” are a curious breed. Highly educated, relatively well-compensated and enjoying a superior social status, they constitute an elite among people who actually work for a living. Their fate, however, is uncertain. In the public sector, they are increasingly subject to the degradation of work that previously afflicted artisans and office workers.

Automation, algorithms and artificial intelligence eat away at their autonomy in accounting firms and law offices. Regula- tion and bureaucratization turn fee-for- service independence into negotiated fee schedules for physicians. Externally imposed “codes of ethics” and carefully monitored public accountability proto- cols are everywhere making research scientists more proletarian. However, nowhere, is the deskilling and degradation of work more obvious than in college education, law enforcement and corrections, public health, food, drug, environmental and energy sciences, and social services.

Disrespect from political leaders from Stephen Harper to Doug Ford combines with the imposition of rigid hierarchies that jettison professional expertise in the interests of ideology, so-called “efficiencies” and the triumphal market mentality.

When the State Meets the Street explores the degradation of professional public sector work at a time when frontline workers are faced with increasingly capricious and arbitrary supervision, while their own power is being systematically stripped.

By identifying the competing obligations to “follow orders,” achieve ambiguous or conflicting policy goals and extend proper care and respect to “clients,” Zacka raises the dilemma of moral agency for professionals, who are reduced to submission to political functionaries. Several nuanced and complicated issues are in play: the balance between professional judgement and subservience to managerial authority; the relationship between public safety and the ideology of pre- vailing political parties; the appropriate discretion that should accrue to people with actual expertise versus the exclusive management rights that appear in public sector collective agreements; and the gag orders placed upon public servants who know better when something is going wrong.

Zacka helps open the discussion. It will not end easily. Bernardo Zacka, When the State Meets the Street: Public Service and Moral Agency. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni- versity Press. 2017. 352 pages. ISBN: 9780674545540.

Ending the opioid crisis

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

Approximately 4,000 people died of opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2017. It’s become the third-largest public safety issue.

Opioids are powerful drugs prescribed for pain manage- ment. They include oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl. Over the last 20 years, long-term prescription painkiller use has become widespread in Canada. However, given the stigma surrounding drug use and addiction, it’s been kept largely private.

Misuse of opioids can lead to addiction, overdosing and death. Most deaths are in the 20- to 39-year age range. Fentanyl is a hundred times more potent than morphine, itself extremely powerful. Its potency is increased when fentanyl is mixed with non-opioids, like cocaine or heroin, which unknowingly lowers tolerances, making overdosing more likely.

The federal government has taken a public-health ap- proach to the opioid crisis, focusing on harm reduction. Health Canada released guidelines for doctors in March 2017, based on American guidelines published in 2016. These include prescribing opioids less often and at lower doses.

However, great care must be taken. Tapering off doses can cause harm to those already taking opioids. Disrupting care may lead to destabilization and loss of ability to work even function. Fear of losing opioids can discourage disclosure to medical professionals. When deprived of opioids by medical professionals, they may turn to the black market instead or, worse, contemplate suicide.

One highly successful measure has been the establishment of safe-injection sites. Unfortunately, the Ford government has arbitrarily capped the number of sites at 21 and insists that each site be connected to mental health and addictions services – which would rule out pop-up sites.

Many frontline workers face burnout without benefits. As the opioid crisis continues to grow in rural areas, these restrictions will hamper measures to prevent overdose and HIV-related deaths.

The American Medical Association, at its interim meeting this past December, clarified that dosage guidance is not mandatory, and that doctors have the right to practise individualized care. However, some US pharmacists and insurance providers are denying prescriptions. This is considered by some as discriminatory.

The Canadian government has also made changes to regulation and enforcement. To increase the availability of naloxone – an antidote for opioid overdose – the federal Minister of Health reclassified it as a non-prescription drug in 2016 and allowed naloxone nasal spray to be imported from the US and sold. In May 2017, Bill C-37 was passed, which controls pill presses. Canadian Border Services were given increased powers to search international mail under 30 grams for illicit drugs, including fentanyl.

The government is also seeking international co-operation. The US is legislating for more border security agents at the US-Canada border, which legislation to regulate fentanyl has been countered with the production of fentanyl-related substances.

China has yet to comply with these laws, and fentanyl imported from China may travel through Canada into the US on trade routes once used for prohibited alcohol. Trade negotiations with China may provide an opportunity to ad- dress the manufacturing and import of fentanyl.

Yellow Vests win demands – but protests continue

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a fuel tax, effective January 1, 2019, part of a green initiative prom- ise that helped him come to power. Macron’s position is that action is needed to reduce fossil fuel consumption and stave off climate change. The announcement was made in mid-November. People from rural towns who commute to work in the city objected to a rise in tax on diesel fuel, the second this year, and took to the streets.

The Yellow Vests mobilized through social media. At first, protests were scheduled at sites in the French provinces. As it moved into the cities, such as Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse, populists and radicals joined in. They called out Macron as being a president for the rich, while accusing journalists, considered part of the elite, as collaborators.

The move to the cities changed the dynamic. Some 1,700 citizens were injured. Some Yellow Jacket blockades were run, resulting in 12 deaths.

Public property, including equipment and infrastructure at over 250 sites, was damaged. Businesses lost revenue through supply disruptions, looting and low sales as shoppers stayed home. As state security was stepped up, violence was minimized. However, damages are estimated at several tens of millions of euros.

One month into the disruption, Macron responded with an increase in the minimum wage by 100 euros for single workers without children and single mothers. No income support was offered to middle income earners. And the proposed fuel tax that sparked the protests? Cancelled. A planned tax increase on pensioners and a tax on overtime pay were also revoked. The cost of these concessions put France over the public deficit cap of three per cent, in violation of European Union rules.

But protests continue, with tens of thousands participating. In fact, as of mid-January, there’s been a resurgence in participants. Ordinary, rural people feel slighted because they were expected to fend for themselves, while the elite weren’t asked to change. Criticizing Macron’s poli- cies as undemocratic, they’re asking for greater participation in national politics. Some continue to demand that Macron resign.

The fuel crisis is global. More and more people are feeling unsettled, and tensions are building. In Harare, Zimbabwe, anti-government protests over a 150-per-cent fuel hike turned violent. Zimbabwe now has the most expensive diesel in the world.

In Canada, while many oppose policies like Prime Minister Trudeau’s carbon tax or pipeline expansion, full-blown riots where the Armed Forces need to be deployed are unlikely. Canadians seem to prefer sitting behind a computer to dem- onstrating in the streets. And when they do take it to the streets, Canadians protest peacefully. It seems engrained in our DNA – for better or for worse.

What’s in it for them?

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

A catalyst is something or someone that makes things happen. Dynamic people can use different techniques to create change. For example, a charismatic leader, through encour- agement and enthusiasm, can turn a room full of lethargic people into a cheering crowd.

Catalysts create change that can be positive or negative. People can create change that is negative and in their own interest. For example, they may rally friends and allies to achieve their personal goals – and then turn on those same friends and allies when they get in their way.

Leaders have catalytic behaviours and use the keywords you want to hear to gain your vote. Are they really interested in achieving these things or are they only interested in taking

We should also be very cautious of people who attack their competition – current or past. If their motive is to “get someone back,” is that a quality we are looking for in a representative?

Leaders are people we put in a position of power. Power can generate greed, selfishness and the desire to stay and maintain control. In other words, power itself can be a catalyst – for the better or the worse.

Take a good, hard look at a candidate and their platform before voting for them. But don’t stop there. Continue to keep a close eye on them during their term in office. Even though they may make mistakes, do they appear to be in the position for the good of the people? Or are they in it to further their own personal interests?

Doug Ford is the biggest obstacle to making progress on improving human rights in Ontario, hundreds of delegates attending OPSEU’s 2018 Human Rights Conference were told.

The conference’s theme was “United: We call for action!” and it was clear that most of the delegates at last fall’s event agreed they needed to unite against Doug Ford’s agenda.

Human Rights Conference

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told delegates Ford is governing on empty slogans like “for the people,” but he hasn’t listened to Ontarians.

Thomas said OPSEU must focus on the threat Ford poses to working people and not become distracted by other issues.

“We need to come together,” he said. “We need to tell Ford we ain’t going to take it no more. Let’s back the government down!”

Thomas also encouraged Tory MPPs to “take back their party.”

Conference co-chair Jenny Miller hammered Ford for rolling back improvements to collective bargaining rights and worker protections, freezing the minimum wage and cutting ODSP and social assistance.

She also spoke of the climate of rising hate and the legacy of racism, colonialism and discrimination, including the government’s discriminatory policies.

“We’re here to collectively shine a light on human rights issues and start the work of having difficult conversations,” she said.

Thomas also took aim at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre for its abuse of power and bad-faith bargaining in imposing a pay freeze on OPSEU Local 345 clerical workers, 98 per cent of whom are women.

Region 3 Regional Vice-President Sarah Labelle, highest-ranking female in OPSEU, paid tribute to Harry Leslie Smith, a working-class British Canadian, writer and, in his final years, social activist, who passed away November 28 at age 95.

Living through the Depression and fighting in the Second World War allowed him to see that many of today’s challenges, like threats to free, universal health, were faced before. His call to action was “Don’t let my past be your future.”

The keynote address, titled “Engaging the fight-back,” was delivered by Jesse Wente, an advocate for Indigenous arts, mainly in film. His vision is for Indigenous peoples to have more influence on how they are depicted. He spoke on a very wide range of topics, including culture, language, capitalism, colonialism, populism, democracy, societal disruption and equity. He also touched on Indigenous health and the catastrophe of unpotable drinking water in so many Indigenous communities.

With an engaging agenda provided by the Provincial Human Rights Committee, opinions and ideas flowed at the conference. Given such diverse delegates, there was bound to be some disagreement. However, the membership felt the conference was a big success.

Look for a comprehensive resolution at Convention as just one fruit of an enlightening, affirming and highly enjoyable conference.

Doing the Labour shuffle boogie

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

The Labour shuffle boogie involves going one step forward, two steps back. That’s the history of labour law in North America for the last century or so.

When the ranks of workers swelled after the First World War, with servicemen returning, North America was ripe for a rise in capitalism alongside a demand for labour reform. (I will focus on the Unites States, as its history is more easily explained with its legislative history.)

Also after the Great War, the US was greatly expanding its oil exploration, extraction and refining businesses. As the oil industry grew, so did the businesses that were directly tied to it, like railways and steel. Capitalism was charging forward in a fire-breathing fashion with few legal impediments.

One of the era’s huge players was J.P. Morgan, a man who would grow his already impressive for- tune by often questionable means. He headed US Steel, which was considered the wealthiest corporation in the world. US Steel used cheap labour, wherever possible, and took full advantage of the then-allowable practice of paying smaller wages to blacks, Chinese Americans and immigrants.

The seemingly unfettered rise in bank expansions, political bribery, stock manipulation and political instability, led to the massive economic collapse of 1929 known as the Great Depression.

All this led to the 1932 landslide election of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would guide the US through the latter stages of the Depression with his New Deal, “chicken in every pot” agenda. It would bring about major economic, social and labour reform.

The Roosevelt era arguably saw the greatest leaps forward in worker rights and protections, hand in hand with the greatest growth in new and existing unions.

In 1933, the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) promised vast public-works programs, wage increases and stricter price controls, all designed to stimulate economic growth. The goal was to see labour, business and government come together to pull the US out of the woes of the day and lay the groundwork for a more prosperous economy. Although the act was ruled unconstitutional, Roosevelt was undeterred in his resolve to bring about economic prosperity through labour reform.

In 1935, the National Labour Relations Act carried forward key labour reforms from the NIRA, including the rights of workers to organize into trade unions, bargain collectively and conduct lawful job actions right up to a legal strike. These reforms were widely accepted and cheered by labour in the day.

This popularity and prosperity were no doubt the main reasons that Roosevelt was elected to four presidential terms, his last term ending with his death in 1945.

The close of the Second World War saw another sudden and impressive burgeoning number of workers, accompanied by some of the greatest strides ever in women’s labour reform as women by the thousands had entered the workforce to fill vacancies created by men fighting overseas.

As after the First World War, capitalist tried to claw back labour gains. As a result, US was hit by unprecedented strike actions that lasted significantly longer than before the war.

Venezuela has been in the news headlines lately. We hear that the latest country in need of American intervention just so happens to be the country with the largest oil reserves in the world.

What you don’t hear are the accomplishments of the Chavez-Maduro government, such as the 2.5 million affordable-housing units constructed over eight years. (That’s right: 2.5 million! The City of Toronto can’t even meet its 10,000-a-year target). It also introduced free tuition and built 13 new universities (including free books, free food and trans- portation to and from school) for the children of the working class.

No doubt, there’s an economic crisis in Venezuela. But the crisis is largely a result of the collapse of the international price of oil, along with the crippling impact of US sanctions.

The Lima group of countries – a body of 12 countries, including Canada, seeking a solution to the crisis in Venezuela – urges removing the elected Maduro government by any means neces- sary. The governments pushing for a coup d’état include regimes guilty of brutal human rights abus- es and electoral fraud.

It’s clear by now that foreign intervention never works. It would only make the situation worse for working-class Venezuelans. The people of Latin America have not forgotten the horrific history of military rule in the region, and the Canadian people have opposed the brutal dic- tatorships that were supported by US interests throughout the Americas in the past.

US and Canadian interests

The opposition in Venezuela is fragmented. So for the USA and Canada to choose a single person, Juan Guaidó, to be the leader of that country is absurd. Further, the low participation rate in the election last year was simi- lar to results in the USA and Canada.

The US and Canada have not urged regime change in the case of brutal dictatorships that co-operate with US foreign policy, US oil companies and Canadian mining firms. US officials have openly proclaimed that this intervention is about re-establishing US control over Venezuela’s oil industry, which has the largest oil reserves in the world.

Canada’s interests are similar. Half of the world’s mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE), holding 60 per cent of share value. The TSE is the primary market for raising capital for new and existing ventures, followed by London.

This naked, interfering, potentially violent quest for foreign riches is contrary to the United Nations Charter principles of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states. Still, the US and Canada engage in efforts to overthrow the government of Venezuela, includ- ing by the threat of military action, to say nothing of theft of Venezuelan assets and a strangling credit and trade freeze.

Canadian labour

CUPE, CUPW and the Canadian Labour Congress, along with the Vancouver Labour Council and Toronto and York Region Labour Council have issued statements condemning the actions of Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland and the Canadian government for playing an incendiary role in the coup plot.

Our union has a strong and proud history of standing up against historic injustice. We played an important role in the fight against apartheid by boycotting Paarl wines. OPSEU should call on the Canadian government to stop seeking regime change and interfering in Venezuela.

Rather, Ottawa must quit the Lima countries, lift its sanctions against Venezuela, and stand with the Venezuelan people and their right to peaceful self-determination.

Hands off Venezuela!

History ignored is history repeated

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

Looking back only a scant four and a half years ago, we saw the Ontario Liberals, headed by Kathleen Wynne, handed a majority government after a brief and non-explosive election campaign. Ms. Wynne promised to deliver some equity-posi- tive initiatives and socially responsible programs.

She publicly made promises that outwardly seemed rather reasonable for the era, including capping some automobile insurance rates for new drivers and reducing the overall premium rates by 15 per cent.

Almost immediately after the election, Wynne seemed to forget her promises and, in the case of reducing the cost of premiums, just flat-out failed to launch any meaningful program, claiming that the idea “was a long-stretch goal.”

She also failed to live up to her promise to re-invest in the Ontario Public Service, notable in terms of corrections. She had stated that corrections staff had endured enough hardships under the zero wage increases foisted upon them in recent rounds of bargaining.

It seemed, during the pre-election period, she was speaking like a leader who was expecting another minority government.

When the provincial Liberals were secure in their majority positions, the real, hidden agendas came out in the open. No longer would the kinder, gentler Kathleen Wynne be the face of government. Instead, we were introduced to the cold, hard, privatization-loving businessperson who would make lives for ordinary citizens incredibly hard.

Probably her most controversial decision was to sell off majority ownership of Ontario’s hydro-electric producer, Hydro One. Against a major groundswell of vocal and demonstrative opposition from unions, business owners and ordinary citizens, the Wynne forged ahead, seemingly unconcerned.

Interestingly, during the most recent provincial campaign, both the New Democrats and the Progressive Conservatives pointed out the complete lack of respect shown to the people of Ontario.

After the PC victory, Doug Ford did things he hadn’t even mentioned in the pre-election period, like his plan to slash Toronto City Council. No real reason was given and no other jurisdiction in On- tario was faced with the same restructuring. The timing was awful, with Toronto’s municipal election already underway. Poll after poll saw this decision panned, but Ford was determined to have his way.

Time and time again, Doug Ford has made deci- sions that have upset, confused or even outraged the citizens of Ontario – from doling out plum patronage jobs to his election campaign staff, to meddling with the hiring process of the OPP to ensure his buddy Ron Taverner could get the Commissioners job, even though he was unqualified – until the qualifications were downgraded!

He cancelled over 700 green-energy contracts, thereby incurring several costly lawsuits, then handed a taxpayers a $130-million bill from US regulators for meddling in Hydro One’s board membership.

Doug, listen up! The next time you’re in the legislature, look across and slightly to your right. That little knot of MPPs you see is all that remains of the Liberal government, because they failed to listen to the people. They paid the ultimate politi- cal price for disrespecting the voters of Ontario.

Corporate welfare

Craig Hadley

At its best, corporate welfare is your tax dollars being used to absorb financial losses from sudden economic change, resulting in potential layoffs or even company closure. The public money is given to the corporation to mitigate losses – losses that could have catastrophic consequences for the overall economy.

At its worse, corporate welfare is a government’s financial lifeline exacted by companies under threat of closure or relocation in the name of business com- petitive advantage. Often the handouts are recurring, and almost always the result of poor executive decisions by companies worth billions. What’s infuriating is that, despite business incompetence, CEOs almost always continue to draw the same seven-figure salary and hefty bonuses – as though their business mistakes were worthy of financial reward!

To curry favour with the public, CEOs often justify the handouts by calling them “business investments,” claiming the money will be used to keep or create jobs. How else could any voter swallow $29 billion of their hard-earned money being surrendered annually as business subsidies?

That’s $29 billion less for public services. That’s $29 billion of your money being used to underwrite corporate culture and mismanagement.

When you see an exotic car on the road with a higher net worth than you, odds are you’ve helped pay for it. Concerned about the debt? That $29 billion applied annually would eliminate Canada’s entire national debt – federal and provincial governments combined – in approximately 50 years.

Corporate handouts are no longer life- preservers for businesses to weather bad economic storms. Now they’re gold lined hammocks in which corporate Canada lives. So the next time you hear a CEO talk about entitled people on welfare, or minimum-wage rates being too high, or how wages should be based on free-market capitalism, remember: Your tax dollars paid for his suit.

Soo Women’s March: ‘I did not stay silent’

Ashley Gapp, Provincial Women’s Committee

Bitter-cold temperatures didn’t stop community members of Sault Ste. Marie joining together to march in solidarity with others around the world on January 19 for the third annual Women’s March.

Braving the extreme cold was only a mild obstacle compared to the barriers women face every day.

When I first received a call from OPSEU Region 6 Vice-President Tara Maszczakiewicz, asking if I would be the lead organizer, I admit I was a bit nervous. I’m a passionate activist, I’ve been to many rallies, and I’ve taken part in several community events. But to be lead organizer was something new and challenging. However, I was willing and very excited about this opportunity!

With only 10 days to pull everything together, I knew we had our work cut out for us. But I had no doubt that with the assistance of Tara and Sault Ste. Marie and District Labour Council President Michele McCleave Kennedy and Dawn Munro, we’d be able to work together to accomplish a suc- cessful Women’s March locally.

There was an opportunity for an interview on a local live media outlet, and although I was ex- tremely nervous, I took it. I needed the coverage to draw attention to a very important issue, so I had to set aside my insecurities and step outside my comfort zone.

I had come across a sign that read, “I need to be able to tell my daughter that I did not stay silent.” It really struck a chord with me. It made me real- ize that, although sometimes I am nervous to speak out and feel I might not always be politi- cally correct, I cannot say silent. I need to speak out for people of all genders, ages and faiths, immigrants, Indigenous and others who may not have been able to march in solidarity on Janu- ary 19 in the bitter cold, who have struggles and need to be heard.

I marched for them, and I refuse to stay silent. My hope is to continue to grow the Women’s March here in Sault Ste. Marie annually and to work together to march in solidarity each year on January 19.

You should be scared

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

In recent months, the Ontario PC Party has shown a side of politics never before witnessed in this province. After securing a majority government, it seems Doug Ford has decided to forge a path ahead with little or no regard for the 60 per cent of Ontarians who voted, but didn’t vote for him. So far Ford has done very little to endear himself to aver- age citizens. But should we be scared? Yes.

Doug Ford seems to have a personal vendetta against Toronto. It has been suggested that Ford had planned a re- prisal attack on the councillors in Toronto who, he believed, were openly NDP or Liberal supporters.

So he introduced Bill 5 to reduce the number of Toronto wards and councillors from 47 to 25. The bill was chal- lenged as unconstitutional, and was deemed so by Judge Edward Belobaba, saying it would have severe impacts on Toronto residents. Undeterred, Ford threatened to invoke section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the so-called “notwithstanding clause,” which overrides judicial judgements that a piece of legislation is unconstitutional. So what is the fear?

Doug Ford, for whatever reason, may use the clause to impose his will, regardless of what our courts or public opinion think – a kind of reckless, undemocratic, “damn the torpedoes” style of governing.

What if his next big move is to bring in so-called “right to work” legislation? What if he decided we don’t need worker protection or minimum wage laws? What if he thought our health and safety laws were just so much “red tape” getting in the way of bigger corporate profits? What if he decided the Rand Formula was a burden that employers couldn’t afford?

(The Rand Formula is a judicial ruling making union dues mandatory in a unionized workplace, regardless of an individual worker’s union status. Its purpose is to ensure no worker can opt out of paying dues, yet benefit from collective bargaining, such as through higher wages or health insurance.)

Is this fear-mongering? I don’t believe so. This is the reality of neo-liberalism in bloom. We don’t know where this type of leadership will go if left unchallenged and unfettered, but we can expect the worst if we do nothing.

Ontario is “Ours to recover!”