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inSolidarity, Number 2, 2019

We the North
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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.

Click here to download inSolidarity, Number 2, 2019

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

Craig Hadley, inSolidarity

I find summer to be the strangest of the seasons: Its arrival is sneaky, in a sense. One day, it’s dark, cold and miserable, and the next, there are leaves on the trees, the breeze is warm and it’s light out till 9 p.m.

In a lot of ways, political action is similar. When a government’s aim is to steal from the working class, they do it in a stealthy, prolonged, winterish manner. By the time the average person realizes it, their bills are higher, they’re burnt out with stress, and they’re working much harder for much less.

The Ford government has been in power for just over a year. Until now, most Ontarians have sat idle and accepted all the bad that Ford has delivered in a strange acceptance that our collective sacrifice would lower the deficit and make Ontario a better place for our children.

But now, after a year in power and hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, people are learning historic lows, with the Premier rushing to shuffle the chairs on his Cabinet deck in a desperate attempt to reboot his likeability. Like our winter and spring, people accepted the bad; and like summer’s arrival, they were jolted into awareness – awareness that’s ready to take collective action to dump Ford and the rest of his cronies.

I’d love nothing more than to take to the streets to force the government to cancel their record-setting five-month break. But if, like me, you’ve been involved in the union for a few years or longer, you know activism slows down during the summer, only to pick up with a fury come fall.

So enjoy the summer slowdown. Enjoy the warm weather. Host barbecues with friends and families. Maybe hold a union social event that transforms co-workers into friends, and workplace solidarity into organized political action later this year. You’ll be glad you did when fall arrives – and we teach Doug Ford what “for the people” really looks like.

The Beer that fizzled

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

In jolly olde England, there used to be a miserable house of detention known as Newgate Prison, which was used to house the worst of prisoners. It was also the main prison used for capital offenders.

About three miles away, at a spot called Tyburn, was the hanging tree for public executions. They became so prevalent that in 1571 a three-sided triangular gallows was constructed so as many as 24 poor souls could swing before sometimes massive crowds – events that become known as the Tyburn Faire.

One of the dark practices of the day allowing the condemned either to walk or be taken by horse-drawn cart from Newgate Prison to Tyburn amidst a circus atmosphere. They were al- lowed a free beer at any of the public houses (pubs) along the way, meaning the condemned

would appear at the gallows so drunk that they would fail to recognize the seriousness of their sentence. The practice ended when the gallows were idled in the 1780s.

In an admittedly twisted way, I think we are seeing a new version of the “walk to Tyburn,” – except instead of heading to the gallows, we are heading to policy disaster.

The Tories’ campaign last year put a lot of emphasis on alcohol: from longer LCBO hours to increased access to beer and wine in corner and big-box stores right up to the memorable “buck a beer” fiasco. Indeed, a lot of campaigning went on in Ontario breweries and bars. In my own riding, the PCs have gifted a local brewery with $1 million towards expansion, touting the 19 new jobs it will create.

The latest alcohol ploy is the further relaxing of Ontario laws around “tailgate parties.” Soon you and hundreds of your friends can openly drink alcohol in the comfort of your car at major sporting events!

This government continues to cater to populist tastes, often while announcing cuts to the most vulnerable of Ontario’s citizens. They would rather you get cheap beer than have access to therapy for your autistic child, or numb your mind with grocery store wine instead of receiving timely surgery.

Indeed, it would seem that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives would prefer you to be a little intoxicated as you head to polls. That way, you may fail to recognize the seriousness of your ballot choice!

(Coincidentally, Tyburn is in Hyde Park, a stone’s throw from Speakers’ Corner where people can talk openly about the decisions made by the government of the day!)

More than just carbon tax

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

Canada has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 124 megatonnes by 2020. We are not on track to meet these targets. The United Nations has said we need to do better. In response, the federal government has implemented a nation-wide carbon policy. It applies to provinces that have not implemented their own carbon legislation: Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick. The Ford government cancelled Ontario’s cap-and-trade policy, which ran from 2015 to 2018, while Alberta recently scrapped part of its carbon tax.

The federal carbon tax is an approach to curb fossil fuel usage. The energy sector, power generation and transportation are the largest source of Canada’s GHG emissions. The Trudeau government has pledged to rebate taxpayers, calling it a revenue-neutral tax.

British Columbia’s carbon tax was implemented in 2008. GHG was reduced by nine per cent as of 2015. Gasoline spending was reduced up to 17 per cent, which shows that consumer behaviour can be influenced by carbon policy. The economy grew, despite the 2008 financial crisis. The public supported the policy because it was revenue neutral.

Ontario’s carbon tax will be on almost everything purchased, including fuel, home heating oil and food. Urban communities have more options to avoid paying the tax. They can use HOV lanes, take public transit, walk or bike to work. Residents of rural communities who must drive to work, or whose work is to drive, such as truck drivers, have no choice.

An alternative approach to the carbon tax is cap-and-trade, which puts a cap on GHG emissions. Companies who exceed the cap will pay a tax.

Companies that have a surplus of credits can sell their GHG credits quarterly. The cap lowers yearly as an incentive for high emitters to pollute less. Revenue generated would be reinvested in projects to reduce greenhouse gases, such as alternative energy innovation, public transit, the environment or assisting workers in high-carbon industries transition.

Quebec has had a cap-and-trade system since 2011. Quebec and California, as part of the Western Climate Initiative, can trade emission credits. The policy sets a minimum price and built-in protection against a surplus of credits to keep prices low. The province reported $215 million dollars in cap-and-trade revenue at its February quarterly auction. Quebec’s industrial companies have reduced GHG emissions by 3.7 per cent since 2013 and the economy has still grown.

The carbon tax and cap-and-trade are reducing GHG emissions. However, these are not enough, according to the scientific community. To make an impact, we need to impose more controls and reassess our commitments sooner. A goal of a GHG reduction strategy is to prepare us to transition to a low-carbon economy – which takes 20 to 40 years. It’s time we got going.

Put cannabis sales back in public hands

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

They talk about a huge deficit. So what do they do? Integrate, underfund and merge hospitals! Larger classrooms! Fewer teachers! No funds for autism services!

How is this a government for the people when the people of Ontario are being attacked? Why not look at ways of making more money and making more jobs?

October 2018 was the start of legal recreational cannabis. In April 2019, the first brick-and-mortar stores finally opened up – seven months later than far more stores would have opened if cannabis had been kept public.

On the Government of Canada’s cannabis website, it says: “Keep profits out of the pockets of criminals,” followed by pages of rules and regulations. They boggle the mind! There are so many penalties and possibilities of going to jail if you get caught out as a licensed retailer, producer or consumer!

So who pays to ensure the rules and regulations are followed? Do the licensing fees paid by producers and retailers cover the cost of enforcing them? Of course not!

Everyone is expecting that the cannabis market is going to be huge! In Colorado alone, the total sales of cannabis from 2014 to 2019 were over $6.1 billion dollars. The total sales tax and licensing fees collected were just under $1 billion, going back into the state government.

Further, while we – the taxpayers – have to pay the cost of enforcement, regulations and judicial costs, our health care system gets overloaded with the effects of cannabis on human health.

If the retailing and distribution of cannabis were run by the provincial government, profits from the sales would have gone right into our health care, schools and many other public services – and some of the most vulnerable people in Ontario would not have to suffer government cutbacks.

The LCBO provides thousands of well-paying jobs for workers, along with its profits going straight back into the public coffers. In 2018 alone, it gave $2.21 billion! Billions more could have been contributed, had retail remained in public hands.

I’ve heard people saying the legalization of cannabis is a “tax grab.” But it’s more like a “private grab,” because it takes money right out of our public services – thanks to a government claiming to be “for the people”!

Labour Reads: How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Compared to my parents (father 1903-1972, mother 1912-1991), I’ve had it pretty good. They had the “Roaring Twenties” and the Great Depression; I had the ‘60s and the great recession. They had Hitler and Churchill; I had the Cold War. On balance – threats of nuclear war and ecological degradation notwithstanding – I feel a bit silly fretting unduly about the world we live in. I got a good education and a good job; they had harder struggles.

And never – even during the 1970 theatrics of Trudeau the Elder’s War Measures Act – did I seriously imagine that Canadian democracy was at risk. Now, however, I worry about the rise of “illiberal democracies.” I’m trying hard not to over- react.

In How Democracies Die, Harvard professors Stephen Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt do us two favours. First, they calm the waters. Cool, dispassionate and very readable, they explain that, except for imperial interventions (most notoriously in Chile in 1973), stable democracies are seldom defeated by violent coups d’état or revolutionary mobs. Rather, they more often perish when elected leaders deliberately erode democratic norms, staying narrowly within the letter of the law but gradually concentrating power until resistance is futile.

Next, they show how we can change direction despite being some distance down the road to authoritarianism. They cover examples from the 1930s to such current offenders as Hungary’s Orbán, Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdoğan, and US Senator Mitch McConnell – who denied Barack

Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court a hearing so he could later elevate an inferior, partisan judge, Brett Kavanaugh, to the bench. Now I even wonder if the current US President will gracefully surrender power when he loses the election in 2020. And then, of course, there’s the bullying Ford regime in Ontario.

Each story is different. Each has a context. Each makes the same point and carries the same warning: Democracy is always a “work in progress,” and there are no guarantees that it will survive – anywhere!

How Democracies Die provides pathology reports, not sentimental eulogies. It gives us the tools to diagnose maladies in our own body politic. Effective therapies, however, are up to us. That means resisting impulses to intolerance, injustice and craven deference to “the way things are.”

Democracy is always about people taking control, not passively submit- ting to power. Levitsky and Ziblatt forcefully remind us that “things could be otherwise” and that democracies survive only when we energize civil society, become informed and active citizens, and use the institutions at our disposal – most obviously our own union – to show everyone (including ourselves) exactly what democracy looks like.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die. Toronto, ON: Penguin Random House. 2019. 320 pages. ISBN: 9781524762940.

The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike: Celebrating a century of solidarity

Craig Hadley, inSolidarity

On May 15, 1919, nearly 30,000 public and private sector workers walked off the job in search of better wages and improved working conditions.

Virtually all Winnipeg-area workers assembled in the city’s Exchange district amidst what many described as a near-festive atmosphere. Striking workers took turns addressing the crowd on the great social inequity inflicted by the ruling class. Post-war inflation had reduced already subsistence-level wages. Living conditions were often appalling. Employment, when offered, was frequently precarious. Ruling-class discrimination was taking a heavy toll on immigrants. Simply put, workers believed the wealthy were taking just too much.

This newfound class consciousness was heightened when workers witnessed the extortionate amount of profiteering by business owners during the Great War. Many soldiers returning home joined the strike because they believed the dictators they had fought and defeated in Europe looked a lot like those responsible for the mass economic hardship at home.

Business leaders and the ruling class demanded that all workers return to work or face immediate dismissal. The workers refused, and the economy ground to a virtual halt for six long weeks in an epic standoff between the haves and have-nots. Workers survived through food and re- source sharing and sheer determination, fuelled by their resolve to increase living standards for all workers.

Tensions peaked on June 21, when a silent parade lead by war veterans was blocked by a strike breaker using a streetcar. The crowd tipped it over and set fire to it in a dramatic show of defiance to the demands of the Winnipeg government to back down.

Shortly thereafter, mounted police armed with batons and guns charged the strikers, resulting in over 30 injuries and two deaths. The day, named “Bloody Saturday,” brought a quick end to the strike.

But what may have seemed like defeat at the time turned out to be a tremendous victory for the working class across Canada. The strike was a turning point in Canadian labour history which ushered in the first labour laws, increased union involvement, and changed the political landscape for ever – for the betterment of all Canadians.

Rant

Craig Hadley, inSolidarity

Axe Body Spray is an inexpensive aerosol-based cologne that has been marketed to male adolescents since the 1990’s using highly suggestive, sexually charged ads. They have been widely criticized for promoting sexism and encouraging sexual promiscuity among youth.

Axe also smells terrible – really terrible. It’s one of the few scents that sends me into a coughing and sneezing fit, makes my eyes water and my nose run, and has me looking for a glass window to dive out of.

But you know what really grinds my gears? The grown men who use it.

Axe is a product for teens. Any adult that air-bathes themselves in this toxicity should be arrested. These are the same dudes who rev their engines at the opposite sex, the same fellas who weave in and out of traffic, and who park illegally if it suits them. They refer to left-leaning people as “libtards” and “snowflakes.” Their entire existence pains the intelligent with their zero self-awareness and tone-deaf self-entitlement. In a lot of ways, they’re like Doug Ford!

Now, I haven’t got close enough to the Premier to see if he air-bathes in discount aerosol cologne, but I can certainly attest to his inability to relate to average Ontarians. Ford is butchering the social safety net, has cancelled minimum wage increases and reduced workers’ rights, all while handing wealthy corporations generous tax breaks. He’s called school children “union thugs,” told the parents of children with autism to “go to hell,” and he volleys schoolyard insults at anyone who questions him. At the same time, he continues to claim to be “for the people.” Ford is the epitome of tone deafness.

So to the 50-year-old guy at my gym who douses himself with half a can of Axe before working out; to the pair of 30-year-olds scenting each other up with Axe in the deodorant section at the pharmacy before their double date – and to Doug Ford, a failed Premier, you all grind my gears!

Labour Reads: The Alternate Press

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Long, long ago, even before the Internet, there was a wondrous assortment of “leftish” Canadian magazines. In the last quarter of the 20th century, for example, I subscribed to the venerable Canadian Forum (1920-2000), the anarchist Our Generation (1961-1994), and a host of others, including Last Post, North Country and Ontario Report – all of which vanished pretty much without a trace.

Canadian Dimension, however, survives. Started in his Winnipeg basement by Cy Gonick (who is still the publisher and a co-ordinating editor), it has been managed by a talented collective of activists since 1976. (Full disclosure: As a member of the Toronto collective, I was once briefly but gladly involved in the early stages of the decentralization process.) It has seen other changes in design and depth, but it remains a tremendous source of real news, opinion and insight into current events, with contributions by some of Canada’s best thought leaders and authors.

Canadian Dimension covers plenty of worker and labour concerns, but it also features well-researched and well-written investigative journalism on just about every topic of interest to progressive people: women’s issues, aboriginal issues, ecology and technology, as well as Canadian politics at all levels. No small amount of up-to-date and critical coverage of international affairs can also be found in its excellent quarterly issues.

Next, there is This Magazine. Starting out in 1966, it was originally produced by a small group of teachers in Toronto under the title, This Magazine Is About Schools. It was that, and more, as it addressed questions of educational policy, teaching and learning, and the connections between schools and society.

It didn’t take long for this gifted and quickly expanding collection of writer-educators to shorten the title and lengthen its list of topics. Now, over 50 years into the mission, This Magazine honestly advertises itself as “fiercely independent and proudly subversive” as it explores a multitude of critical social problems from a “fearless, rabble-rousing” perspective.

Finally, there’s Briarpatch. It’s a new (to me) bi-monthly from Saskatchewan. It deals with provincial, national and inter- national matters, including a recent special edition on Labour (Nov./Dec. 2018), with a very useful piece on why Doug Ford cleaned up in racialized, working-class communities in Toronto’s suburbs.

All three are great bargains at $30 or less for an annual subscription and online archives available free of charge.

Canadian Dimension subscriptions can be had at https://canadiandimension.com/sub- scribe; This Magazine is available at https:// this.org/subscribe/; Briarpatch subscriptions can be found at https://briarpatchmagazine.com/subscribe.

Global treaties trend: high commitment, low completion

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

The Every Woman Treaty is a campaign for a global treaty to end violence against women and girls, launched in March 2019. The campaign calls on people to sign the treaty and donate to a funding goal of $4 billion, or $1 per female on earth.

The campaign also calls on governments in 123 nations to mandate five actions to decrease violence against women. The plan is to bring it as a resolution to the World Health Organization (WHO) to write a report and approve the drafting of a treaty at the World Health Assembly in 2020.

At the annual meeting on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March, Ireland’s UN Commissioner Geraldine Byrne Nason clarified that it’s not enough to be in the workplace. Women need to be where decisions are being made, with a focus on power sharing. Work needs to be done collectively to improve women’s safety and eliminate barriers to leadership.

Policy-makers at all levels of government must build in women’s needs and perspectives. For this, a systems rethink or redesign are needed. How would this look at the community level? It may mean improving access to, and safety in, public spaces, including parks and markets. Within organizations, this means clear workplace policies that support women employees, starting with a workplace safety plan, according to the Canadian Labour Congress.

But how effective are international agreements? The Vienna Convention to protect the ozone layer was ratified over 30 years ago. Today, 98 per cent of ozone-depleting substances have been phased out. On the other hand, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which came into force in 2005 and was signed by 168 countries committed to action, has never been fully implemented the measures for lack of human and financial resources.

Corrections in Ontario and the use of segragation

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

I was first hired as a correctional officer in Guelph in 1985. The training of the day was pretty brief, with about a week of classroom followed up by two weeks of job shadowing. The emphasis was on enforcing discipline using two formal methods.

One was “earned remittance performance notices” – a sort of written ticket noting good or bad behaviour. Bad tickets were issued for less serious infractions like showing up late for meals. Four bad tickets in a review period meant losing a day of earned remission, known as “good time.” Good time is automatically awarded and is roughly one-third of their time. Tickets were phased out in the 1990s.

The second way was “misconduct notices” for more serious breaches of the rules. Penalties ranged from warnings up to confinement (segregation or “seg”). Inmates placed in seg could also have privileges removed, for example, having a mattress during daylight hours. Seg cells were pretty stark, offering a stainless steel sink/toilet unit but no bed: a mattress would be provided at night.

There were two additional seg units for a large number of inmates for particularly violent or disturbed inmates. These units were almost medieval, without even toilets, just a hole in the floor.

Putting an inmate into seg was pretty simple. I’d tell him to pack his stuff and take him to seg. Then I’d report to a corporal or sergeant to tell them whom I put in seg and why. Later, I’d write the misconduct, and then the superintendent would decide on the consequences. A few years later, we needed to inform managers before placing them in seg.

The use of seg to enforce discipline was a regular occurrence back then, even after some of the control was taken away us. Then we got a boss who disliked using it. Sentences became so light that staff just stopped writing misconducts.

Over the years the use of segregation was being more and more tightly monitored by the ministry. Recordkeeping, which used to be making brief notes in logbooks, now include several forms.

In 2002, I transferred to the Kenora Jail, where the use of seg was much more tightly controlled – mainly because they don’t have many seg cells. They’re often full, but not for disciplinary reasons. Instead, they house people with mental health issues – a huge pressure for officers, as we’re not adequately prepared to handle them.

One case focused Ontario’s attention on seg when Ontario Human Rights Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane toured Thunder Bay Jail and was made aware of an inmate who had spent years in confinement: Adam Capay. She took her findings to Queen’s Park, where Kathleen Wynne tasked Howard Sapers to examine corrections in its entirety. The former Correctional Investigator of Canada combed through every institution’s seg reports.

His final report, published in March 2017, severely curtailed our use of seg. Inmates could no longer be housed in a cell without some period of free time, beyond the usual fresh-air period. Less restrictive areas than seg had to be used for inmates with mental health issues.

While the report was full of direction on what we weren’t allowed to do, it fell significantly short in directing us in what we could do! Local managers interpret the report their own way.

One of the less desirable consequences of the report is that reducing the use of seg saw a dramatic increase in bad behaviour and violence in the jail, with both inmate-on-inmate assaults and inmate-on-staff assaults rising dramatically. Gang activity, while always a concern, has also grown significantly.

Factor all the above in with a jail that is hugely overcrowded; with inmates facing long remands; with limited or no access to programs, education or recreation – and it doesn’t take a corrections expert to realize they get bored. Bored inmates tend to do stupid things, and stupid things often lead to acts of violence.

This is just one of many reasons Ontario is in the grips of a crisis in corrections. And it appears that the Ford government couldn’t care less.

Guilds were the precursors to the organized labour movement

Julie Hunt, inSolidarity

Organizing workers into units referred to as “guilds” appears as early as the 10th century in Europe. They were formed in two general groups: craft guilds (artisans) and mercantile guilds (traders).

They arose from both a spiritual need to pray for the souls of deceased workers, as well as an economic need to help families left penniless when the provider died. The guild would cover members’ burial costs and support children until they were old enough to enter the workforce.

By the 11th century, small differing guilds were sharing operating premises. By the late 12th century, each craft had its own guild, and this continued through the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century and beyond.

Beyond supporting their respective members, both types of guild regulated their respective industries. The “city” guild monitored local member listings, guarding against outsiders moving into the geographic territory of a particular craft or merchant activity. Large guilds expanded this function to boundaries beyond immediate village or city limits.

The guilds wielded considerable influence over civic activities because of the trade they generated with rural regions and other cities. Their weekly markets and seasonal and annual event helped set the rhythm of life, and their activities influenced the local government decision-making.

Guilds were managed by masters elected by the membership. They administered regulations and imposed fines for non-compliance with product quality standards. They also had to deal with wealthy and powerful patrons not inclined to pay in a reasonable time. King Henry VIII was notorious for ordering lavish outfits from his tailors who had to wrestle payment from his purse.

The inductee into a guild began service at a young age as an apprentice to an older and experienced tradesperson or artist. This involved actually living at the worksite and providing domestic duties in exchange for room and board while observing and learning the respective target skill. Upon attaining a suitable level of ability, the apprentice would be appointed to the classification of journeyman and began to earn a wage. The final classification, “master,” was achieved upon demonstrating an ability to create the end product unassisted, and the master gained full membership and the option of establishing an independent operation within the guild.

Religion played an integral role in the guilds, with patron saints being adopted by the various groups and specific dates set aside for observing religious practices and celebrations. Again, the guilds had a strong presence in civic activities by way of sponsoring public celebrations and performances of a religious nature.

They were responsible for promoting group solidarity to address specific public needs through what became known as “brotherhoods” and, later, “confraternities,” where a group of volunteers performed special charitable work within their guild’s local community in the name of the patron saint.

The guilds flourished across Europe until their ultimate dismantling, beginning with the French Revolution in 1789, giving way to the modern Western union.

Hands off our health care!

Craig Hadley, inSolidarity

Droves of demonstrators marched on Queen Park on April 30 to protest the Ford’s government’s cuts and privatization plans for Ontario health care. The event was organized by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) with the support of dozens of unions and their supporters. The crowd swelled to well over 10,000 people, as various union leaders, like Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) President Chris Buckley, CUPE National President Mark Hammond and OPSEU’s own Smokey Thomas, addressed the crowd.

“Health care is something we all cherish dearly,” said Thomas. “When a government puts profits before patients, they can expect the type of mass resistance we’re seeing here today.”

Thomas thanked the huge crowd for expressing their anger and pledged the support of OPSEU’s 155,000 members to fight every cut, every inch of the way, with everything OPSEU has. “It’s not only our privilege to fight for quality health care in Ontario – it’s our responsibility!” he thundered.

There were also many touching speeches, but none more touching than those that shared their struggles with illness – now complicated by government cuts. “It’s sad that regular people have to suffer at the hands of a government being guided by lobbyists looking to profit from the sick and dying,” lamented Sara Labelle, chair of OPSEU’s Hospital Division.

Towards the end of the rally, Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and her fellow MPPs joined the union leadership on the stage in a powerful act of solidarity. Horwath thanked everyone for their support and vowed to use the crowd’s energy to defeat Doug Ford’s agenda – and be a real voice “for the people.”

OPSEU front and centre at ONDP convention

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

The City of Hamilton Convention Centre hosted over 800 delegates for the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) Convention 2019 on the weekend of June 14-16. Attendees were offered a full agenda of policy resolutions, constitutional reforms, educational opportunities and traditional party team-building exercises. The party also rolled out their Green New Deal plan to combat climate change.

Of particular interest to OPSEU members was the party’s continued support for public services and the workers who provide them, with OPSEU-represented sectors, including mental health, hospitals and liquor board, being widely discussed.

Over the weekend, it became abundantly clear that OPSEU members were an integral part of the party and its pro- cesses. Several Executive Board Members were present, both active and retired, as well as local presidents and a host of members. Former EBM and Region 6 RVP Jeff Arbus was elected to some key positions, including the party’s Northern Representative and co-chair of the Constitution Committee.

Current EBM and Region 3 RVP Sara Labelle took to the microphone to highlight the fight against hospital privatization, the need for proper hospital funding, and the Ford government’s abject failure to consult stakeholders in its decision to potentially eliminate several regional health authorities. Labelle’s knowledge and passion resonated with the delegates, and she was awarded with rousing applause.

Of course, the most thunderous ovations were reserved for two of the weekend’s big hitters, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and federal NDP party leader Jagmeet Singh.

Horwath stoked the party fires with her stories of the goings-on at Queen’s Park, hammering home the critical importance of keeping up the pressure on the Ford government.

Singh closed out the weekend with his trademark electrifying entrance. He jumped and danced his way to the main stage, where he rolled out some of federal party campaign strategies, including his bold vision for universal pharmacare and green initiatives that include significant worker protections and job creation.

The weekend was inspiring and informative. The party faithful left with renewed vigour and more determined than ever to effect change in this fall’s federal election – and to form the next government at Queen’s Park in 2022.

2019 NUPGE Convention: Unions, yeah!

Rina Gulli, Local 678

The honour was not lost on me attending my first NUPGE Convention in Winnipeg against the backdrop of the 100 year Anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.

The strike was a pivotal event in Canadian history that sparked the initial labour movement in our country leading to the creation of unions, collective bargaining, the entrenchment and support of human rights.

However with trickledown economics, globalization, extreme right wing conservatism and the emergence of a global class of workers in precarious jobs, many of the wins the labour movement has achieved are being eroded.

Vigilance and action, 100 years ago, now, and 100 years from now must continue to characterize labour rights gained, explained and maintained.

NUPGE stands for National Union of Public and General Employees, encompasses 11 unions from coast to coast, from British Columbia’s BCGEU and Manitoba’s MGEU in the west, to OPSEU, centrally in Ontario, to P.E.I. UPSE in the east.

Being an active union steward for over 20 years, I found that being part of the 375 national member delegation held profound meaning for me, especially against the backdrop of the 100-year anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.

Passion, and the fact that much work had been done, yet much more had yet to be done to secure the greater good, emerged everywhere. This was clearly evident in the six Resolution papers dealing with tax fairness, fighting privatization, supporting national programs for child care, affordable housing, and mental health support in the workplace.

It was evident in the four policy papers on Retirement Security, Precarious Work, Maintaining a Sustainable Future, and Diversity and Inclusion.

It was evident in composite resolution advocating for Public and Universal Pharma- care and Prescription Drug Plan, a concept particularly poignant in the hometown of Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare.

It was evident in the voices who spoke their passions in the mic. Some occasion- ally arguing for an escalated, forceful civil disobedience.

It was evident in the faces of the Region 6 delegation of women, informally called the “Sisters of the Six.” It was meaningful for them to be at NUPGE’s convention in the midst of events marking the Winnipeg General Strike, given that the strike was sparked by telephone operators, called the

“Hello Girls,” who were the first to walk off the job for better working conditions.

It was evident in the streets of Winnipeg where the Manitoba General Employees Union and other partners put up many symbols acknowledging the General Strike, including a permanent art installation and replication of that watershed moment and photograph when a streetcar was set off its rails galvanising the labour movement as we know it.

It was evident in the speech delivered by world renowned advocate Guy Standing, based on his book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class articulating that the new social class lives with not only job insecurity, but time insecurity, money insecurity, identity insecurity. Where does this emerging social class fit within the context of historical labour and economic bargaining? And more importantly, what can we do as activists to extinguish its emergence?

His speech was met with multiple standing ovations, and as I later humbly suggested to him personally, when he signed my book, should be the anthem for all union, business, political leaders, economists and educators across the globe.

The work, the passion was evident. It was everywhere.

This was NUPGE in Winnipeg — 100 years to the day after the General Strike that would galvanize incredible social justice and economic gains.

One hundred years to the day after Bloody Saturday that saw the overturning of that streetcar, operated by strike breakers in the face of the massive crowd of metal workers, bakers, railmen, tradesworkers, gathered to protest the arrest of several strike leaders. Special police forces opened fire on them, killing two men, and wounding many others, ending the strike and starting the modern labour movement.

One hundred years after labour leaders who were arrested and served jail time but who became respected members of government, some being elected from their cells.

One hundred years later, it is clear that awareness and activism must continue. Labour gains must be maintained and enhanced. Gig economies must be extinguished. Diversity and inclusion need to grow. Social and democratic institutions like pensions, medicare, health and safety must be protected and progressed.

One hundred years later much has changed, yet much has stayed the same. One hundred years later, positive changes to the lives of Canadians has been achieved, yet in other areas, progress is receding. One hundred years later, vigilance, awareness and activism need to envelop and fuel the continued movement.

This sums my experience at the 2019 NUPGE Convention, set against the backdrop of the General Strike, 100 years ago, an iconic event in our labour past, clearly telling us where our future needs to be. The honour will never be lost on me.

The Gig economy

Joe Grogan, retired

The gig economy, you say? Yes, you know, where someone has series of different jobs (or “gigs”) over a period of time, or at one time. The pay, hours and working conditions are negotiated by an individual directly with an employer or employment agency that have contracted out work assignments.

These employers claim their workers are “consultants” or “contractors.” Why should this worry us? Because they’re not defined as “workers” as defined by the Employment Standards Act, and so are not covered by it or the Occupational Health and Safety Act or Workers’ Compensation.

Many are women and/or single parents who have to somehow juggle child care and work, creating enormous stress and contributing to mental health problems. Many work from home. How can such workers ever hope to join a union, assuming they would like to do so? And how can unions locate these gig employment workers who are scattered all over the map?

The digital revolution has made controlling these workers even easier, because they must log in and log out through a computer system that monitors time spent on work-related activities, which in turn determines financial compensation. This is just another form of electronic surveillance – a fact that should concern us.

Workers in the gig economy are increasingly becoming interchangeable parts of an employer-controlled network of commodities. Ever try to have a conversation with your Internet provider by phone? You may end up talking to some hapless per- son in India or the Philippines – or even in Ontario! They are all controlled by a script developed with profit in mind: no deviations, no real personal contact, and certainly no loyalty in a customer service system that values only profit and compliance. These souls have no rights under Employment Standards Act.

This type of work relationship also makes contracting-out easier, since the work that normally would be the basis of a permanent job can now be farmed out. Further, the parameters between what was work time in the old days and non-work time no longer exist: Everyone is on call all the time: day or night, weekday or weekend.

For these and other reasons, employers love the gig economy. It enhances and facilitates their control, while maximizing the bottom line. What’s not to love?

As labour activists, what can we do? Through vigorous political activity, we need to emphasize with governments at all levels, but particularly the Province, the need for full-time, permanent jobs covered by Ontario law and collective agreements.

We cannot allow the precarious-employment situation to continue because, ultimately, it’s a self-destructive system that exploits workers and destroys families. Full-time, permanent employment provides, not only individual stability, but societal stability too.

We now live in a society where recreational drugs are legal and alcohol is more available than ever? It’s tempting to think that a Tory government – which in the past has been associated with “traditional” values, has greatly facilitated access to these drugs. Is it targeted at those stressed-out and burnt-out workers living in a society that increasingly emphasizes profits and instant gratification, while dismissing issues of quality of work and life?

Crime seems to be increasing and social fragmentations develops apace. We do not want this kind of life for ourselves, our children or grandchildren. Unionizing, educating and agitating underpin our project to kill off the gig economy.