Yes, there are disagreements in the house of labour, as Star columnist Martin Cohn pointed out in a recent column. But that's good. Competing opinions are the lifeblood of democracy.
There are good reasons why OPSEU elected not to join Working Families or for our decision to step away from the Ontario Federation of Labour. Our members work in jobs that meet the needs of Ontarians. We know where our interests rest. They are shared with other Ontarians. This province is drifting towards a low wage economy, with a growing gap between rich and poor.
This gap raises questions that our political leaders would prefer to avoid. Who controls Ontario? Where is the plan to address inequality? Why do we tolerate ‘bargain basement’ government services when Ontario already pays less, per capita, on public services than any other jurisdiction in Canada? Is equality possible when we continue to slash the number of public sector workers or privatize services?
These are the issues and fears Conservative Leader Tim Hudak plays on. He uses them to pit his electoral base against working people. He delights in driving a wedge between families and communities. To drive home this point Hudak dispatched one of his backbenchers, Monte McNaughton, to conduct a “drive by” attack against labour leaders like myself who oppose his party’s controversial “right to work” proposal.
After the attack I challenged Hudak to debate the issue publicly and suggested that John Tory, his predecessor, moderate. Not surprisingly, Hudak declined. Later, he revealed why he declined. “I really had no talent in life except running my mouth. That’s why I got in politics.” With that shocking admission, Hudak, like former PC Leader Frank Miller, is destined to become little more than a footnote in history.
Under our economic system, wealth is power. Wealth delivers security when society stays livable, peaceful and fair. But the relentless push for profits blinds us to the greater good.
In contrast to the PCs and their neo-liberal allies, union members have sound answers to the questions raised. We believe Ontario needs sustainable and public health care, a strong education system, and equal justice for all. We need a clean environment and sturdy social services. Ontario needs a strong economy that produces well paid jobs so that people with desire and drive can achieve success.
That is why OPSEU must speak truth to power. We present facts while the PCs choose to distort social and economic reality. Our reward? We are bullied by the right wing and their cronies in the corporate world. They want to suffocate public debate, not encourage it.
When we learn about right wing attacks on research, science, community groups and unions we are witnessing our adversaries who diminish the spotlight on inequality and self-evident truths. In short, they mimic Hudak when he backed away from a public debate with me.
As the anticipated spring election approaches OPSEU will not be silenced. We want to roar with one voice. We believe our principles are part of what makes Ontario great. We welcome Ken Georgetti and Sid Ryan just as we welcome Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath. Instead of fighting over leadership, let’s ensure the truth is shared with all Ontarians when the time comes to vote.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Ontario Public Service Employees Union