A compassionate society is possible


To hear some business people talk, the only way things can ever change for most of us is to get worse.

The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing in Canada for about 30 years, and it has nothing to do with recessions. In good times and bad, the rich have been getting more, the middle class has been working harder, and the poor have been falling further behind.

Yet business leaders keep telling us that tax cuts, public service cuts, and privatization will make us all better off.

It’s not true. If these policies were going to work, they would have worked by now. Meanwhile, people in this country are hurting. In cities and towns, on farms and reserves, there is real suffering going on. And we can’t ignore it.

When I talk to business people, I ask them if they think it is impossible for us to have a society that is both compassionate and prosperous. And you know what? They never say it’s impossible. They know it can be done. But the business class in this country is far too focused on that new Lexus to care about the price of food for those who are hungry.

That has to change. As trade unionists, we have to challenge business to care.

Countries like Sweden, Norway, and Finland typically have child poverty rates in the 2 to 4 per cent range. In Canada, it’s more like 15 to 17 per cent. Why do some countries have lower child poverty? Simple. Because they decided to. And because their business people are part of a national consensus that compassion matters.

This March, our union will sponsor a conference in Toronto to bring together 240 people from unions, business, government, and community groups. Ontario 2020: Planning our future together is a chance to get us all talking about making the next 10 years better than the last 10.

I’m very excited about it. It’s just one of the ways your union can work to make real change in the world.

This past year has been a big one for OPSEU. We bargained and won some very good collective agreements. We pressured government to fund public services. We organized more than 1,100 new members. And we are close to a breakthrough that will see thousands of part-time college workers win union rights and respect at work.

For all these accomplishments, I want to thank each and every OPSEU member and staff person. Your work on the job, on union committees, on bargaining teams, at the Executive Board, and at major events like Convention is what makes our union great.

But while it’s good to look back, we will soon have to look ahead. The provincial budget deficit poses a new challenge, and in the New Year we will join with unions, community groups, and other allies to face that challenge. Our job is not just to repel the coming attacks, but to fight for our vision of a caring, compassionate Ontario.

Working together, I know we will succeed.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas

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