As I look forward I believe 2013 will be the year in which we rebuild the floor under Ontario's middle class and eliminate the threat of job loss and economic decline that many (for good reasons) now feel. That threat of decline with wider income disparity represents a big threat to our communities and the quality of our lives. Many leaders have finally recognized this. From Pope Benedict XVI to billionaire Warren Buffett, the word is out.
Canada's poet, Leonard Cohen, said it best in his song "Everybody Knows," when he mused: "Everybody knows the fight was fixed, the poor stay poor and the rich get rich."
How did we get here? A big reason was insecurity caused by damaging the floor that many Ontarians rely upon for income security and that feeds their lives and dreams. The war on working people was one such assault. The attack can be highlighted by legislative and corporate actions aimed at destroying peoples' rights and the unions that protect them. Destroy this and you adversely affect families, neighbours, communities and our economy. Each relies on the incomes of the employed.
Since 1982, there have been 260 pieces of labour legislation adopted in Canada. Almost 200 of those laws took away rights from working people and handed the advantages to employers. Not surprisingly, during that time union density shrunk, the middle class declined and income disparity reached unprecedented levels. The Toronto Star recently reported that more than 50 CEOs in Canada now earn more in a day than the average worker earns in a year.
While this takes place, politicians and their corporate pals demoralize and weaken all of us with their incessant barrage of doom, gloom and crisis. "Do more with less," has become their rallying cry on the race to the bottom.
Sadly, looking to blame someone for their troubles, people sometimes turn on the organizations that protect them. Unions are the target. "Who needs a union?" many misguidedly cry out. After all, we have laws to protect workers and others.
So you think laws about rights are enshrined forever? Laws can be changed in a hurry. Just look at Michigan and Wisconsin. With a stroke of the legislative pen, legal supports for working people and the middle class can be wiped out. Actions against teachers and others in Ontario have also been adopted.
Ontario's teachers saw this when Bill 115 was speedily imposed through a Liberal and Conservative alliance, robbing them of their collective bargaining rights. And after the law served its purpose it was repealed to clear the path for the incoming leader (Premier), to be elected by Liberal delegates on Jan. 26.
Today's Conservatives are also waging war on working people and their communities. Their latest love affair is with something called "the right to work" (RTW). This odious concept has been made law in Wisconsin and 23 other states south of the border. Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak now talks about the prospect of bringing this anti-labour law to Ontario should he ever get the keys to Queen's Park. He calls it "Ontario's Path to Prosperity." Hardly!
RTW means workers with a union are not forced to pay dues notwithstanding that, to first create their union, they first had to democratically vote it into existence by secret ballot. RTW means an end to automatic dues check-off, supported by the Rand decision (and Supreme Court) in Canada. The result: free riders, enjoying all the benefits of a union without care or responsibility. It's a lot like taking a cab ride and then leaving without the bother of paying the fare.
RTW is also steeped in racism. Texas businessman Vance Mews, introduced the concept in response to white workers being expected to call black workers brother and sister. He was angry that unions, intent on human rights and human dignity, were openly promoting racial equality.
In 1961, Martin Luther King remarked: "Let's not be fooled by false slogans such as right to work. It's a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. We demand this fraud be stopped." Now, 52 years later, right to work is back, dressed up as freedom of choice.
But let's not despair! There is a light ahead! The right-wingers destroying the floor that supports the middle class have overplayed their cards.
In Canada and Ontario, after six years of Stephen Harper, Conservative support hasn't surged. It remains at less than 40 per cent of voters. The existing Conservative supporters are also "deeply committed." They are the true believers. This makes it less likely that a person undecided in polls would casually consider the right wing agenda. The right wing position is an extreme position. This creates a gulf between the undecided and the right wing. There are still a lot of undecided out there. We need to tap into this group.
We can also look at polls (2012) that show almost 50 per cent of Canadians support current standards for dues check off while 38 per cent support the free-lunch approach of right to work.
We can also draw inspiration from "Idle No More." While this movement is led by First Nations peoples it has linked their views with those of many Canadians, again raising awareness about injustice and inequity.
There is growing discontent within the Canadian psyche. Canadians want fairness and more and more people now accept that things just aren't fair. People can be mobilized into action.
OPSEU has been at the front and centre of this fight. We continue to speak out for fair taxation, income equality, quality public services and the protection of human rights. Our work is providing added power to the actions of others. The movement is growing as the links between coalitions strengthen. Power comes from broad based support. Change is coming.
Change will not be based on the stale musings of Tim Hudak who is desperate to hold on to his leadership by shamelessly pandering to the extremes inside his party. Democracy is precious. It's the line in the sand that marks the border between civility and quality of life. Conservatives here and in the US have demonstrated they want to cross that border. Sand will not hold them back. OPSEU, working with other like-minded people and groups, will.
In a strange way the cries created by the right have awakened many. In coming months, while people will gather demanding change, their real strength is noted in the statements of Brother King, 61 years ago: "Our weapon is our vote." So consider this a call to action and a call to mobilize.