With Convention 2012 behind us it’s time to hit the ground running. There is no time for rest and recreation with all the challenges around us. So what must we now do to forge ahead?
Delegates at Convention 2012 provided the answer with approval of an action plan. This plan will bring together the many voices in OPSEU into a coordinated force. There are clear themes that run through the plan whether members are from the OPS, BPS or Community Colleges. Let’s look at that plan and these themes.
OPSEU has a lot to be proud of. We have come a long way, together, while facing very tough political and economic conditions. This progress has been critical for both our members and Ontario.
In past months we supported members who fought against wage restraints through campaigns, bargaining, job actions and interest arbitration. Our membership numbers have remained strong, even while other unions have declined. OPSEU’s new organizing approach and branding promises even greater success ahead as it focuses on imagination and our proven record of achievement.
OPSEU has worked with other important groups. Through efforts with the Public Service Foundation of Canada, hundreds of Ontarians have had the chance to voice their opinion on how the Ontario government should address the current economic crisis.
We have built strong partnerships with community groups while working with other unions to form partnerships that allow for solidarity. We do this while working towards needed changes to the OFL.
Most of all we have recognized that social life in 2012 is a lot different than it was in 2002 or 1992. We live in a changed Ontario. We face many new threats and perils. We must find a way to turn peril into opportunity. We already have the key. United, OPSEU can then provide the labour movement and Ontario with the leadership now missing at the political level. We will do this by focusing on key areas:
As step one, OPSEU must work to reduce income inequality in Ontario society. We can do this through strong collective bargaining. Lifting up the wages and rights of OPSEU’s members can act to raise the same rights for others.
Next, we must continue to remind everyone that a successful province needs quality public services. When OPSEU members work together they must realize that their work provides the services so many Ontarians rely on. Our work makes our communities strong, caring and inclusive.
We must emphasize the importance of bringing all sides together for an adult conversation based on strong facts based research. That is why I recently stated in an open letter in several large newspapers that government must enter into a dialogue with other parts of society including opposition groups, unions and business. Through dialogue we can build an effective industrial policy that meets the needs of twenty-first century Ontario.
A key step in our plan will be measures to ensure that income equality can continue into retirement years. That can only happen through strong pensions. Human vitality and spending power cannot end at retirement. Instead, fully funded and supported pensions play a vital economic role.
Our plan must ensure that the future is based on strong and meaningful employment. Through quality jobs, open to all Ontarians, our province will again attain great prosperity.
We cannot retreat. If we now withdraw and take a defensive stance, we open the door to pressures and demands from the wealthy. Without that counterbalance right wing forces may prevail. All of Ontario will be poorer for it.
We have proven we have what it takes. We are Ontario’s leaders. There are few progressive social justice organizations with the ability to support a social movement. OPSEU is one. Our success with many issues including recent government moves to cancel corporate tax breaks and add taxes to the richest Ontarians proves this.
How we use this moment will determine the future for Ontario, and perhaps even Canada. We must prepare for the challenges ahead. We will continue to face and overcome challenges at work, at bargaining tables, at community forums and in our homes and neighbourhoods. We will deliver the Convention Action Plan.
OPSEU members work hard. When it comes to meeting important needs, if it touches a person, chances are an OPSEU member has provided all or part of the service.
Many people in Ontario have deep questions about how we are being governed. There is a growing view that the system is not fair. It lacks the balance so needed in society and government policy. There is a growing desire for real change. We will answer these questions with a progressive and inclusive program.
This is the moment for real change. We must grab the moment! If we do, we will make a huge positive difference for our members, our communities and our Ontario.
United we win!
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union