Important choices ahead


Divide and conquer? Or, are we all in this together? Will only the strong survive? Or, will solidarity reign?

Now, more than ever, what is the right answer? Identifying the answer requires focus and wise decision-making. Attacks on working families from the right wing have only intensified.

I"m talking about the effort to pit private sector workers against those in the public sector.

You have heard it all before. Some claim that the private sector is efficient; that it reflects market trends. They claim that when unleashed private business is a great job creator.

By contrast, they say the public sector is a drain on the economy. They claim it is filled with privileged and self-entitled staffers; employees who are overpaid while at work and in possession of so-called gold plated pensions on retirement.

According to their spin doctors (no, liars — there I said it!) public sector red tape restricts private sector expansion and prosperity. They say there are no good taxes. They claim government is evil and that government workers are disposable.

Oh, really? Let’s take a closer look at the facts.

Corporations exist to create wealth for their owners (the shareholders), not meaningful jobs for society. Their CEOs are handsomely rewarded for their fealty to the bottom line. Above all else, they must create profit each year.

They cut costs to maximize gains. Their efforts often hurt society. Zealous cuts for short term profit cause job losses. We call that unemployment. With it comes displacement of workers, their families and the rest of the community. Low employment brings poverty and reduced economic activity.

Lean and mean corporations don’t care about that. Their mission is profit growth; the oxygen they breathe is ever-bigger salaries and bloated bonuses. That’s wonderful for those at the top!

Where do their profits come from? From lower wages; lower taxes and higher prices. Taken together, this affects the lives of working people, consumers and taxpayers.

None of this would have happened without the permission, participation and intervention of government. By their policies, our governments are complicit in this massive attack on workers.

Corporations account for only $10 billion of Ontario"s annual operating revenue of $117 billion. Nationally, corporations account for 14 per cent of total revenues. At the same time personal income taxes account for 50 per cent.

With these numbers in mind, why do corporations exercise so much influence over government decision-making? Perhaps it is money that talks. After all Corporate Canada enjoys $500 billion of "dead money" in their tightly-locked vaults. This enormous pile of cash could be invested in the economy for innovation, research, technology and jobs.

But it doesn’t. Why so?

Attacking the public sector helps Conservative party fundraising. The party’s shrinking base just loves to hear stories of how public sector workers are dragging down the economy, even if these stories are “fables” and a fable is always more entertaining than the truth.

Public sector workers provide value. Their services make our society civil and fairer. When tragedy strikes public sector workers are there, out front. They are the ones running towards the danger, not away from it.

And public sector workers pay taxes; like income taxes, sales taxes, health taxes and property taxes.

The right wing also tries to put a wedge between consumers and workers. Again, they conveniently ignore that workers are consumers! Properly-compensated workers produce goods and purchase them. Their disposable income fuels an economy that more than ever is based on consumption. The key is a fair, living wage. But that"s where it’s all falling apart today.

Personally, I will never engage in a debate that pits private sector workers against public sector workers.

All I know is that there are workers and bosses. There are the rich and the rest of us. To maintain the kind of society we need we must share the wealth. For that, we need good jobs and a strategy to get us there. Trickle down theories don’t work. They never have.

Austerity does not create prosperity, unless you"re rich already.

Unconditional corporate tax cuts are a proven failure. The less corporations pay, the less they want to pay. All those tax cuts, money that could have gone to job creation, just ended up in the bank accounts of shareholders and CEOs.

I will never apologize for fighting on behalf of working people. Pensions, wages, benefits, health and safety, human right are all aspirational values we should believe in. I want them for all without creating artificial cleavages between private and public sector workers.

Unfortunately, the current corporate mentality – one that is shared by too many of our political leaders – has signalled a race to the bottom for everyone but the wealthy. They are the ones funding the conspiracy, from tax savings and profits.

But I"m an optimist. Change is happening. People are getting it. OPSEU will always choose solidarity, and fairness for all workers, consumers and taxpayers. Not only are we in this together, we are all one and the same. What we seek for ourselves we champion for all.

As for the rich? Well, they will always be rich. It’s how capitalism works.

As we head into the coming months make the choices that work for you, your family and your community. Act and vote in support of your interests!

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas

View all Presidents' Messages: 2009 to Current

Recent messages