Ontario labour unites in the crisis


Dear sisters and brothers,

A few weeks back, I and Sid Ryan, now President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, convened a meeting at OPSEU Head Office. We brought together key Ontario union leaders from both the public and private sectors.

We had just one topic of discussion: the crisis facing Ontario.

It’s not a rosy picture. Thousands of workers, particularly in manufacturing and resource industries, have lost their jobs. The province is facing a $24.7 billion budget deficit. Key public services remain seriously underfunded.

Tough times for all of us.

Ontario union leaders remember the last time we had a big budget deficit in the middle of a big recession. It was 1993, and the ensuing crisis split the labour movement in two. The private sector unions went one way and the public sector unions, with the CAW, went the other.

We can’t let that split happen again, and I’ll tell you why.

The provincial budget deficit was not caused by public employees. It was caused by the global recession.

The global recession was not caused by private sector employees. It was caused by unbridled corporate greed. It was caused by economic inequality.

In our world today we have some people who are so rich that if they drop a $50 bill on the street it is not worth their time to pick it up.

But at the same time, right here in Ontario, 350,000 people visit a food bank every month.

When people – and their children – are going hungry in a rich country like Canada, you know something is wrong. And there is.

There is a jobs crisis going on in this country, and there is a public services crisis happening right alongside it. This is not a temporary trend related to a temporary recession. This is a long-term trend that began three decades ago.

For too many years, the money that should have gone to wages and public services has gone to corporate profits and tax breaks. And we’ve got to turn that around.

That is why a united labour movement is so important.

In our meeting last month, I was overwhelmed by the level of consensus among Ontario union leaders.

Union leaders know that there is a public service crisis. Union leaders know that this grows out of a larger crisis. Union leaders know that the future of public sector jobs is tied up with the future of private sector jobs, and that both are tied to the future of our communities.

Working together, the union movement in Ontario – and that means every union member, not just elected leaders – can help lay the foundation for good jobs, strong public services, and a green future for all.

Watch for more updates in the New Year.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas

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