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Retirement security is for everyone

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Dear sisters and brothers:

Some phone calls you just don’t want to take.

Recently, Stockwell Day called up unions representing workers in the federal public service. He said he wanted to meet.

Recently named as President of the Treasury Board, Mr. Day is basically the new Minister of Cutbacks for the federal government.

He called the unions to talk about their pensions.

Like their Queen’s Park cousins, the federal Tories led by Stephen Harper have never liked the public sector. To them, the federal deficit is a perfect excuse to slash jobs, wages, and pensions. So while this year’s budget, due March 4, will continue stimulus spending, next year’s will be all about deficit-cutting. Which means we are at the start of a 12-month right-wing campaign against public sector pensions and salaries.

The attacks won’t be confined to the federal level. On Feb. 6, I was on Global-TV’s Focus Ontario to talk about the upcoming provincial budget. Also on the program was Catherine Swift, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Swift was rude, obnoxious, and vicious. (Click here to watch.) And she clearly has it in for public employees. She notes, correctly, that public sector pensions are higher on average than they are in the private sector. Her conclusion is that, to be fair to the private sector, our pensions should be cut.

I have a few things to say about this.

First, public employees worked hard for decades to build the strong pension plans we have today. They aren’t “subsidized,” as Swift says. They are built with our wages – wages we opted to set aside for the future instead of spending today. And because unions have a say in the way the big plans are managed, they are very well run, unlike many company plans. (We still have more to do for our members who don’t have a pension. That’s why we’ve created The OPSEU Pension Plan System.)

Second, Catherine Swift and her ilk don’t speak for private sector workers. Private sector unions across Canada are saying, with one voice, that they oppose knocking down the pension incomes of public employees. Instead, they want their members’ retirement income brought up. Unions from both sides, public and private, are supporting the Canadian Labour Congress’s plan to make sure all Canadians can look forward to a retirement without poverty.

Over the next year you will see a lot of pension stories in the media. Catherine Swift and her cronies will attack your right to retire. Your friends and neighbours will read these stories. Maybe your relatives will repeat the right-wingers’ arguments at the dinner table.

You will be tempted to say, “Hands off our pensions.” I understand that, but at a time when so many retired workers live in poverty, it’s not enough. Our pension goal is bigger than us. It’s very simple, and so is our message: Retirement security is for everyone.

Tell everybody you know.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President

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