The only thing we have to fear is fear itself


These words, from the inaugural address of Democratic President and New Deal architect Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were as true then as they are now. Almost 80 years later, fear is the motivator used by the corporate elite.

Think about it. We continually face the fear imposed by threats of economic collapse. We are repeatedly told that the cupboards are bare; that we have to do more with less; we must be more productive; give more than we take, and live within our means.

The purpose for these statements is one thing and one thing only – to paralyze us with fear.

This is why Conservatives drone on about deficits and how government can no longer spend more that it takes in. When in office they say they will stop the spending, cut taxes and reduce revenues. The result is cuts to public services and privatization of existing services. They sell off the legacies of bygone generations to their friends. They convert, to a business, institutions built by our ancestors to establish peace, order and good government. A legacy owned by the public for the good of society then passes to private hands for personal gain. In Ontario we can look to past examples like Teranet, ORNGE, E Health, LCBO Agency Stores and Highway 407.

Through the fullness of time, we can now see how private interests perform when they replace government. These stories tell a tale. They win while we pay.

Keep in mind that people who tell us to live within our means have built their personal fortunes with other people’s money. If corporations conducted business only with the cash available on hand, they would have to live in a much smaller world. Capitalism is based on credit and the willingness of banks to make this money available.

After all, business needs customers. This is why it makes sense for workers to receive fair wage increases for their contribution. This way we can spend this discretionary income on the products and services provided by the rest of the economy.

How can the desire to share the wealth be addressed? The right wing uses fear to further their cause and increase their piece of the economic pie. This is why they ensure the media they own is full of fear messages.

Let’s take time to look at these fear factors! Fears like the pending Euro collapse; a Canadian housing bubble that some say is about to burst; a volatile stock market; individual debt overload; spikes in the prices of a barrel of oil; out of control government spending; gold plated public sector pensions and greedy unions.

They use these to point the finger at everyone but themselves. They create a belief that unionized workers are the root of these troubles. They say good times could return, only if workers accept less and become more productive.

Let’s see this for what it is and realize that fear and doom is created to serve the interests of the wealthy that control our world. They do this to build their wealth and power.

Now let’s change the narrative.

To change the narrative, OPSEU is supporting the work of the Public Services Foundation of Canada. The Foundation, with hearings across Ontario, is bringing out other stories, ignored by Don Drummond’s secretive investigation. The message being heard makes it clear why the economy is floundering:

  • There is deep inequity in the system. A dollar earned by a regular person is not taxed in the way a rich person’s earnings are.
  • Services needed by many are cut or made to cost more through privatization.
  • While some have grown rich, workers wages have not kept up with costs. Simply put, you can’t spend what you don’t have.
  • Corporate tax breaks don’t create jobs, but instead, rob society of services during these tough times.

So let’s look at when wage stagnates, and spending and demand drops. Normal people simply don’t have discretionary funds to spend. To get by, especially if unforeseen things happen, many are forced into debt. People can’t set aside a reserve if they are financially squeezed ever more, each day.

In past, housing prices have risen, allowing for added debt limits for many. This has cushioned the economy for a while. If there is a significant decline in housing prices, many will lose homes and have their debts called by banks and mortgage companies. Many analysts say housing prices will drop, resulting in a loss of 25 percent of the personal wealth overnight. What then?

There are two truths you will not see in the media.

The first is the size of the income gap between rich and poor. This has come from a decline in real wages, especially within the middle class. This trend has occurred lockstep with a decline in union density.

We know unions are a voice for the powerless. Unions come to the aid of those seeking social and economic justice. They have a role at bargaining tables to help wages keep pace with the actual cost of living.

This is why the demonization of unions by the right wing is designed to achieve a predictable outcome. There has been a targeted campaign to shift public opinion. Fear has been used to create jealously and disdain for those being paid the wages negotiated through unions. Fear has been used to keep people from getting together to support each other.

Union wages are criticized even though they are far from excessive, especially when contrasted with the millions paid to corporate CEOs. The fact is that collectively bargained wages just provide for a modest but comfortable life.

What is wrong with that?  Why shouldn’t all Ontarians have the same?

The second truth is that private sector corporations have a poor equality record towards women.  One can see the attack on the public sector as an attack on the rights of women.

Comprising almost 70 percent of union membership, OPSEU women have fought to attain increased rights. This is reflected through the unions work for pay equity laws and the subsequent negotiations that gave substance to these statutes. Added benefits were also gained through greater access to promotional opportunities and non-traditional jobs.

This is why, when the public sector is cut, women as a group are hit far harder than men.

It is also true that at the managerial, Board and CEO levels, private sector organizations lag behind the public sector. They do not promote women to leadership positions as often. For the progress of women, there is frequently a glass ceiling in many corporations. 

Finally, we must remember the lobbying efforts of companies that pushed governments to spend stimulus money in organizations in which men were the majority. This was the case when stimulus funds were applied to construction projects. Construction workers received temporary employment while contractors and engineering firms banked the profits.

Now, public sector women are being called upon to pay for those investments with their jobs.

Fear will always be with us. It is part of the human condition. Some fear is good. It can protect us from bad things. The question is: how are we to respond to the fear created by the powerful and wealthy designed to push us to their ends?

Will we retreat? Will we rise up and take on the challenge? Are we going to back down from the likes of Drummond and McGuinty?

We won’t back down. Instead, we will hold and gain ground. We will meet this challenge. We will be at town hall meetings. We will work with other community members. We will lobby at Queen’s Park and MPP constituency offices. We will show strength at the bargaining table when we negotiate. We will work together in OPSEU and organize other workers who have yet to enjoy the benefits of collective action. We will do it all.

Let’s take back FDR’s words and realize the challenge in his 1933 statement. Let’s rephrase his words.

I say: “There is nothing to fear except the fear of doing nothing.”

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