Since his untimely death, many have written about the legacy left to Canadians by Jack Layton. His final letter summarized his enduring gift to Canada, a country he cherished and loved. In it he proposed that we “build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly”.
The trade union movement can now use his words as our road map for the years ahead.
The daily news reports on an economy filled with doom and gloom. We hear about the gap between rich and poor as the distance between the haves and havenots steadily widens. That’s why we must come together to meet the challenge posed by right wing economic programs calling for decreased taxes, less government spending and the elimination of full time jobs, benefits and pensions.
Why can’t entrepreneurs be satisfied with making a reasonable profit within a kind, caring and compassionate society? Greed may be the simple answer.
Societies set up systems to protect against unbridled greed. A fair tax system is one way to do this.
Does our tax system measure up? No.
Our current tax system, after various changes from past and present governments favours the rich and places an unjust burden on everyone else. It’s a system that places the most pressure on the diminishing middle class. Evidence for this is not hard to find.
Billions of tax dollars are directed to corporate tax cuts even though there is no evidence this will create jobs for Canadians. We know that similar sums, spent to repair aging infrastructure would.
Tax dollars used to increase corporate profits come at a price when children go to bed hungry and the social programs, relied on by many, get placed on the chopping block to pay for the same tax cuts.
No one, including corporations and entrepreneurs, can hide from the fact that taxes are the price we pay for a civil and just society. A civil and just world cannot be created by mindfully excluding those most able to pay their share — the pampered and privileged.
And make no mistake; the unfairness of the tax system is not due to an accident. Right wing governments create our tax systems. When they excuse the wealthy from paying their taxes public services erode, deficits and public debt increase and society feels abandoned by the system that should protect them.
An alienated and abandoned society left to fend for itself, is filled with frustration and anger. This anger is then used to promote further cuts to public services. To avoid the slide requires leadership and creativity. People need to regain their voice!
This is why OPSEU is setting up a Fair Tax Commission to counter other processes, like the province’s Drummond Commission. The Drummond Commission is trapped by its limited mandate. Their recommendations can only define new and greater cuts to vital public services. Other areas, like fair taxation, are strictly outside of their scope. To bad, given that more cuts are not the answer while fair taxation is.
These measures are in sharp contrast to Jack’s letter, filled as it was with optimism and hope for the future. He clearly states that to achieve our goals we must make a commitment to work together through our families, our community, and across the union movement.
If we followed this good counsel, success would be on the horizon. In Jack’s words we “have every reason to be optimistic, determined and focussed on our future”.
There will always be a right wing agenda perpetuated by those who believe individuals should prosper at the expense of society. These views are promoted by the corporate media, guided as it is by the interests of its advertisers rather than a balanced and fair presentation of ideas.
We will continue to confront rhetoric that denounces meaningful, progressive social programs describing these simply as “entitlements”.
We will be told that unions are beyond their best days, an impediment to a free and prosperous economy.
We will be told that the regressive acts recently taken in the state of Wisconsin were “the right thing to do”.
In contrast, on the darkest days, we must hold onto our image of Jack, the brave man with a walking stick who captured the imagination of a nation so desperate for leadership.
We will recall his election trek as he battled doomsayers and disease. Most of all we will and remember his words: Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.
Through the simple act of solidarity we will change the world. This is our time!
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Ontario Public Service Employees Union