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When solidarity comes first, victory follows

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When you’ve got a bad boss, it’s easy to get discouraged.

Doesn’t matter if you’re talking about your immediate manager or Doug Ford – the ultimate boss of all our bosses – a terrible attitude flows downhill and can infect everything beneath: morale, service quality, and even the way the workers treat each other.

It makes sense when you think about it. If you don’t feel like you can do anything about your bad boss, you take your frustrations out on the people working by your side.

But try to remember: your co-workers aren’t the source of your problems. In fact, they can be the solution, especially if they’re together in a strong union like OPSEU.

As 2020 dawns, I’m now entering the third decade in which I’ve been OPSEU’s elected president. There have been a lot of ups and downs for our members over those years and I can tell you from hard-won experience that we never get ahead when we spend our time and energy focusing on what divides us instead of putting the spotlight on the bad bosses we share.

Fortunately, OPSEU doesn’t often fall into that trap. It rarely has.

I first became a member in the 1970s and I’ve seen several Presidents come and go. When James Clancy had the job, I was inspired by his ability to bring us together. And he didn’t just bring us together as workers, he brought us together as citizens, encouraging us to look at the public not just as clients to be served, but as allies to be enlisted in our fight to improve the services we provide.

And then came Fred Upshaw, the first black man to be elected President of a major Canadian union. His victory spoke volumes not just about his ability to unite workers around the need for basic equality and human rights, but also about the basic fairness and open-mindedness of OPSEU members themselves.

That open-mindedness was on display again when OPSEU members elected Leah Casselman as their President in 1995, making her one of the first women to lead a union in Ontario.

If you’ve ever doubted that there’s strength in diversity, Leah’s victories should make you think again.

Just a year after being elected, Leah rallied a hugely diverse group of nearly 60,000 OPS members against the cuts and cruelty of the Harris government and led them into their first-ever strike.

It was a defining moment not just for OPSEU, but for Ontario: a massive display of solidarity and strength on picket lines across the province.

It wasn’t easy. For one thing, OPSEU didn’t even have a strike fund – it was a huge gamble. And many members on the line faced abuse and even violence. Police brutality left dozens of picketers injured at Queen’s Park.

But Leah and the OPSEU members she led prevailed, saving jobs and services from being lost.

We couldn’t have won any of those historic victories – or any of the countless other victories, large and small, that we’ve won since – if we’d focused more on what divides us than what we have in common.

And right now, what we have in common is the worst premier – our worst boss – since Leah led us in our stand against Harris. And if OPSEU could beat Harris without a strike fund, imagine how strong we can be against Ford.

OPSEU’s not perfect. Never has been and it never will be. And we must never stop trying to make our great union more fair, more equal, and more diverse.

At the same time, our history holds a simple but powerful lesson: we can accomplish anything when we’re willing to put aside our differences and stand together against our bad bosses.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU President
@OPSEUSmokey
facebook.com/OPSEUSmokey

View all President’s Messages: 2009 to Current