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Wisconsin in Ontario

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Dear friends:

Recently, The Economist magazine called on governments everywhere to declare war on public employees and their unions.

“Holidays are often absurdly generous,” the magazine said. “Too many [government] workers can retire in their mid-50s on close to full pay.”

This kind of statement would be funny if people didn’t believe it. But many do. The global ruling class is gunning for us, and as the saying goes, “In war, the first casualty is truth.”

Here’s the real truth: Corporate CEOs beat down wages in the private sector with free trade, cuts to EI, phony bankruptcies and so on. Now they have a new way to boost profits: taking money from public employees.

Are public sector workers better off than private sector workers? Some are. As a union, we work hard to win decent wages and benefits. But that’s not the whole story.

As a 2009 study found, the big difference between public and private sector wages is gender discrimination. In the public sector, women are much more likely to be fairly paid compared to men. In the private sector, wage discrimination based on gender is common, especially in lower-paid service jobs. In other words, the attack on public sector wages is really an attack on fair wages for women.

Since last March, our union has been talking about how wage cuts for our members boost profits for big corporations. The McGuinty wage freeze policy takes money from us; corporate tax cuts siphon that money to RBC, Rogers, Imperial Oil, and their ilk.

Not far away in Wisconsin, a similar thing is happening. There, Governor Scott Walker is on record in support of axing the state corporate income tax altogether. For working people, though, he doesn’t just want to cut wages; he’s trying to outlaw collective bargaining.

In Canada, such a move would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But that doesn’t mean we’ve got nothing to worry about.

Public sector wages and benefits are shaping up to be an issue in the provincial election in October. PC leader Tim Hudak will, I suspect, propose major cuts to jobs or wages. Not to be outdone, Liberal Dalton McGuinty is already pushing to speed up 1,400 job cuts in the Ontario Public Service in time for Election Day.

There is nothing about a budget deficit that requires government to transfer wealth from poor and working people to the corporate elite. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening. If elected, either of the two parties will keep on taking their marching orders from big business. And big business has declared war.

“It is crucial that the war with the public-sector unions is won in the right way,” The Economist wrote. I would change that: In the war with public sector unions, unions have to win.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Ontario Public Service Employees Union

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