Labour movement unity critical during deficit crisis

'Union leaders know that the future of public sector jobs is tied up with the future of private sector jobs and that both are tied to the future of our communities.' - Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE)Toronto (14 Dec. 2009) - The head of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) says the labour movement must remain united in dealing with the Ontario government as it copes with a looming $24.7-billion deficit crisis.

"Ontario union leaders remember the last time we had a big budget deficit in the middle of a big recession," recalls OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas. "It was 1993, and the ensuing crisis split the labour movement in two. The private sector unions went one way and the public sector unions, with the CAW, went the other."

This time around, Thomas argues, all unions must recognize the real cause of the crisis and remain together in trying to minimize the fallout on their members.

"The provincial budget deficit was not caused by public employees. It was caused by the global recession. The global recession was not caused by private sector employees. It was caused by unbridled corporate greed. It was caused by economic inequality," Thomas says.

"In our world today we have some people who are so rich that if they drop a $50 bill on the street it is not worth their time to pick it up. But at the same time, right here in Ontario, 350,000 people visit a food bank every month. When people – and their children – are going hungry in a rich country like Canada, you know something is wrong."

Thomas says the entire country is facing a jobs crisis and a public services crisis at the same time.

"This is not a temporary trend related to a temporary recession. This is a long-term trend that began three decades ago. For too many years, the money that should have gone to wages and public services has gone to corporate profits and tax breaks. And we’ve got to turn that around," he adds.

In a commentary posted on the OPSEU website, Thomas reveals that he convened a meeting last month between key Ontario labour leaders and Sid Ryan, the new president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL).

"I was overwhelmed by the level of consensus among Ontario union leaders," he says. "Union leaders know that there is a public service crisis. Union leaders know that this grows out of a larger crisis. Union leaders know that the future of public sector jobs is tied up with the future of private sector jobs and that both are tied to the future of our communities."

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE