Unifor president Jerry Dias (left) and OPSEU president Smokey Thomas
DOUG FORD WANTS TO BE THE BURGER KING OF ONTARIO. He wants to have it all his own way. Unions there have distinctly different plans for the Ontario premier.
OPSEU (the Ontario Public Service Employees Union) and Unifor have joined forces in a formal alliance to go toe-to-toe with Ford. The two unions represent 470,000 workers—about one in every four workers in Ontario.
The two unions are not just going to stand idly by and let Ford destroy the economic security and peace of mind of millions of Ontario citizens—almost 60% of whom (3.3 million) did not vote for him.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and Unifor National President Jerry Dias say the solidarity of their members is a powerful force against Ford’s anti-people, pro-corporate and pro-privatization agenda.
“Doug Ford has clearly shown his playbook. It’s one attack after another against working people and our families,” says Unifor president Jerry Dias.
“The premier needs to put his tongue in neutral and his mind in gear and start listening to front line workers,” says OPSEU president Smokey Thomas “whether they’re in the public service or on an auto assembly line.”
“We understand that public services are the great equalizer in society,” says Thomas. “It’s in both our best interests, for our members and for society, to work together and co-ordinate our efforts and see if we can’t get Mr. Ford to back off on some of his policies and encourage him to reinvest in public services.”
The two unions plan to pool their resources to lobby legislators and organize protests against Ford’s anti-worker measures. The unions have a record of good cooperation, with OPSEU and Unifor members having struck together at hospitals in Thunder Bay and Owen Sound earlier this year.
‘Together we’ll find Ford’s off switch’
The OPSEU leader explained that the alliance between the two unions was triggered by Ford’s assertion that nothing could be done to prevent the shutdown of the General Motors plant in Oshawa, which will result in 2,500 direct job cuts and many thousands more at companies dependent on supplying the plant.
Thomas stressed that accepting the weakening of the private sector would reduce the government’s tax intake, meaning that fewer resources could be spent on public spending. Additionally, workers who lose good-paying, full-time jobs will be compelled to accept part-time, low-paid, and precarious employment.
Thomas emphasized that community activism would be critical. “It won’t be easy because the premier is backed by a corporate agenda with hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added. “But the solidarity of the members of our two great unions will prevail and together we’ll find Ford’s off switch.”
Organizing the fight back
The task for Dias and Thomas will be to mobilize teachers, nurses, hospital workers, social care workers, city employees, and other public service workers to firmly reject the Ford government’s assault on public services.
Unifor and OPSEU have the support of the Ontario Federation of Labour. In a September statement the OFL stated that it “will work to ensure that public services and assets stay in public hands.”
“We are facing a crisis situation in health care, education, and all public services in this province,” said OFL president Chris Buckley. “Increasing competition within the public service to meet fabricated targets will only serve to reduce the services that Ontarians are already struggling to get.”
Sweeping assault on public services
Since taking power in June, the Ford government has unleashed vicious attacks on the public sector. Within days of becoming premier, Ford imposed a hiring freeze on the public sector and has pledged to cut $6 billion annually in public spending.
The Ford government has also floated the possibility of a means test for access to public services.
Ford has also gutted labour protection provisions adopted by the previous government. The Ford government axed the intended minimum wage increase to $15 an hour in January 2019, and quashed a plan to grant workers ten days of personal annual leave. In addition employers are now free to pay temporary workers less than full-time workers; and employers no longer face financial penalties if they cancel temporary workers’ shifts at the last minute.
Need for a modern industrial strategy
There could be no better proof of the need for a modern industrial strategy, says Canadian Labour Institute president James Clancy. “The betrayal of workers and citizens of Oshawa and Canada by General Motors is shameful and destructive. This coupled with the continuing attack on public services means Canadians are increasingly alone in the face of corporate greed.
“It is long past time for federal and provincial leadership in Canada to get to work on a modern industrial strategy that makes it clear to corporations that the welfare of people and nature are core Canadian values and must be protected.
“THE OPSEU and Unifor alliance is another example of living up to those values. Others will follow.”
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