The attack on public sector workers in Ontario, Canada's most populous province, is in full swing. On July 14, 274 Ontario Public Service Employees' Union (OPSEU) members received notice that they will be 'surplused'. This is the largest wave of layoffs since the dark days of former Tory Premier Mike Harris. The Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty declared that 1,900 full time jobs will be cut from the Ontario Public Service (OPS) by March 31, 2012.
Public service workers are pawns in a political game. We are victims of the business-led austerity drive in Canada, spurred by the global capitalist crisis that erupted with the economic crash in 2008. Activists in OPSEU, the largest provincial public sector union in Canada, asked OPS members to wear pink on July 14. ‘Pink Slip Day’ was designed to raise solidarity and to show the bosses that we are organizing.
Local 532, which includes workers at the Ministry of the Environment, took it one step further by conducting an information picket at the busy Yonge and St. Clair corridor in Toronto. We distributed hundreds of leaflets describing the effects of cuts to public services. Union members and the general public responded well to the information.
Ontarions overwhelmingly support strong public services. But the pink slips delivered to members resulted in the elimination of the Drinking Water Lead Inspection Programme. The government cut front-line water inspectors who test municipal drinking water systems.
The cuts also impact some of the most vulnerable people in our society. For example, the Ministry of Community and Social Services will stop delivering Special Services At Home by March 31, 2012. This program supports adults with developmental disabilities who, upon leaving the school system, wish to continue to live in the community, usually with their family.
Labour activists should begin to plan actions to mobilize our members and stop the austerity measures. Only mass action by workers can defeat the austerity drive. A huge rally in front of the Ontario Legislature at Queens Park would be a good next step. Members of other unions should be invited to participate. Further actions should include walk outs and/or extended lunch breaks in the workplace.
At regional OPSEU gatherings we often hear rank and file members say “We need leadership”. Then we hear union officials say “Tell us what to do”. It's time to break this vicious circle and plan to take some concrete, broad protest actions now.
Get Well, Jack
Supporters of Socialist Action, like New Democrats and working people across Canada and Quebec, were very saddened to learn on July 25 that federal party Leader Jack Layton faces a new battle against cancer, which has forced him to take a temporary leave from his position. We wish Jack a full and speedy recovery. We look forward to working with him again soon, and for many years to come.
> The article above was written by Julius Arscott, Vice President, OPSEU Local 532.