Answer Boss Attacks with Solidarity in Action

by Julius Arscott, Vice-President of OPSEU Local 532
Anticipating the harsh wage restraint bill soon to be presented to the Ontario Legislature, public service workers put solidarity on display at a large, lunch-time rally on September 12 outside the Ministry of Environment building at St. Clair and Avenue Road in Toronto. Nearly 170 workers rallied to save public services and jobs. Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the union flag-waving crowd. The employer could not fail to notice.
The event was co-sponsored by locals of the bargaining units in that Ministry — the Ontario Public Service Employees Unions (OPSEU), The Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario (AMAPCEO) and the Professional Engineers of the Government of Ontario (PEGO). The event, the first of its kind in this round of bargaining, sets an example for workers across the province. Many yearn to see a mass rally fill Queen’s Park against the big business ‘austerity’ agenda, and in defense of collective bargaining rights, much like the teachers’unions demonstrated on August 28 in front of the Ontario Legislature.
OPSEU Local 532 took the initiative to organize the solidarity event. The aim was to cut across the rivalries which sometimes plague the labour movement. It was a good opportunity to show the employer that members of the Ontario public service, and working people in general, will not take lightly cuts to public services and attacks on the labour rights with which we won a decent standard of living – now threatened by the present crisis.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, in his Spring budget, demanded major concessions to balance the books at the expense of public services. He has threatened to privatize ServiceOntario. Now he is promoting the so-called Protecting Public Services bill. It would allow the government not just to freeze the wages it pays to 500,000 unionized employees — including nurses, home care workers and hydro linemen — but roll them back. It would give Cabinet the power to remove or modify salary grids — as was done to the province’s teachers. The government could also unilaterally change or eliminate any non-wage benefits unionized public sector workers now receive. And the bill would bar unions from either striking, or appealing such decisions to the courts. Authoritarian powers like those could last until 2018 – when the government expects the budget to balance.
Challenging such laws in court, as the education workers’ unions are doing, is grossly inadequate. Needed is a campaign to educate everyone – through action. The time has come for an unlimited general strike. Let’s massively occupy the front lawn at the Legislature. We should enlist the support of all working people and the entire public – because everyone stands to lose by the attacks on rights and services now underway.