Bringing community labour movements together to drive social change in the province, was the main focus of a community town hall meeting hosted by the Ontario Federation of Labour, at the RCAFA Wing.
According to a recent study by the OFL, Ontario is falling behind the rest of the country in terms of battling poverty, increasing inequality and diminished support for social programs, said Sid Ryan, president of the OFL. “We were the gold standard 15 years ago now we are at the bottom of the heap.”
“It’s depressed all around, especially in Cornwall,” said Ryan. Before the loss of our high paying factory jobs, such as Domtar, he explained, it was possible to comfortably raise a family and send your kids to university. “You were part of the middle class, and you had a decent standard of living.”
The factory jobs were replaced by “call centre-type” jobs at half the wage. “You can’t send your kids to school on $15 or $16 dollars an hour. Morale is low.”
As for the battle teachers are waging across the province with the Dalton McGuinty government, Ryan does not believe that they should be barred from engaging in job action, calling it a “grossly unfair system.”
“To have a free, democratic society, everybody should be able to negotiate they’re worth in the workplace, he said. “Taking away the right to strike from school teachers is not a solution. Taking away the right to strike will end up with illegal strikes.”
“When you have a collective agreement it’s a legally binding agreement between the employer and the union. People will find other ways,” he said. “When they get frustrated enough they just walk off the job.”
Ryan said that the outcome of this battle between the teachers and the government will depend on who gets elected.
“(If it’s) Kathleen Wynne or Gerard Kennedy, then it’s possible that they would find a way out of this. They’ve been friendlier towards labour in the years gone by. They are saying ‘We can find a way out.'”
Through it all, Ryan does not understand why the government is taking on the teachers like this. “We’re at a stage where we’re not all that far apart. Do we need all this turmoil in the system over .04 percent?”
Where unions are concerned, Ryan believes that it would be a good idea to consolidate their memberships. “Auto workers are doing that. It’s happened in Europe and the rest of the world.”
“In Ontario we have 54 unions; some of them are very small,” he said. “I don’t think that this is effective.” Merging resources and people would keep unions from tripping over each other, he added.
The OFL is rallying community organizations, poverty activists, health care activists, and environmental groups, among others, to be able to better help the communities and to lobby government more effectively.
A Rally for Rights and Democracy protest, will be held during the Ontario Liberal Convention, on January 26, in Toronto.