President's Message

We're not for sale!

November 21 2012

When you apply privatization and outsourcing to public services it all adds up to the same thing: Profit for a few and job losses for many. Worse yet, it brings inferior services to all.

Trade unions oppose privatization due to the immediate and permanent impact on jobs, but there is more to consider. When services suffer, so do the communities served. The evidence is all around us.

Right-wing attacks about entitlements, wages and pensions are thinly-veiled attempts to take over key parts of civil society, namely its public services. Why? The right wing knows their money can be made by squeezing profits from services at the core of middle-class life.

They use a simple formula. Reduce wages, eliminate benefits, slash jobs and scoop the resulting short-term profits. They see community services as the means to profits by turning government into a business. Yet history shows how business comes and goes with the passing of time.

Think about what marks the growth of civilization. Do history books recount the way merchants set up markets or money changers set their rates? No! History marks progress through the development of laws, public roads, water systems, courts and public buildings. Instead of ancient marketplace stalls, history looks to the viaducts and roads of Rome, some of which are still in use today. Why? Because the later were public projects built for the good of all. They were built to last.

I have asked right-wing politicians to provide examples of privatization accomplishing the goal of great service at a lower cost. I have yet to receive an example. The right wing is blind to history and facts. Tory leader Tim Hudak and his allies have blinded themselves by drinking their home-brewed privatization Kool Aid, They distill it to divide communities against their own interests. With it, anger and jealousy grows (they hope), prompting a move to the right. We see this technique in use today both here and in the U.S.

I respond to this by noting the deaths in Walkerton or the substandard and high-priced services provided by Accenture and Andersen consultants. I follow with privatization flops like Ontario’s driver’s examiners and road maintenance. And what about public money lost through E-Health and ORNGE?

What of P3 projects (like hospitals) that cost billions more than if they were built with public funds? This is the true results of privatization. All roads lead to waste.

This proves one thing. Profits for the few are drawn from a public purse owned by all of us. Taxpayers lose part of their deductions to waste. Everyone loses community services and democratic accountability. Worse yet, beyond structural issues, is when people die or suffer injury from drinking water or traveling an unplowed highway. The cost to society is huge. And who pays for that? Again, the costs come from society rather than the few who benefit.

When services go from public to private hands accountability ends. Accountability is critical to service recipients, taxpayers and the principle of a just society. Accountability lets society direct costs and liability to those who caused the damages. Accountability is the way we assure we are getting the services we need, rather than the ones that provide the greatest profit.

Ontario needs greater accountability. Only accountable government allows voters to throw mismanaging politicians from office.

CEOs, on the other hand, are answerable only to their shareholders. Shareholders are usually satisfied by greater profits and dividends so this is hardly a way to deliver quality public services. All this approach brings is a situation  where those at the top get rich while the rest of us go to bed knowing our services aren’t what they used to be, even as we pay more for them.

Public services are society’s great equalizer. They support the middle class and those struggling to get to the middle class. After all, we built Main St. and made it work. Our board of directors is a government democratically elected by the people. Our shareholders are the people of Ontario. That’s how democracy works.

That’s why all OPSEU leaders, local activists, sector chairs, staff and members must continue to protect and promote public services…one contract at a time.

In solidarity,
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President


Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 100 Lesmill Rd. Toronto, ON M3B 3P8  (416) 443-8888

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