Inspiration on a flight north
November 19, 2012
Last week I
had the privilege of being invited to a meeting of OPSEU activists in
Sault Ste. Marie. As they say, the journey can be as important as the
destination. This was one of those times.
On the flight
north, I made the acquaintance of a young man who had recently gotten
married. He and his partner were contemplating starting a family. We
started with the usual pleasantries and then the talk shifted to our
occupations. He was a corporate lawyer. I am a union vice-president. At
first we seemed to be an odd couple. But were we?
It was soon
clear that his corporate mentors had drilled in the expected message:
“Unions are redundant.”
as much he stopped and added, almost apologetically, “Aren’t they?”
opened that door I politely barged through with my response: “Well my
friend, not exactly.”
This was a
unique moment: a moment to educate; a moment to spread the good news
about what the labour movement means to working people; a moment to set
out how the labour movement creates a healthy middle class. It was also
time to explain how unions create a path for those seeking entry to the
middle class. The moment turned into an hour and half.
At the end of
it, had I been able to offer him a membership card, he would have gladly
is how we can win folks over. We provide the truth. We help them to
understand and accept it. We do so one person at a time; one
conversation at a time. After all, unionized workers have advantages
that are good for everyone. We don’t have to apologize for seeking
livable wages, decent benefits, safe working conditions and decent
pensions. These are the ingredients to a healthy society and a vibrant
workers are productive workers. Empowered workers form a powerful
economic force. Empowered workers found healthy communities. What we
want for ourselves we want for everyone.
and big business hire only the workers they need to be profitable. They
do not create additional jobs or spread the wealth. They need a
countervailing force to push them to do so. That’s where we come in.
millions of workers have taken to the streets against austerity. Why?
They understand that business likes austerity. Austerity lowers the
expectations of workers thereby lowering the cost business has to pay
for that work. Record corporate profits result.
The USA is
heading towards a “fiscal cliff,” a sexy term for austerity formed by
the threat of higher middle class taxes and lower government spending.
Our American cousins are getting the subtext to this: Austerity. And
they have clearly said to their political leaders, “Fix it”.
jurisdictions, unions have been the voice that started this
conversation. We are following that path right here in Ontario. Remember
those OPSEU t-shirts that said: Austerity No, Prosperity Yes.
That message resonated.
are the answer. Fair taxation is the answer. Sharing the wealth is the
answer. Vibrant unions are the answer.
right-wing stereotype that our job is to protect the lazy and
incompetent is just spin and rhetoric. We are not about greed. The facts
simply do not support this mantra. Instead, we are for rights and
responsibilities. We are for everyone pulling their weight. In return we
should all have access to a fair share of society’s wealth.
And all of
this took place on that flight to Northern Ontario. By the time I
arrived in the Sault I was energized. So were our Sault members.
brothers, it will always be a struggle. Wear that struggle like a badge
of honour. We won’t back down. Justice is on our side. And that’s worth
To end, I
want to thank the OPSEU family who supported me and my family during the
very difficult time of saying goodbye to my beloved father. Your
kindness will never be forgotten. My dad, Antonio Almeida, was an
immigrant who arrived in Canada looking for a better life. A man, who
together with his wife of 57 years, Maria, raised four hardy boys.
He was a man
who gave to his community and instilled in me a fighting spirit. In
Portuguese he would stress, “Eduardo, be strong of body and kind of
heart, listen more than you speak and never, ever give up the struggle.””
peace, Dad. God bless.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU