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There's a little strike with a big footprint going on in Owen Sound. Some 30 workers – nurses, clerks, custodians – are striking the Owen Sound Health Organization, a collection of doctors with  offices in the Medical Centre on First Avenue W. Essentially, it's a privately-run enterprise, but the union that represents the workers is an OPSEU local.

The Organization's last offer to its employees, as reported in the Sun Times, included a 1% hike in each year of three years, with 5% hikes given to partially address pay gaps for some workers doing the same work as their colleagues in other offices. But the Organization would reduce its payments to their employees' pension plan. Hardly anyone who's now on the picket line was making a living wage. And the 1% offer doesn't even cover the cost of inflation.

Their strike for fair wages straddles two different governments. It started under Ms Wynne's Liberals and continues into Mr Ford's mandate. And that gives it additional significance.

Here's the thing. Income inequality has grown in Ontario (and Canada) in the past decade. There's a lot of reasons for that. But a main one (so say the economists) is a decline in union membership and an even more precipitous decline in the influence of wage gains won by unions on wages paid in non-union workplaces.

The Liberals, finally, and only on the eve of an election, passed workplace reform legislation that addressed things like equal pay for equal work, the inadequate minimum wage and unscrupulous temp agencies. But it was a decade late and more than a few dollars short.

Problems in Ontario's workplaces have been festering for years, as occasional Ministry of Labour enforcement blitzes of companies prove. Every breech of health and safety rules; every instance of wage theft, every medical emergency denied, betrays a profound lack of respect for workers.

Even the Liberal increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour falls short of what people need to live on. Not surprisingly, the Liberals' reforms weren't enough to quell the anger that inequality breeds.

Doug Ford recognized people were angry. He even got the idea of respect, although it wasn't for people as workers, but for us as taxpayers.

What was the response of the other two parties? The NDP and the Liberals got into a bidding war over who could offer the most government give-aways. At least the NDP realized they'd have to pay for their promises, and they would do so by going to the rich and saying, 'Please sir, can we have some more?'

What self-respecting democratic socialist party does that? It's not the job of the left to beg for charity from the very people who profit from inequality. It's to level the playing field – to give people the jobs and tools to lift themselves. It's doing the kind of thing innovative industry does for a community; and unions do for workers.

People don't want charity, even if their taxes pay for it. They want agency and equity. They want a say over their lives and they want fairness – which is why the staff of the Owen Sound Health Organization asked OPSEU to represent them.

The Liberals had 15 years to make it easier for people to organize their own workplaces so they could protect their own interests, but they did not. Ms Horwath hardly mentioned unions during the campaign except to say an NDP government would never legislate public sector strikers back to work. A rookie mistake – never say 'never' in politics.

Doug Ford channeled voters' anger all the way to Queen's Park. Well, good for him. But I still don't see a plan to deal with the inequality that's at anger's root.

David McLaren

Neyaashiinigmiing

 

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