OPSEU president Smokey Thomas
SMOKEY THOMAS SAYS THIS TIME IT’S DIFFERENT. This time a union is going to affect who wins an election. He might actually be right.
Thomas is president of the 155,000-member Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). He knows history is against him. He knows many unions have tried and failed to do what he says his union can do now. He also knows he has something no other union has ever had. He has We Own It.
We Own It is a force to be reckoned with. It started as an OPSEU community organizing campaign to push all political parties to abandon privatization altogether.
OPSEU has built it into a mass-based mobilization that Ontario politicians can’t dismiss or discount—if they want to win.
Thomas is never shy about making that point. ”We’ve got 57,000 people signed up on this campaign—that’s a heck of a voting block,” he told a packed house at a We Own It town hall in Kenora on April 5.
“I’ve been all over the province, holding these forums, and I’m telling you: we can turn this election.”
People in the crowd were quick to agree.
In it to win it
We Own It town halls are just one of a staggering array of efforts OPSEU has created and sustained since the campaign launched in September 2016. The numbers alone are impressive:
- Nearly 60,000 individual sign-ups
- More than 1,800 public events attended or hosted
- More than 1,000 presentations and town halls
- More than 150 politician endorsements
- Nearly 60 organizational endorsements
- 18 municipal endorsements
- 6.5 million views on social media
- 46 million billboard and transit ad views
The union has also 50 members trained as campaign organizers, with 16 members on full-time bookoff to work on the campaign
“We Own It is a great campaign, and we have to get behind it,” said Pat Brett, a Kenora LCBO employee. “We have to make sure that it hits harder and harder as we get closer to the election. We have to make sure privatization is an issue.”
Melissa Pearson, an Ontario Disability Support Program employee from Fort Frances, is also enthusiastic about the campaign.
“I love the language of We Own It,” said Pearson. “It gives us a real chance to talk to people about the value of public services and the dangers of privatization in a way that makes sense.”
Vote for better not backwards
“Ontarians are realizing that privatization is the pay-more, get-less plan, and that more privatization will just keep us falling backwards,” Thomas said. “We just have to make sure that we remind people that when they vote, they should vote for better, not backwards.”
OPSEU launched the campaign with the goal of making public services and privatization a major issue in this provincial election. It’s working. Public opinion research shows that more than two-thirds of Ontarians now prefer public services to privatization.
The final step in the campaign for OPSEU will be the launch of “The We Own It Report.” It will be a comprehensive report card showing where each candidate in every riding stands on privatization. Something OPSEU hopes will influence who gets to be the next premier of Ontario.
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