Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ontario's Impending Austerity Budget

Reading my morning Star, I learned that there is wide-spread support among the public for austerity measures to reduce Ontario's deficit. I suspect that there will be a particular appetite for the following:

Hundreds of thousands of teachers, nurses and all other public employees face higher pension contributions or reduced payouts to keep their plans sustainable, the Ontario government will announce Tuesday.

Although I am a former teacher receiving one of those 'lavish pensions' that come with no benefits (I pay about $3,000 per year for supplementary health insurance), I shall not use this space to offer a defense of them, except to observe that the money for that pension comes from a hefty percentage deduction of my salary over the years, along with the government's contribution.

No, what I really want to say is that the reaction of the various public sector union leaders to this austerity program with be a telling barometer of the health of the union movement provincially and nationally.
Conventional wisdom is that unions in North America have been under attack for some time, and the success of that attack is clear in the erosion of union membership over the years; however, unions have to take part of the responsibility for that decline, frequently serving the members with the less-than-sterling leadership they deserve, a topic I have written about on more than one occasion.

For example, after the divisive and hateful reign of Mike Harris and his comrades came to an end in Ontario, the leadership at OSSTF, my former federation, embraced Dalton Mcguinty and his policies uncritically, and I believe it was at that point, to borrow a thought from Chris Hedges and his Death of the Liberal Class that the union, a traditional liberal institution, failed to hold true to its values, instead essentially giving its stamp of approval to everything the government did, thereby selling out to the corporate agenda.

So, in what looks to be a major budgetary attack on the public sector, how the unions respond could give a very good indication of their future health and viability.

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