A Post-Convention Message
Now that our OPSEU Convention delegates have spoken, the hard part begins—for all of us. We’ve got to live up to all our fine words and promises. As provincial, regional, sectoral and local leaders we’ve got to make everything we said we could do and would do for our 130,000 members happen.
For me there is just one way do to that: in solidarity. Not solidarity in theory. Not the solidarity we sing about at conventions but sometimes fall short of in practice.
Real solidarity. The kind that will allow us to master our future, rather than be captives of it. The kind that will allow us to go out and grab the future by the throat.
Being big and strong won’t be enough. Being big and strong and smart won’t be enough. Not in times like these. We’ll have to be solid too. Rock of Gibraltar solid – in the leadership, in the membership and with all our friends and allies.
We’ll have to be ready, willing and able to bring out the best in ourselves, regardless of differences past and present. The old saying was never truer: if we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately. Those who want to do us in or push back our gains for working people are waiting to exploit any internal weakness to pick us off, one by one.
Number one mission: solidarity
So, the number one mission I have set for the next two years for myself is to use everything I have learned to continue to build up and improve OPSEU solidarity. My goal is to turn us and our union into the undisputed champions of solidarity. Not in pursuit of some fading union ideal—but because solidarity is our own “killer app.” Something that is at the core of who we are, how we operate and that others can imitate but never duplicate.
Our goal must be to make OPSEU as tight a team as any Stanley Cup or World Cup winner— a solid working unit that always plays up to its potential and more, a unit that never wobbles, weakens or chokes. That kind of solidarity will turn us into a union so self-confident, self-reliant and self-assured that we won’t have to be satisfied to just hold our ground and protect what we have won.
We will be a union ready and able to embrace the future, to promote and pursue a vision of our kind of Canada, in spite of what the elites tell us we are not allowed to have.
All of us want the same thing now—we all want to move forward, building on 100 years of great unionism. We all want to move forward with confidence and success. To do that we have to think big. Not big as in grandiose and over-the-top but big as in “the big picture.”
We have to analyze where OPSEU fits in the grand scheme of things—and why that is; about how others see us and how we see ourselves—and why that is. We have to think about how often there is a difference between what we say we can do as a union and what we actually do—and why that is.
To do that we have to be brave—brave enough to be fully honest with ourselves.
We have to be brave enough to face up to the truth of the forces at play: inside OPSEU first, but also in Ontario, Canada and the world.
We have to be brave enough to admit we have weaknesses to overcome, along with much tremendous strength to rely on.
We have to be brave enough to acknowledge that we can sometimes be our own worst enemy and that a lack of real effort and commitment can undermine the best laid plans.
We have to do all that and more.
Can we do it? Yes we can. Particularly if we work at it in solidarity.
Second: Work smart
We all want to work smart. We all want to keep building on our accomplishments; getting better than we were. We all want to be as good as we can be—as individuals and as the collective leadership of this great union.
How do we do that?
I believe we do it the same way any one of us does it when we want to achieve something that is really important to us: we work at it.
If we want to be the most effective Executive Board we can possibly be, we have to work at it.
Many of us at the Board level have never done anything exactly like this before. We have a newly elected 21 member Board that has not all worked together before. Each one of us has her or his own priorities and ideas about what to do to make OPSEU better and about how and when to do it.
That’s a lot to contend with. We could just try and muddle through and hope for the best. Our membership of course deserves so much more than that.
We could decide to work smart. That’s my preference.
Therefore, I propose that what I am saying here be fully addressed at the Executive Board’s Strategic Planning Session coming up in June. It’s the perfect time to consider what lies ahead of us, what is expected of us, what we expect of ourselves and, most important of all, how we can work together to set out a plan of action that best meets the expectations we have of ourselves and that our members have of us.
The challenges are in front of us. We know what kind of Ontario we want. We are here to deliver strong collective agreements, defend our contracts, stop privatization, extend social justice and human rights and work with all our allies to ensure quality public services for all Ontarians.
Let us begin our two year mandate as an Executive Board and continue our work as sectoral and local leaders thinking big, working together and working hard. It’s the smart thing to do. And our members deserve nothing less.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas