Labour Day is one of the most important days on our calendar. The unofficial end to summer and a day to mark the history of working people in Canada. This year, it feels like there is little to celebrate and yet much to hope for.
This crisis has been very hard for workers across the country—those who have lost loved ones, those who were put out of work, and those who were deemed essential and had to keep working at great risk to themselves and to their families. Many of us are still mourning those workers who paid the ultimate price and succumbed to COVID-19.
Here in Edmonton, COVID has forced us to suspend a 30-year tradition of hosting the largest Labour Day BBQ in the province. As active members of our community we look forward to celebrating as best we can with everyone wanting to celebrate working people. In Alberta, we are facing off against a government who is doing their best to prevent us from working with our community & attempting to up lift all workers in our city to the standard we deserve. Bill 1 effectively makes any exercising rights of free speech & freedom of assembly illegal in this province, making their message clear, if you disagree with us you will be punished. Bill 32 explicitly ensures that charities, non-profit groups and community agencies will not be able to receive the funding they sorely need thanks to the UCP cuts in these dire times.
On Labour day it is hard to not see the irony that the explicit work that “labour” does and that we are supposed to be celebrating is being systematically undermined by our government. As workers who have kept this province going through this pandemic, as Edmontonians who work tirelessly to preserve a standard of living and existence we are all owed, we deserve better! On this day of all days we need to hold this truth to heart and move forward together!
We already knew that workers in Canada were struggling to make ends meet, often living paycheque to paycheque. Before COVID-19 hit, many Canadians were already on the brink. Almost 50 per cent of Canadians said they were $200 away from insolvency. Nearly six million people have applied for COVID-19 emergency benefits since the beginning of the pandemic.
And so, Canada’s unions have been working collaboratively, brainstorming, and spending time thinking about what comes next. As the dust settles, we will need to start to rebuild. We need a robust economy, built around a fair, generous and inclusive society.
This crisis offers us an opportunity for change. We need only look back to the history surrounding the 1918 flu pandemic to see what can be achieved for the good of us all. Over 100 years ago, in the midst of a pandemic, workers were calling for change and would eventually lead one of the country’s largest labour disruptions we’ve ever seen through the Winnipeg General Strike. The solidarity of workers paved the way for major health and safety reforms that are with us today.
We will once again need to rally together to ensure no one is left behind. As the fall approaches, we are seeing people desperate to work but unable to find employment. The rent is due and eviction bans are being lifted.
This Labour Day we won’t be coming together in the streets to make noise, but workers are nonetheless organizing for a better society. We can build better communities with a strong, sustainable and inclusive recovery plan that centers workers.
Canada’s unions are calling on all levels of government to replace lost jobs with better ones by hiring people to build green infrastructure, to educate our youth, to care for others—and to give workers paid sick leave and a living wage.
In Alberta we have the opportunity to be leaders in hydrogen production, carbon capture, and a green economy where no workers is left behind. The only thing that can stop us is a government unwilling to see change or diversification and instead doubling down on a gamble we have already lost. We can employ all Albertans as we move to this new economy if only our government had a desire to do so.
Workers are calling for a strengthening of public health care to include mental health, pharmacare and home care, and an end to privatization in the long-term care sector.
Workers want reforms to employment insurance, disability benefits, education and training, as well as pensions to make all of these more secure and reliable.
We all must reject American-style cuts, austerity and the me-first politics we are seeing in the United States. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a very important lesson: Canada’s economic, health and social goals are inseparable. It’s time to disaster-proof our nation.
So, this year on Labour Day, instead of joining rallies across the country, let us rally for a Canada that moves us collectively forward, together. Join the movement at CanadianPlan.ca.
President, Edmonton & District Labour Council