Labour Day allows us to focus on challenges

 You don’t have to think back that far to remember Labour Days when the attitude towards the hard working people who make up the bulk of our economic well being was more positive.   Now we have a prolonged international recession and a government that is decidedly anti-union as the new normal. This is a real shame and a disservice to the legacy of our parents and grandparents who built Canada and helped it prosper.  The fruit of their labour created the very foundation for so many of our rights and workplace laws that we benefit from and must protect.

The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, public health care, paid leave, pensions—these were all secured by the hard work of unions.  It was labour that helped build the middle class. So even if you’re not a union member, you have rights that can be directly linked to union struggles, including statutory holidays like Labour Day.

In recent times we have seen a shift from governments that support community minded values to those that support policies of wealth accumulation for an elite minority at the expense of most Canadians.  A big part of that is an attack on unionized workers that has very much contributed to the steady decline in Canada’s middle class.  There is an opinion that workers’ wages are the problem, but this pays no attention to the real culprits such as financial speculators, massive executive payouts or companies that horde money accumulated from generous tax-breaks that were granted under the pretence of creating more jobs. 

As we celebrate Labour Day we must remember that incremental losses can pile up.  Hard won rights and the laws that enforce them continue to be under attack.   The Conservative government has undermined collective bargaining by repeatedly legislating workers to accept management demands.   At the heart of all this is a trend towards jobs that pay less which in turn create communities with less fiscal capacity. 

The economic crisis we continue to be caught up in is largely a product of poorly regulated and reckless financial institutions, yet it is being used as an excuse to roll back wages, benefits, even environmental regulations that protect us all.   We must remember that it was not hard working people who gambled on stock market bubbles and lost billions in the process.   But it is hard working people who are being asked to pick up the pieces, make concessions, and carry a larger part of the tax burden too.

So this Labour Day, let’s recommit to the legacy that we inherited.  Let’s combine the enduring values of hard work and responsibility with fresh ideas that will address our challenges. We have to ensure that the middle class is not just a vanishing ideal that we celebrate at parades once a year. It must continue to be the backbone of our economy.  Wishing you all a truly enjoyable Labour Day!