Labour Day forward

As we mark Labour Day across the North it is useful to remember not just why the day is celebrated, but also worth asking where the Labour movement is headed toward in Canada.  The why of Labour Day is easily understood.  Traditionally the day was used by workers to campaign for better wages and conditions.  In fact, those Labour Day parades and picnics we see to this day are a by-product of that history.  It is impossible in a short format to list the victories that could be celebrated on this day, but the 5-day work week, health and safety measures and rights, and fair wages are always among the first and best reasons given to justify the existence and work of our labour movement.

That said, this is not a movement that has to live in the past.  There are no ends of challenges that are being addressed by workers and new ones emerge every year.  These will not be limited to the work-place either, since gains in one area often leads to gains in others until we see that societal norms themselves have changed.  Consider environmental awareness and how that is tied to workplace health and safety.  This is a significant change that took place over a few decades thanks, in part, to the good work undertaken by the labour movement.  This shows that today’s efforts can change tomorrow’s thinking.  So let’s look at a few areas the labour movement is focusing on today.

For many, the biggest challenges over the next few decades will relate to pensions and retirement security.   That period of time is when the bulk of Baby boomers will cycle out of the work-force.  This explains why these issues have been so important in Canada lately.  After watching private pension schemes crumble and be among the first items abandoned when companies struggle or are bought out, the labour movement is promoting an expanded Canada Pension Plan (CPP) as a way to ensure more people are prepared for the financial challenges that retirement can bring. 

Social issues too will continue to play a central role in labour campaigns.  This should be a no brainer.   Equal pay is still a struggle for women.  For anyone who performs work of equal value, the compensation should relate to ability and output, not a Y chromosome, but that is not the case in too many workplaces.  If you are shocked by that or consider the issue of equality something that has largely been solved, consider this; women workers in Canada earn on average 72 cents for every dollar earned by men.  In addition to the gender gap, we are also facing a protracted era of unemployment and underemployment for our youth.  Toss in the challenges related to sexuality, religion, and ethnicity and it’s easy to see why these issues will continue to be of huge importance to the labour movement.

Decades of full-steam globalization with accompanying trade deals continue to challenge the way we organize ourselves, how we work, what we produce and who we protect.  Despite the criticism that these deals continue to receive, they are still being negotiated in a significant way.   Canada’s trade agreement with the EU and our participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership ensures the next few years will be marked with a lively debate about the benefits, costs, and work-place ramifications. 

It is important to remember some of these issues as we celebrate Labour Day.  Let us celebrate and remain vigilant.  Without a strong labour movement we could end up losing on areas we have made gains and not all of these are confined to the workplace.  Most of all remember that In Canada, the labour movement wears many hats and plays a vital role in keeping our country modern and strong.