Let’s face it, for most people in our society, the real meaning of Labour Day has faded over the years. It’s now less about acknowledging the role workers have played in building our society, and more about the last long weekend of summer.
As union members and leaders, we have an obligation to the generations that came before us—and to future generations—to work harder to teach people the real meaning of Labour Day.
It’s about remembering the sacrifices made by the generations that preceded us, and the gains they were able to make that benefit every worker today, whether unionized or not. Things so many of us take for granted, like the 8-hour day, or the 40-hour week. Weekends! Pensions, medicare, and other important benefits all came about at least in part because of the labour movement.
Labour Day is also about recognizing our sisters and brothers around the world who are taking on many of the issues our predecessors faced here, but with even fewer protections or legal rights. In countries like Mexico, for example, labour activists not only face potential criminal charges for advocating for workers’ rights but they actually face death. While we have much work to do here in BC and Canada, we must also recognize how much progress we have made and share the lessons we’ve learned with working people all around the world.
But Labour Day can’t just be about the past, nor can we allow ourselves to be lulled into complacency about our standard of living compared to other countries. While the labour movement and working people have achieved great things here, there are far too many people who have to work not just one or two jobs, but sometimes three or four just to make ends meet.
There are too many families who can’t afford childcare, yet need quality care for their children so they can take that hard-to-find fulltime job. Increasingly BC’s economy is coming to depend on temporary foreign workers who are paid less, receive fewer benefits and have fewer rights than Canadians. And still, despite some incremental progress, women are still paid less than men for the same work in far too many cases.
And now we see the Harper Conservatives and Christy Clark’s BC Liberals attacking unions and workers’ rights in very much the same fashion as right-wing Republican governments in many American states. CUPE BC’s 85,000 members, and the 625,000 members of CUPE National across the country, are joining with the Canadian Labour Congress to push back against this regressive agenda—not just to protect what generations before us fought and in some cases died for—but to continue to fight for fair wages, good benefits and a solid pension for our members, and all Canadian workers.
So, while Labour Day is a celebration, it’s also a time to ready ourselves for the struggles ahead.
Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BC, representing 85,000 workers in communities across BC.