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August 29, 2014

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Labour Day a symbol of workers’ struggle

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.

While Labour Day is in many ways also a celebration of summer, it also signals that Fall is just around the corner. This year, that means that community elections are just around the corner, too. CUPE BC and our members will be active participants in the local elections, to ensure we elect as many progressive candidates in communities all over BC. That’s the only way we can ensure strong, sustainable vibrant communities where our kids have a chance to raise their own families. Without strong communities, our province will never achieve its full potential.

So, while Labour Day is a celebration, it’s also a time to ready ourselves for the struggles ahead, to recommit ourselves to our shared values, and prepare to put those values into action on the ground.

Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BC, representing 85,000 workers in communities across BC.