Labour Day is upon us marking the end of school vacations and the inevitable turn towards autumn. While it is easy to focus on the day as a holiday, it is also important to remember that it celebrates numerous campaigns that helped shape our modern workplaces in many significant ways.
Those are marked by Labour Day Parades and festivities held in many communities over the long weekend. The celebrations remind us of the history of Labour Day when workers fought for better wages and working conditions and how those struggles continue to this day. When we celebrate this we are remembering important victories like the 5-day work week, health and safety measures and rights, and fair wages while recognizing there are always new challenges that arise for the movement and perennial issues that remain unresolved.
The recent difficulties negotiating a renewed NAFTA and the negative effects of subsequent trade wars are good examples of how issues can arise unexpectedly. While steel and aluminum tariffs set the problem in motion, the dispute has spread to other sectors and threatens jobs on both sides of the border. If left unresolved, it could further interrupt supply chains and spread to other sectors. This is testing Canada’s ability to help maintain these vital sectors while new markets are sought to ensure any layoffs are only temporary.
In addition to new challenges, there are some that have been more difficult to address and remain important to labour such as pay equity. This is a perennial issue that is unfair and only holds Canada back from a more vibrant economy. Despite significant workplace gains, women are still underpaid as a whole. While it may be tempting to think this is more of a problem for other countries, Canadian women only earn an average of 72 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Unions are also champions of social issues and use their collective voices to support campaigns on this front. This year the Canadian Labour Congress has publicly called for an extension to the public inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, full public Pharmacare, and for Canada to offer sanctuary for refugees that are being failed by the American system.
Despite the labour movement’s significant contributions to society, it constantly has to defend itself against politicians that are opposed to collective rights. In recent years many American states have adopted ‘right to work legislation’ that weakens unions and make it far more difficult for workers to organize. So far Canada has been spared this development, but the threat of moving towards this type of regime is always present since some of the trends we witness in the United States make their way to Canada.
Without unions who knows how far we would have advanced. They have played a leading role in improving our standard of living and working conditions for all workers and continue to do so to this day. That is why it is important that we set aside a day to celebrate this legacy as well as the work being done to address the changing nature of our modern workforce.
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