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a time to renew our efforts to create a more equal society
by George Heyman
"ordinary people have too much"
Usually, Labour Day is a time to celebrate. This year, for many families, it is also a time to be concerned about the future.
When individual workers first joined together to form unions decades ago, their goal was to help create a more equal society where all citizens are treated with respect.
It's still our goal today.
We advocate for safe working conditions and a living wage. We advocate for pensions, Medicare, education, a clean environment, fair taxes and quality public services. These are critical issues for families. They are the foundation that makes it possible for everyone, not just the very rich, to have a sense of security and optimism about the future for themselves and their children.
This year, many of our gains in these areas are in jeopardy. Gordon Campbell is deeply cutting public services, weakening safety regulations and changing laws to please his friends. Mr. Campbell has handed a few wealthy people a tax giveaway of thousands of dollars, but most of us would need a magnifying glass to find any sign of his "dramatic tax cut" in our pay cheques. In so many ways, Mr. Campbell is making our society less and less equal. It's almost as though he has decided that rich people don't have enough, and ordinary people have too much. If you took your family camping this summer, you'll know what I mean. Provincial park campsite fees are now $18.50 a night, or more with a reservation. Many forest service campsites have been closed. Forest roads that provide the only access to some wilderness areas are closed or virtually impassable. It ruined the holidays for some families. Jetsetters, millionaires and Mr. Campbell didn't appear to notice.
As young men and women return to school this month, they will face new burdens. Their earning power has been cut 25 percent by the government's reduction in the starting minimum wage to $6 an hour. Their tuition fees have been increased significantly, and in some cases dramatically, especially for the professions. For many daughters and sons of working people, the dream of becoming a doctor, lawyer or engineer has been pushed out of reach.
Welfare rates have been cut, and legal aid taken away from the poor. Many medical procedures - including eye exams, physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment - are no longer covered even though medical premiums have been increased by 50 percent.
These and other mean-spirited actions are bringing real hardship to families in our province, and the changes are unnecessary.
Almost every area of public service is being cut, and opened up to private companies to make profits from new tolls and user fees. One recent example is Mr. Campbell's determination to close all government liquor stores, and let for-profit corporations sell all alcohol. Consumers lose. They'll pay more and have less selection in smaller stores. Workers lose. Family supporting jobs will disappear and be replaced by part-time low-wage jobs. Taxpayers lose. Millions in profits that could go to government will go to private interests instead.
The only winners will be the few who will own their own liquor store. Mr. Campbell's plan for our liquor stores really underscores the effect of all his cuts. Ordinary people will lose valuable services and in some cases they will lose their pay cheques. A fortunate few will profit immensely. Union activists have a very different vision of what British Columbia could be. We believe that we should be building a society where the benefits are widely shared. B.C. can provide well-funded health care, education and social services. We need financial support for single mothers and their children. Assistance for drug and alcohol addicts in their struggle to break their addiction. Child-care programs to help working families in every community. Home support to allow fragile elderly people remain in their homes. Investment in roads, in the ferry system and our highways. Publicly owned hydro to guarantee reasonable electricity rates for homeowners and businesses.
When Mr. Campbell promised a "new era of hope and opportunity," he clearly wasn't talking about sharing the benefits. In his new era, workers lose; bosses win. His approach is divisive, confrontational and wrong for British Columbians.
I urge you to join with your friends, neighbours and co-workers to change the government's direction and create a just society where opportunities and services are available to all.
People working together can build a better world. It's the only thing that can.
George Heyman is the president of the BC Government and Service Employees Union and a community activist in East Vancouver.
The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Phone: 604-266-6552 Fax: 604-267-3342