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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Labour Day Message: CLC to Work for Modernized Unemployment Insurance, More Prosperous Trade

    Celebrate your work and improve your quality of life

    Ken Georgetti, President Canadian Labour Congress

    Few things in life are as important as the work we do. How could it be any different? We tell our children the same thing we were told by our parents: that they have to do well in school in order to find a good job. One of the first questions we ask people we meet is "what do you do?"

    Let’s face it. Our work defines us as much as it provides what we need to support our families and communities. So it is natural for people to want to do better at work. We look for opportunities to earn more, for a schedule that matches the rhythm of our lives, for work we can count on over time and eventually stop with our health intact and the means to enjoy the remaining years of our lives.

    As a reminder of this quest of working people to sustain and improve their quality of life, the Canadian Labour Congress releases a set of indicators each year on Labour Day with one simple question in mind: "Is your work working for you?" This year’s answer can be found at www.working4you.ca .

    Through most of the twentieth century, by organizing into unions, working people greatly improved their quality of life and the standard of living by going to work: higher wages, safer working conditions, weekends, vacations, pensions and other benefits gained at work or through work helped them tend to the health and education of their children. During that time, the best performing economies were in countries with strong labour movements, where working families shared the economic successes of enterprise.

    But in the 1990s, working people lost ground and saw their standard of living stall and slowly begin to pick up in the last two years. While Canada has bragged recently about the economy’s job creation ability compared to the United States, the numbers betray a high level of economic uncertainty. Real wages are actually lower than they were last year. Equality in the workplace and pay equity continue to be a struggle. Important benefits like unemployment insurance continue to erode, retirement dreams fade in the hands of rapacious money managers while too many people worry about whether public Medicare or accessible training and post-secondary education will be there for their families a few years from now.

    Ideally, governments and businesses would look at the statistics, share our conclusions and get busy. They haven’t, and we’re not waiting for them. You know your work isn’t working for you as much as it should, so join with us and together we will change that.                                                                                                                                                          

    Tried, tested and true, organizing workers into unions gets results. On average, workers who belong to unions earn five dollars more per hour than their non-unionized counterparts, and that’s without counting other benefits. Even the World Bank now recognizes that economies where workers belong to unions perform better, and wages are higher and periods of unemployment shorter.

    Over the coming months, Canada’s labour movement will re-focus its efforts to assist workers in getting the economic respect they deserve by organizing into unions. The right to join a union has become the only constitutionally guaranteed right that citizens are forced to exercise in secret. A shameful denial of democratic right. We have to change this.

    At the same time, we will take on two issues that are directly linked to working Canadians growing sense of economic insecurity: the unreliability of unemployment insurance and the impacts of ill-conceived international trade agreements. The so-called Employment Insurance program needs to be modernized, and the federal government must stop using it to finance tax cuts for the rich. Increased trade should make us richer as workers and as a country: but the NAFTA, the WTO framework and other new rules agreed to by our governments rob us of opportunities while creating only new injustices and exploitation abroad.

    Few things in life are as important as the work we do. As working people, our labour is our means to a better future for ourselves and our families. Take the time this Labour Day to celebrate your work and everything it makes possible and join with us to ensure that next year, when we ask "Is your work working for you?", we all agree on a better answer.


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