Celebrating working people, winning the Canada we want

-- Janet Andrews and Stephen von Sychowski

Every Labour Day, Canada’s unions celebrate working people and look ahead  to build a better, more inclusive future for all. Since last year safety concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic has ruled out the large in-person gatherings where we traditionally share solidarity. Instead, we will mark the day virtually, but our purpose remains the same.

This year we are once again focused on the frontline workers who kept us fed, healthy, housed and supported during the worst days of the pandemic, and continue to do so today. These workers often receive low pay and have few (if any) benefits or paid sick days. They risked their own health and safety, and that of their families while big businesses raked in record profits. The rich got richer, with Canada’s billionaires increasing their fortunes by $78 billion since March 2020, while the rest of us struggled.

Alongside the shameful inequities exposed by the pandemic were the cavernous cracks visible in Canada’s social safety net. We saw the devastation successive government failures to properly plan and manage resources wrought on vulnerable seniors and staff in long-term care homes, the lack of sufficient personal protective equipment for frontline workers, slow and initially inadequate responses to unemployment, disability, housing and student debt relief and other pandemic-related challenges, including impacts on mental health and economic stability.

The pandemic shone a spotlight on these stark injustices revealing the fragility of our systems and their inequitable foundations. In the blink of an eye our day-to-day routines changed, and governments responded (some better than others) with before unheard-of resources to fund emergency programs. We have now seen what is possible and should never forget it.

Labour Day adPeople centred government and taking care of the vulnerable among us should not be a policy option reserved for emergencies. The status quo, having been disrupted, must not be restored. A just recovery must include strengthening the social safety net with improvements to Employment Insurance and establishing new universal, affordable, accessible pharmacare, childcare, dental care, and mental health care plans. These are not idle aspirations, the tools are at hand through political will with wealth taxes, closing tax loopholes, stronger regulations targeting the super-rich and those who have benefited during the pandemic, and engaging in meaningful Reconciliation with First Nations and committing to building inclusive communities free from hate and discrimination.

Workers must be at the heart of any pandemic recovery plan. Jobs lost during the pandemic must be replaced with new ones which provide a living wage, benefits like paid sick leave and pensions, and a path to unionization. We know the long standing issues faced by low-waged and precarious workers many of whom are from marginalized communities. We must rethink how we value work, must look closely at employers and industries whose success relies on the economic oppression of others and use a gender and equity lens to reform outdated regulations that advantage the few and the powerful at the expense of everyone else. We must resist austerity and cuts and invest in workers and communities who are the foundation of our local economies and the hope for a better, resilient, and inclusive future.

We all have a part to play. In our workplaces, our unions, and our communities we can come together to demand and win the Canada we want post-pandemic. One opportunity to do this will be the coming federal election. Get involved this election. Demand that your candidates commit to a just pandemic recovery and demonstrate their plan for supporting working families now and in the future. Remind them that without workers, there is no recovery. This Labour Day, commit to winning the Canada we want.

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