Forward Together - Solidarity in Challenging Times

By Stephen von Sychowski, President, Vancouver & District Labour Council and Janet Andrews, Secretary-Treasurer , New Westminster & District Labour Council

We celebrate this Labour Day at a time of transition. The last few years saw enormous social and economic upheaval, loss and uncertainty driven by the global pandemic.  As we return to in-person gatherings this year we are looking forward to a time of reconnection, of solidarity in struggle, of remembrance and rededication. We acknowledge those we have lost, those still struggling with illness, recovery, job loss, underemployment, mental health impacts and stress.

pull quoteIt is not as straightforward as a return to normal. Indeed, there is no such thing as normal in this changing but ongoing pandemic. In addition to the changes to the way we work, live and learn, we see again the challenges that never left and whose urgency is all the sharper: inequity, affordability, and the opioid crisis. Rising inflation and calls for austerity; the threat of war; the looming climate crisis; food insecurity, and the growth of the far-right, intolerance, and hate have brought yet more uncertainty and stress to the lives of working families. Meeting these challenges will take focus, determination and hard work. Our response must be solidarity in its broadest, deepest, most encompassing meaning, with each other and with our communities, if we are to truly move forward together.

Workers and their families are a source of stability and constancy in our communities. Good jobs are the foundation of the local economy, supporting families, businesses, and the public services we all rely on. It was workers, on the frontline and behind the scenes, who continued to show up every day during the pandemic, ensuring we were safe, healthy, supplied and supported. Unlike the self-serving motives of the very wealthy, who raked in record profits while fighting against pandemic pay and sick leave, the solidarity and commitment of workers to their neighbours and to each other is leadership every bit as powerful and necessary as that of those elected to high office. This leadership and constancy are the solid foundation on which we can build the future.

Transition brings uncertainty and stress, but also opportunity. We have a window of time to raise issues and ideas, to broaden conversations, to question, and to make change. From ensuring a robust pandemic recovery, to creating good jobs, investing in taking better care of each other through a stronger social safety net, pushing back against the rhetoric of austerity, tackling climate change with a just transition for workers, and fighting for social justice, equality and diversity, the labour movement has the answers to what will make a better future for all. But only by standing together will we make sure our voices are heard. Without solidarity and singleness of purpose we risk being drowned out and divided by the forces of greed and intolerance.

AdOur communities are looking to unions for leadership and solidarity in their struggles in ways that haven’t happened in a generation. Unions are making gains for workers in previously unreachable industries and workplaces, and young workers are bringing their student activism to the workplace. By embracing this energy and harnessing the power of our solidarity, workers can be a vital part of shaping policy with progressive governments at all levels, rebalancing inequality and inequity with justice, fairness, dignity, and respect.

Climate change and automation are two of the most urgent issues facing workers today. Workers built Canada’s industrial economy and will build our net-zero economy too. A strong social safety net is key to minimizing the impacts of this transition on workers. From policies focussed on creating affordable housing to enhanced employment insurance and sick leave to health care, pensions, education and skills training, social protection gives workers stability during economic transitions. A just transition is not just about jobs, but about ensuring working families and our communities continue to grow and thrive.

We also need significant investments in Canada’s care economy. Care work is vital, but it is often unstable, undervalued and underpaid. Our economy relies heavily on paid and unpaid care work, with the burden of care often falling to women. In order to achieve full and equal labour-market participation for all, Canada needs a cohesive plan for providing affordable, quality, public childcare, as well as care for seniors and people living with disabilities, and mental health and addiction support. We need a care strategy backed by significant investment to ensure that Canadians have the world-class care services we deserve. Care jobs can be good jobs, if we stand in solidarity with workers to make it so.

These goals have two things in common: building resiliency and ensuring inclusion. We cannot truly move forward unless it is together; an inclusive future will also mean it is a resilient one where no one gets left behind. One crucial opportunity is local elections. You can get involved, cast your vote, and make a difference on the issues most directly impacting you and your community. If we stand together in solidarity, raise our voices and take action as one, we can win the future we want.

Happy Labour Day!

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