Labour Day is one of the most important days for workers on our calendar. The unofficial end to summer and a day to mark the history of working people in Canada.
This year, it feels like there is little to celebrate.
This crisis has been very hard for workers across the country — those who have lost loved ones, those who were put out of work, and those who were deemed essential and had to keep working at great risk to themselves and to their families.
We already knew that workers in Canada were struggling to make ends meet, often living paycheque to paycheque.
Before COVID-19 hit, many Canadians were already on the brink, with almost 50 per cent of Canadians saying they were $200 away from insolvency.
Nearly six million people have applied for COVID-19 emergency benefits since the beginning of the pandemic.
This crisis offers us an opportunity for change. We need only look back to the history surrounding the 1918 flu pandemic to see what can be achieved for the good of us all.
Over 100 years ago, in the midst of a pandemic, workers and their unions were calling for change and would eventually lead one of the country’s largest labour disruptions we’ve ever seen through the Winnipeg General Strike.
The solidarity of workers paved the way for major health and safety reforms that most of us take for granted today.
This Labour Day, we won’t be coming together in the streets to make noise, but we can build better communities with a strong, sustainable and inclusive recovery plan that centres on workers.
Canada’s unions are calling on government to replace lost jobs with better ones by hiring people to build green infrastructure, to educate our youth, to care for others — and to give workers paid sick leave and a living wage.
Workers are calling for a strengthening of public health care to include mental health, pharmacare and home care, and an end to privatization in the long-term care sector, which has led to devastating short-staffing levels and horrifying conditions for our seniors.
Workers want reforms to employment insurance, disability benefits, education and training, as well as pensions to make all of these more secure and reliable.
We all must reject cuts, austerity and the me-first politics we are seeing in the United States.
After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a very important lesson: Canada’s economic, health and social goals are inseparable. It’s time to disaster-proof our nation.
Kelly Hutchinson is a vice-president with the North Okanagan Labour Council and member of the BCGEU.