By Jack Bourassa
Labour day tradition involves flipping burgers while being surrounded by friends, co-workers, union members and supporters. The energy of the cheerful crowd fills the park and union activists chat with the public and hand out leaflets. Signing petitions and taking action on issues that matter to our communities — that’s what we often do on this special day. Kids have their special treats too: face painting, colouring pages, play-dough and lots of laughter. I’ve always looked forward to Labour Day.
This time, Labour Day will be different. No BBQ events. No parades. No concerts. No shared food. No public festivities. However, celebrating Labour Day is not halted nor is it canceled. We’ve more reasons to celebrate than ever. Let’s enjoy the day safely.
Around this time of the year, we remember the pioneers of our labour movement whose struggles paved the way for a strong union that defends workers’ rights and strives to represent the interests of communities. Imagine working at least 12 hours a day or more with no weekends. That was the case when workers decided to strike and protest. Their battle to achieve basic rights more than a century ago led to legalizing unions in 1872 and “Nine-hour” movement became viral throughout Canada and twenty years later, Labour Day became a national holiday. It’s impossible for me to encapsulate a great history of struggles and victories in few lines.
Today, let’s remember, but also live the moment.
It’s important to remember, reflect and be grateful to those who fought for workers’ rights on behalf of generations to come. Let’s look at today’s struggles while taking lessons from the past. On Labour Day, and every day, let’s take the time to thank our heroes and workers who are shaping the future of the labour movement.
Unionized or not, frontline and health workers are going above and beyond to keep our communities safe and healthy. The pandemic has jeopardized the health of many frontline workers, who despite the risks earn a wage below the Living Wage. They are the workers who are making sure that our stores are always in stock and that we will not be in fear of not finding the food items that we need. They are the janitors that ensure our public spaces are clean and sanitized. The list is long. To them, I’m grateful. But for them, I’m outraged. Workers deserve better—the minimum would be a Living Wage and paid sick leave. The pandemic unveiled the urgency of what many labour activists have been campaigning for: paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, safer working conditions, etc. Let’s seize the momentum and ensure that those fair demands find their way to workplaces. Let’s call on the government to ensure that all employers treat workers fairly and respectfully. While we emerge from this pandemic safely, let’s work together to ensure that no one is left behind.
This requires a strong political will, locally and federally. It also requires an action of collective solidarity. Genuine appreciation to frontline workers must be translated to action.
Let’s talk beyond politics. We thrive on kindness. Let’s hold on to empathy. These trying times are posing grave stress on us, our families and communities. Let’s ensure that we’re kind towards each other with our words and actions. Vulnerable frontline workers are currently being asked by their employers to be COVID police at stores and other public places enforcing measures such as wearing masks and sanitizing hands. Let’s not only be respectful to workers, but make sure that they know how much their communities appreciate them.
No matter where you will be this Labour Day, enjoy it safely. Close your eyes and recall those who have come before us and be grateful. Reflect on the struggles of workers today as they battle the pandemic and be grateful. Tell your children that superheroes exist; they’re all the workers keeping us healthy and safe.
From coast to coast to coast, let’s celebrate the workers who have built this great nation. Let’s celebrate the workers who are shaping the future of our labour movement and battling the pandemic while striving for better working conditions. This Labour Day is different, but let’s make it memorable with our collective action, commitment and solidarity.
Love, Hope & Optimism were words once uttered by the late Jack Layton. Let’s us all remember and embrace the meaning he intended. We’re all in this together.
This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on September 2, 2020