This Labour Day, I’ll be joining tens of thousands of workers in Toronto for the annual Labour Day parade. We’ll be celebrating the women and men whose hard work keeps this country going. But we’ll also be remembering a long tradition of struggle. Working people fought and won for many things we take for granted – from the forty-hour work week to pensions for our seniors; from pay equity to universal health care.
It’s no secret that organized labour – and CUPE in particular – will face struggles in the coming year. In Toronto, in particular, we are facing an unprecedented attack on the fabric of our communities. Whether it’s libraries or health outreach programs, environmental programs or early childhood education, it’s all on the Ford administration’s chopping block.
These cuts are particularly misguided in response to the current precarious economic situation. At a time when these services are most needed to protect the vulnerable, we are being asked instead to sacrifice the high-quality services we have developed over generations. Instead of working together to create and protect decent jobs, we are being asked to sell off our collective wealth.
These attacks are based on ideology, rather than our best financial and economic interests. While Rob Ford is determined to contract out garbage collection, an independent audit in Ottawa by Ernst and Young showed that in house service has been almost a million dollars a year cheaper than the lowest private sector bid.
It’s not just in Toronto that workers have to fight for decent jobs and quality public services. Provincially, cuts to long-term care are pushing our seniors into private for-profit facilities that provide lower staffing levels and inadequate standards of care. The Harper government derailed the collective bargaining process for postal workers and ticket agents at Air Canada. Now, after taking pay cuts to protect Air Canada from bankruptcy, flight attendants face concessions and a possible strike. We will be watching the federal government very closely. We expect them to honour our right to collectively bargain rather than stepping in with a hammer to let corporate profits trump workers’ rights.
It is in this political context that I will be marching to promote a different vision for Toronto and for Canada.
Sadly, for me - as for many others - this will be a bittersweet parade. Our movement will be missing a powerful voice in favour of a progressive and equal society, built on strong public services.
The last time that I spoke with my friend Jack Layton, the former leader of the NDP, he urged me to keep the project going. For Jack, that project was clear. In his final letter to Canadians, he emphasized the NDP’s proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions, and making sure no one is left behind. He reminded us that we can share the benefits of our society more fairly, look after our seniors, and offer better futures for our children.
And so today, I’ll march in memory of the past, and everything that working people have fought for and won. I’ll march in solidarity with today’s struggles, to stand up against cuts to public services. But I’ll also be marching for our vision of a better future.
View photos from the 2011 Labour Day parade in Toronto
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