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Workers didn’t build Canada to see it torn apart

By Paul Moist and Claude Généreux 

Labour Day is a moment in the long work year when we take time to reflect on the contribution of working people to the building of our great country.  It is a historic day that commemorates that role, but it is also a day to contemplate the road ahead.

This year, Labour Day comes on the heels of some of the most harmful changes in our democracy that we have ever seen.  First, we have watched as the federal government of Stephen Harper has moved behind closed doors, shutting out the people his government is elected to serve.  They cancelled the Kelowna Accord that would provide much needed access to housing, water, and education for Aboriginal people.  Child care agreements with the provinces were cancelled and a universal quality child care system was abandoned.  They are ignoring green house gas emission targets in the Kyoto accord.  Funding to women’s programs, literacy, and court challenges have all been drastically chopped or eliminated.  Funding for municipal infrastructure renewal is inadequate and contingent on privatization through P3s.  Students are suffering under inadequate funding for post-secondary education.

The Harper government is committing the lives of Canadian sons and daughters to a field of battle overseas that most Canadians see as fruitless and unnecessary.

There are the secretive trade deals we have witnessed of late.  Just a few weeks before we are getting set to celebrate a day that has been celebrated for over 110 years, workers in Canada face the potential devastation of their communities, their jobs and their local economies as more and more manufacturing jobs and Canadian natural resources slip to our neighbours to the South and into the bottom lines of corporations under a globalization agenda. 

Our Premiers gathering in Moncton, N.B. in August were keen to discuss the two most prominent inter-provincial trade deals.  Fortunately, they didn’t come to any hard decisions about adopting these deals because both Atlantica for the east and the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) for the west would see jobs, natural resources and our pride go South. 

The Security and Prosperity Partnership meeting in Montebello, Quebec, saw the “three amigos” - the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico - meet in a secluded setting to carve up the resources of North America.  

We also see the continued threat of private health care.  Canadians are rightly proud of our universal health care program.  Over 47 million Americans do not enjoy such access.  How many more times will we have to prove that our system is what Canadians want and need to enjoy a healthy life? And yet, just weeks before Labour Day, the Canadian Medical Association welcomes a new president who is committed to private clinics.

This Labour Day, we wish that we could praise new infrastructure in cities across the country.  We cannot do so.  As we watched the bridge in Minnesota tumble on television in August, we feared for our own bridges, roads, sewer and water systems.  Will the present aging and ailing infrastructure in our cities and towns be strong enough to keep our citizens safe from disaster? Like other Canadians, we worry that it will not.

We worry, too, that governments at every level will embrace privatization as a cure-all.  Corporations are promising saved tax dollars and better services than CUPE members can provide.  We think not.  Privatization is, in fact, the source of more problems than it can ever hope to solve.  And CUPE members care about the communities they serve.  They spend their hard-earn wages in those local economies to keep them strong and efficient.  Their families live where they work and, therefore, have a personal investment in ensuring public services are top of the line.

Finally, on this Labour Day, we want to salute the young workers entering the labour force.  Whether they are graduating university or community college students, entering an apprenticeship program or starting their very first job, these workers deserve healthy and safe working conditions, good pay, benefits, opportunities for pensions in later life, and job security within a healthy and productive economy.  Joining a union, standing up for workers’ rights and fighting for fundamental human rights is central to achieving those goals.  

We also salute our brothers and sisters who are currently locked out or on strike in Quebec City and Vancouver. These workers are on the front line to defend media diversity and quality services.

Let’s celebrate this Labour Day with a pledge to move the union line forward, to challenge those who would erode public services and our manufacturing economy, and to build strong communities for our families, friends and neighbours.