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As we are all looking forward to the coming long weekend, it seems like the perfect time to spend a moment to think about the significance of Labour Day. So many people see it as just another day off from work (or a day to earn time-and-a-half). Either way, we like the day, but fail to appreciate how hard-fought the day really is.
Back in the 1800’s, trade unions were outlawed. Workers had no rights; men, women and children alike were exploited by short-sighted employers who believed that productivity at the expense and on the backs of over-worked and under-paid employees was the best route to success. Sir John A Macdonald, our first Prime Minister, passed the Trade Unions Act, which decriminalized Trade Unions. Let that sink in for a moment – it used to be illegal to belong to a union!
Fast forward to today and we have reaffirmed, as recently as 2007 in the B.C. Health Services decision, the rights of Canadian citizens to organize and to bargain collectively as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact the Supreme Court of Canada has suggested that a legal duty to bargain is an indispensable element of freedom of association.
I have posted to our Facebook page each week, and will continue to do so, about events in the history of the labour movement in Canada and around the world, as well as accomplishments of the labour movement that all workers enjoy the benefits of, such as weekends, minimum wage, paid sick days, benefits and pensions, not to mention working for equality for women and the elimination of child labour.
On this Labour Day, we are mindful of those who fought diligently for those rights we enjoy today and we have an obligation to protect what has been passed down from generation to generation. This legacy of protection and support is one that the labour movement in general, including you and me, must manage carefully, so that future generations can continue to benefit and appreciate the gains that have been made on their behalf.
While labour unions continue to work to provide a balance between employers and employees to the ultimate benefit of all society, perhaps they have a higher purpose now that they did in the past. Providing industry or sector leadership and promoting employer partnerships that further advance worker safety, knowledge, quality, and productivity can cast labour unions in a new progressive light. It is a different way of looking at things, but if today’s unions are going to maintain their market share and viability we should be thinking about how we can become “indispensable” to the Alberta and Canadian economies.
As members of trade unions and participants in the labour movement, it is our responsibility to elevate the status of unions and become consistently referred to as the sector experts and problem solvers we are, in the minds of investors, owners, governments, and the public at large.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those that paid our dues and set the stage for the quality of life and benefits we enjoy today. How better to honour that legacy than to secure our position as the most sought after experts in our applicable trades and professions.
What can you do to help secure the future of the labour movement? What have you done? Let me know. I would love to share your story with the world to help motivate others to contribute securing trade unions’ place in the success of our province and our country.