Wednesday, May 1 is May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day. It’s a day for workers and the labour movement to celebrate the social and economic gains made for all working people.
CUPE Ontario members voted at Convention to recognize this day, which commemorates general strikes that commenced on May 1, 1886, when police killed dozens of workers in Chicago who were demonstrating for an eight-hour work day. The strikes ultimately did result in the eight-hour work day, one of the movement’s first and most notable successes. It was a success that brought an end to the widespread practice in the United States and Canada of having workers, including children, work 10-16 hours a day.
Many people seem to think that such struggles are a thing of the past. But in Canada many people still work for less than minimum wage, for longer hours than are legal and in unsafe conditions. In fact, while unions have won many improvements for workers, the increasing number of people working part-time, casual and on contract in precarious employment is making the need for unions greater every day.
The tragedy that continues to unfold in Bangladesh, where more than 300 garment workers died when the factory they worked in collapsed, is a stark reminder that the work of the labour movement is far from over. Around the world, too many people are forced to work in conditions that are almost a thing of history in Canada thanks to our strong union tradition.
Unions remain the protector of working people, and at CUPE Ontario we stand together to protect many of the most vulnerable workers in our province. Today we celebrate the great achievements of our union and the labour movement – parental leave, minimum wages, health and safety laws and so many other benefits enjoyed by people across Ontario. Part of that celebration is the Mayworks Festival (mayworks.ca), which we are proud to sponsor.
But we also must remember that these gains only exist as long as a strong labour movement exists to defend them. Conservative politicians are bent on weakening unions and silencing the voices of citizens. Through an aggressive campaign of fear, they have already silenced international development groups, government scientists and others. Unions are among the last voices that exist for working people, for the poor, for the vulnerable.
To learn more about our struggle for fairness, visit www.standupforfairness.ca and take your union’s pledge.
As we learned in the 1880s, together we are stronger, together in solidarity we shall overcome.