This Labour Day, we’re celebrating working people rising to the challenge

Every day, working people in Ontario live the reality of the ominous headlines: runaway inflation, wages that can’t keep up, a global pandemic, crisis in health care, and a provincial government that is hell-bent on making life worse for anyone who isn’t one of their well-heeled, well-connected friends.

CUPE members see and feel the worst of it: Ontario’s cherished public health care system has been starved to make it ripe for privatization. Our vulnerable elderly have been sacrificed to feed for-profit long-term care. Municipal services are stretched thin. Social services are more cash-strapped than ever, just as people’s needs have become more urgent. Our public universities operate more like corporations than institutions of learning. Our schools have been underfunded for almost two decades and workers in all sectors are feeling the impacts.

Yet despite these challenging days, this Labour Day feels different. As CUPE Ontario leaders, we feel a groundswell of optimism. Close to home and far away, working people are rising up and rising to the challenge. The winds of change are blowing, and they are at our backs.

Poll after poll shows public support for unions is stronger than it has been in decades. Unions are reclaiming our role as the defenders of what keep us safe and well and of what secures our futures.

As COVID ravaged the world, we all witnessed close up what frontline workers – and public sector workers in particular – do every day: take care of the sick, the vulnerable and people in need; educate our young people; act swiftly and selflessly as first responders; keep working throughout lockdowns and under the threat of a deadly virus. CUPE members, like public sector workers around the world, were rightfully hailed as heroes and won respect and recognition.

And something else happened: working class people woke up to our own worth. We’ve realized the value that we add to everyday life in this province. This knowledge has fuelled our resistance against the forces of privatization, globalization, and commodification and our fight against the things that outrage our sense of justice and fairness.

Workers are just getting started. CUPE Ontario is proud to be an active part of a broad movement fighting for paid sick leave, more health and safety, job security, migrants’ rights, and much more. Along with fellow unions, seniors’ groups, community groups, and other organizations – from Ontario Health Coalition to Migrant Rights Network – we are joining together in solidarity to build the communities we deserve.

Working people are speaking with one voice on vital issues like health care. We reject private clinics, extra billing, and two-tier health care. A renewed fightback has begun, to safeguard our publicly funded and publicly operated hospitals and to end for-profit long-term care and home care.

Working people are organizing for fair wages, job and service security, and better working conditions. We are refusing to pay the price for government neglect and underfunding.

CUPE education workers are an important example of this struggle. Years of austerity suppressed education workers’ pay and robbed them of decent pay; now, those workers are saying “enough” and campaigning boldly on wages. They are challenging the lies that the ruling classes love to tell, like the one about workers’ wages fuelling inflation. Instead, they put the blame squarely on the culprits who are price gouging, taking excessive profits, and giving huge tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals. Education workers are demanding a living wage, and they are telling the Ford Conservatives that they are prepared to back up their words with action. And they’re doing it with the support of parents, students, teachers, education groups, and other allies and creating a movement that’s impossible to ignore.

Working people understand instinctively that this is how we gain power: by joining forces and using the strength of solidarity.  October’s municipal and school board trustee elections give us another chance to use collective power. Working class people must vote to build strong communities and these elections represent an important opportunity to elect progressive politicians – people like us who will work for, not against, the working people of Ontario.

So this year, when you see CUPE Ontario leaders and members attending Labour Day events and marching in Labour Day parades, we’ll be doing it with respect for the past and renewed optimism for the future of working people. We have learned lessons and rediscovered old truths: it takes solidarity and determination to come together and to fight together. And when we do, we win together.