By Fred Hahn Contributor for The Star (Click here to read the article on

Normally, I’d be spending Labour Day at events with hundreds of union activists, allies and community members. There would be hugs, smiling faces and group pictures. We’d celebrate our victories and look ahead to building our solidarity for the challenges ahead.

But today is different. Our Labour Day events are digital. Our group photos are physically distanced ones. And building our collective strength has never been more challenging. So many things have changed so rapidly, but the battles ahead are actually quite clear and familiar.

One thing is increasingly clear: though we’re not together like we used to be, more than ever we’re in this together.

As president of CUPE Ontario, I hear directly from our members working in the public sector. They care deeply about their communities and the work they do to support them. These health-care, municipal, social services, university and education workers continue to face incredible and heartbreaking challenges. Avoidable challenges created by a government that must do better.

When we call on the Ford Conservatives to ensure the safety of front-line workers, they drag their feet over producing the PPE we need. When we call on them to pay front-line workers what they deserve, they totally mess up the implementation of their “pandemic pay,” fail to make it permanent and have it extended to those left out. And when we call on them to consult and draw from the experiences, knowledge and strength of front-line workers, the Ford Conservatives instead refuse and ram through legislation that attacks our legal and constitutionally protected rights.

This is an unprecedented time, with many challenges, but also some incredibly important opportunities for our collective future.

The pandemic isn’t over. People, especially those in our long-term-care homes and racialized communities, are still deeply impacted by the crisis. For-profit corporations continue to make huge profits while failing our parents and grandparents, and those who support them. Migrant workers are unprotected. Many front-line workers do not have paid sick leave. Renters facing the fallout of the economic crisis can now be evicted from their homes. Income supports are scant. Anti-Black racism is becoming more blatant and devastating, on both sides of the border. And our governments are beginning to push the narrative that we need to cut funding for critical services to balance the budget.

But if the last six months have taught us anything, it is that the way we were doing things isn’t working, and that when we put our minds to it, absolutely anything is possible. I don’t buy that this is just the way things are. We can — and we must — do so much better. Before it’s too late.

We need an Ontario, and a world, where everyone is ensured safety and can count on support, especially during an unprecedented health and economic crisis. We need to remember that deficits are not a threat, and that spending saves lives. We need to finally address systemic racism, discrimination and income inequality; we must invest in the social determinants of healthy communities. And we need to work together in our communities now more than ever to achieve these long overdue goals.

We can end profit-making in long-term care, secure fair pay for vitally important work, legislate minimum paid sick days for all workers, revitalize income supports to shore up our social safety net, and restore the hard-won rights of front-line heroes. And we must rethink taxation of those who can well afford to pay more, to ensure that the massive wealth being increasingly held by a few is shared for the good of us all.

On this Labour Day, when the ground underneath us is still shifting, it’s time to establish some common ground and remember that when communities stand together and demand change, anything is possible.