This is a critical time for the labour movement, for working people around the world. We’re confronted by a global pandemic that is impacting so many aspects of our lives, and one that is damaging the health of millions of people. And we know that in times of crisis, it’s working people who feel these multiple impacts most keenly.
May 1st is International Workers’ Day, or May Day, and it’s an opportunity for CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members, and all workers and the unions which represent them, to see this current crisis in the context of our long struggle as workers. It’s also a time to recall that our labour movement transcends borders. Since we’re facing a global pandemic, our collective response must be global as well.
Long before COVID-19, workers at home and abroad have had their health and economic security jeopardized by austerity measures that made work insecure, cut public services, force wage restraints, and prioritized corporations over people.
The Ontario government, for one, has underfunded health care for over a decade, making us all vulnerable to a pandemic. It has created, fostered, and encouraged a growing for-profit element in our public health care system that’s worsened services for the most vulnerable and left the workers who deliver them unprotected. In cutting public services delivered by city workers, education workers, and community agencies, this government has deepened inequalities and divided communities.
And now we’re seeing the impacts. A model that puts big business over working people has weakened our ability to weather this storm and position ourselves for a renewal. The same governments who push austerity are those who are failing to rise to the challenge of meeting people’s needs during this crisis. In fact, there are justified concerns that this crisis will be used to push for even more austerity in the future.
We can’t let that happen. We can’t let workers get sick, and sometimes die, because governments fail to order the production of the protective equipment we need. We can’t let laid off workers go without the financial supports to pay their bills, rents or mortgages, and put food on the table. And we can’t let the most vulnerable people – racialized, immigrant, undocumented workers, people with disabilities – continue to suffer even more due to the crisis and live without equal access to health care.
Change, however, is coming – and it’s because of working peoples’ resistance.
In the United States, workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, FedEX, Target, and Shipt will walk off the job, demanding protective equipment, paid leave, and health care benefits. Doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe have gone on strike over a lack of protective gear. So have Amazon workers in France, Italy, Spain, and Poland.
There’s a growing understanding that it’s workers, the people who keep our communities running, who are essential. With that understanding, in the acts of resistance dotting the global map, there’s hope for workers around the world.
This May Day, and always, CUPE Ontario joins with community and other unions in this collective struggle.
Fred Hahn, President
Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer