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It's labour's day

Workers losing many of the benefits they fought for

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Crowds gather at Portage and Main during the fight for worker rights in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.

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Crowds gather at Portage and Main during the fight for worker rights in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. Photo Store

For many, Labour Day marks the last weekend of summer. For football fans, it is the Bombers-Roughriders Labour Day classic. But we must still remember the original purpose when it was first made an official holiday in 1894; as a time to reflect on both the contributions of working people to our community and country, and the challenges they still face.

While some argue Canada weathered the global economic crisis better than many other countries, the recovery from this recession has been tepid. In terms of economic growth, the recovery has been weaker than those following recessions in the 1980s and 1990s. With growth stuck around two per cent for the past four years, many Canadians continue experiencing challenges.

More than 1.3 million Canadians are unemployed, and the unemployment rate for young workers is double that of the rest of the population in most regions of the country at more than 13 per cent. One in five jobless workers has been out of work for more than 27 weeks. None of these key economic indicators has returned anywhere near their pre-recession levels.

Like other advanced economies, Canada has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the past decade. Most of these jobs were good-paying union jobs with pensions and benefits.

Labour force development issues abound in our country. The temporary foreign workers program has been exposed as not much more than a wage subsidy for the service sector and fast-food industry. This is not what this program was designed for.

In terms of worker training, Canadian employers are near the bottom of the pack when compared with other industrialized nations on investment in their own workforces.

Canadian workers' levels of personal debt are at all-time highs, because wages have gone up little in real terms for the past 25 years. Canadian corporations, the main benefactors of tax cuts, are sitting on a record amount of cash reserves -- more than $600 billion today.

So on this Labour Day, I am joining many others marching in parades and attending picnics across the country. We will not just be celebrating our work, but also supporting our communities, especially our most vulnerable neighbours. We will call on all levels of government in Canada to take real action on making our country a better place to live.

This Labour Day we again call for an immediate expansion of the Canada Pension Plan, so all workers have an opportunity to retire in dignity. We call for strong workplace health and safety laws so every worker can come home after every work day, and a national child care program to support all working families.

In 1894, the year Labour Day became an official holiday, Winnipeg's Labour Day parade was the largest in the Dominion at more than three kilometres long. This Labour Day we will continue the parade tradition to both celebrate all we've accomplished, and to commit our support to all workers, whose collective efforts make Canada the great country it is today.

 

Paul Moist is national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. With 628,000 members across Canada, including more than 27,000 in Manitoba, it is Canada's largest union.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 A17

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