A Labour Day Message from the West Kootenay Labour Council (WKLC)

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For Canada’s unions, Labour Day is a day to celebrate our work and our everyday victories we win to make life better for everyone.  It is also a day to focus on the work ahead and the improvements yet to be won.

Union’s believe in the necessity of good pensions for everyone.  For nearly a decade we advocated for stronger public pensions at the same time as we negotiated workplace pensions in unionized companies.  This year, the federal government and provincial premiers have finally agreed that it is time to expand Canada’s largest defined benefit pension – the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

While today’s seniors still need help to avoid poverty, young workers will benefit most from the expansion of CPP.  Already faced with a hostile jobs market and record levels of debt, today’s young workers need ways to save for retirement.  After a lifetime of work no one should have to struggle just to make ends meet.

With a change of attitude by our government on the need for stable pensions, it is worth noting that unionized workers at Kootenay Savings Credit Union and Canada Post in the West Kootenays are in the midst of negotiations to defend their pension plans. The workers in these organizations, among others, are determined to stop rollbacks that weaken both current and future workers’ abilities to retire in dignity.  The West Kootenay Labour Council will assist those workers, however we can, to protect their deferred retirement wages; just like we supported the fight to improve pensions for all.

The West Kootenay Labour Council and our affiliate unions are also working with Selkirk College and Protein for People to host an event in October in conjunction with the International Day to Eradicate Poverty.  Together, with the support of other organizations, we will be providing product for food banks in our communities and hosting a free salmon dinner.  This event will bring seniors and students, struggling workers and unemployed and social justice activists together to raise awareness about the impact of poverty on many members of our society.  When people join together to solve problems, it becomes a labour of love.  The West Kootenay Labour Council is proud to initiate this event and will provide much more information in the weeks to come.

For Canada’s unions, values like fairness, equality and working together are what drive us to make a difference in our communities and across the country.  Which is why we are also working hard to tackle issues like precarious work and the shrinking number of good jobs.  We believe that the Federal and Provincial governments have a significant role to play by investing in our communities, investing in alternative energy and green jobs for the future, and by raising the minimum wage.  When people are working and earning an income to meet their needs, they boost the local economy, and that benefits everyone.

Good jobs, safe workplaces, fairness and equality are the basic ingredients of a better future.  These are the things that union leaders in our Labour Council believe in and work for every day.  For us, it is truly a labour of love and it’s what motivates us in our negotiations, in our activities and in our celebrations on Labour Day and throughout the year.

Happy Labour Day to All.

 

Debbie Bird, President WKLC, on behalf of the Council and affiliates

 

Activism: It’s Not Just for Labour Day

August 31, 2013   From: http://allaboutwork.org

It’s Labour Day weekend, and as many of my colleagues ruefully note, this is the one time every year when labour and union issues are guaranteed to get some attention in the news. Something that is regularly mentioned in this news coverage is that unions’ activism doesn’t just benefit their own members, but also improves society at large.

When I teach industrial relations, I always talk about how workplaces don’t have things like minimum wages and regulated working hours because employers voluntarily decided to give these things to their employees. Those things are required by law – and while unions were among the activists who fought to get those laws passed, the unions wanted better working conditions not just for their own members, but for everyone.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of activism in a very roundabout way recently, because of the outcry over anti-gay legislation in Russia, and how this might affect the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Some commentators have paralleled the situation in Russia to the situation in Germany prior to the 1936 Olympics, when there was active discrimination against Jews and other ethnic and demographic groups. In 1936, there was a Canadian campaign for a boycott of the Olympics, and unions were involved in that campaign.

I got to learn about the 1936 boycott campaign when I researched the history of the Workers’ Sports Association of Canada (WSA), an offshoot of the Young Communist League that provided sport opportunities in many communities across Canada. Many WSA members were also activists in other areas, including unionization – for example, some of the Finnish immigrants in British Columbia who were involved with the WSA were also instrumental in the founding of BC’s first unions in the logging and fishing industries.

The WSA was one of the major Canadian participants in the campaign to boycott the 1936 Olympics – a campaign which argued that the Games were being used as an excuse to promote the Nazi regime, and that some athletes might face discrimination or danger while in Germany. (Guy Walters‘ excellent book Berlin Games has very thorough discussions of the political machinations that led to the 1936 Summer and Winter Olympics Games being awarded to Germany [and staying there], and the opposition to those Games.)

Sampo Hall, at Webster's Corners in Maple Ridge, BC. It was built in 1915 as a community hall for the Finnish settlers in the area. Many of those settlers were also political and union activists. (credit: own photo)

Sampo Hall, at Webster’s Corners in Maple Ridge, BC. It was built in 1915 as a community hall for the Finnish settlers in the area. Many of those settlers were also political and union activists. (credit: own photo)

The 1936 boycott campaign was, obviously, unsuccessful, so there is no way to tell if an Olympic boycott would have reversed the course of events in Germany after 1936.  There have been boycotts of various Olympic Games since then, and the general consensus is that none of them achieved their intended political purposes.  However, having read a lot about that 1936 campaign, I’m really struck by the similarities of the discussions in 1936 and in 2013.

Should a country be able to tell another country what its laws should say, or shouldn’t say? Should a sporting event be drawn into political conflicts? Is a boycott unfair to the athletes who have worked hard to participate? Are there other, possibly more effective ways to express opposition to the laws that wouldn’t involve a boycott?

It’s these kind of bigger questions that activism draws our attention to and makes us think about. When I researched the WSA’s involvement with the 1936 boycott movement, I was quite surprised at how newspapers such as The Worker (the Communist Party of Canada newspaper) had much more comprehensive and accurate news coverage of the troubling trends in Europe than the mainstream Canadian media.

When larger Canadian newspapers mentioned the boycott campaign at all, it was mostly to dismiss it as the evil work of “Communists”, or to suggest that athletes who supported the boycott, such as Eva Dawes, were mindless dupes of the “Reds”.

Without activists and their efforts, some of what was going on in Europe in the mid-1930s, might not have been noticed at all, or noticed too late to make any difference.

So on this Labour Day weekend, I’m going to think about how activism by unions and others can change the world for the better. Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to be positive; for example, today I looked at the first chart on this page on the Human Resource and Skill Development Canada website, and was appalled to see a caption saying “The unionization rate in Canada has decreased gradually over time” when the chart actually shows union membership increasing in 2012.

The ongoing anti-union attitudes of Canada’s federal government show no sign of abating, but unions – and activists – are not going away any time soon. And that’s a positive thing, because questioning and challenging the dominant structures in society is important not just for workers, but for everybody.

Time is right to relight fires of union activism, says labour leader

August 30, 2013                                              https://i2.wp.com/www.capebretonpost.com/images/logo/cbpost-header.png

Suzanne MacNeil                                                                                                                                                Suzanne MacNeil                                               

SYDNEY — There are some changes coming for the Canadian labour movement and the president of the Cape Breton District Labour Council said the time is right to relight the fires of union activism across the country.

“Many in labour today are looking towards building a stronger movement in knowing individual unions can’t go it alone anymore,” said Suzanne MacNeil.

In addition to strengthening alliances among union groups, MacNeil said it is equally important that all union members get more involved in their locals.

“Many (workers) just go to work in a bid to take care of their families and secure some kind of good life. Union activism is a lot of work, but we just can’t leave it to the keeners anymore,” she said.

This Labour Day weekend marks the launch of a national campaign by the Canadian Labour Congress to encourage more unionized workers to get involved along with improving the ties that bind unions together.

Ken Georgetti, Canadian Labour Congress president, said the campaign themed Together Fairness Works will be unveiled across the country and will highlight, among other things, the labour movement’s contributions to local communities.

“I do detect a real sense of urgency in the work we do,” said MacNeil.

She said while Cape Breton has been hit hard over the years with the loss of major union groups representing steelworkers and coal miners, there remains a commitment to protect worker rights.

“There has been a loss of morale here, but there is still a fire in the belly to protect workers and the collective bargaining process,” she said.

The national campaign’s objective of unifying the union voice and building a stronger union movement are already two key elements of the local council’s work in representing some 8,000 unionized workers in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. The Strait Area Labour Council represents the interests of union workers in eastern Cape Breton.

A freelance writer by trade, MacNeil is a member of the Canadian Freelance Union and her position with the local labour council is voluntary.

She says that many workers’ rights are now under attack and the effects are being felt locally, especially with the recent qualification changes to employment insurance benefits.

MP Mark Eyking recently held a public meeting in Bay St. Lawrence where residents of the small fishing community have been tagged with a repayment bill of more than $170,000, while others have been denied benefits entirely.

She said governments usually have assumed the role of mediator between the unions and companies. MacNeil said that role has changed as governments are now directly attacking unions and rewarding bad faith bargaining by companies.

Some examples, said MacNeil, include the federal government ordering union groups back to work after they have exercised their right to strike. Ontario and British Columbia have imposed or frozen contracts for certain workers, including teachers.

There are an estimated 3.5 million Canadian workers now involved in unions and MacNeil said harnessing such power won’t be easy, but will produce tremendous benefits.

As for this year’s Labour Day celebrations, MacNeil said all unionized workers should prepare themselves to become more involved in their locals and extend a helping hand to other union and non-union groups.

“If the last couple of years are any indication, the fight for worker rights is far from over,” she said.

Membership to the Cape Breton council is open to unions affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress. The local group mets the first Wednesday of every month at the Grand Lake Road fire hall beginning at 7 p.m. The meetings are held between September and June.

MacNeil said the local council’s projects include hosting the annual day of mourning for workers killed on the job, organizing Labour Day celebrations, hosting a labour school for union members and co-ordinating with other unions to help locals grow and develop.

The True Meaning of Labour Day

Paul Moist Paul Moist

National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees

08/30/2013    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

Labour Day is a time to celebrate the role of workers in the economy and address the real economic issues of our time.

Labour Day is about more than a well-deserved day off. It is a time to celebrate the important contributions working people make to our economy. It is also a good time to reflect on what is needed to improve the economic and social well-being for all workers.

Working people are the engine of the economy. The work we do, the services we provide and the money we spend drive the economy. But, in 2013 the economy is failing working people. Downward pressure on wages and government austerity programs are resulting in layoffs, contracting out, privatization of public services while families struggle to make ends meet. The rich are getting richer and the debt load of working people is increasing. It is no wonder our economy is experiencing such slow growth.

Economic recovery is being undermined by federal government actions over the last two years that erode workers wages, including: exploitation and fast-tracking approval for business to employ temporary foreign workers at wages below market rates; cuts to Employment Insurance and forcing workers to work at lower wages, continuous interference in the collective bargaining process on the side of employers, as well as attacks on unions and labour rights. These measures all need to be reversed and replaced by policies that support, rather than undercut real wage increases for workers.

At the same time, workers need a retirement security system in Canada to support our economy and provide economic security after a lifetime of work. It is a central economic problem today. Without adequate retirement incomes, we will pay with reduced living standards and an increase in seniors’ poverty. These outcomes, will, in turn, cost taxpayer money through programs like the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement and provincial and territorial income support and social assistance programs.

But, study after study shows that Canadians are not saving enough for retirement, and that this problem will only get worse as future generations retire. These troubling projections demonstrate the shortcomings of an increasingly individualized retirement income system. Working people are increasingly told their retirement security is their own problem. Save more for your own retirement at the same time your real wages are declining and debt level increasing?

The answer is clear. The economy needs a raise — disposable incomes need to rise to increase demand and create good jobs and economic growth. And we need to build an economy that sustains jobs with decent incomes for the next generation.

As we celebrate Labour Day this year, let’s really celebrate the contribution of working people by continuing to press for economic change to reverse growing income inequality. Press for economic change to drive the economy through higher wages and economic change to ensure all Canadians can retire in dignity.

Workers can count on the labour movement to do just that. We do that through collective bargaining and political action on behalf of all working people. And on this labour day, as national president of Canada’s largest union, I repeat my call to the government of Canada to convene a national pension summit where we can roll up our sleeves and address the affordability issues with defined benefit pension plans and re-tool the Canada Pension Plan so that it will continue to provide economic security for all Canadian retirees for generations to come.