Labour Day

Cartoon is from Greg Perry.

As part of my “Daily Pictures” commitment to post something every day for a year, I wanted to reflect a bit on the nature of Labour Day. Most of us these days tend to look at it as a day that we can forget about “labour” and take it easy: relaxing from the labour that we have to submit to the grand economic engine that keeps us going. What I find fascinating about the whole subject of “Labour Day” is that most of us would rather not. Not work. And, indeed: those of us who are further down the “labour” food chain are the ones who have to work hardest for the meagre scraps we get. Those who work in the more administrative realms, much though they depend on the rest of us for people to manage, are the ones who labour the least and who can retire earliest. It seems rather flipped, doesn’t it?

The foundation of Labour Day was in the Labour movement: the right to strike, the capacity to stand up to the rich and the powerful, and to demand civil rights. We tend to forget that, after a few years of prosperity.

Labour day in Canada has its roots 140 years go, starting with “a parade held in support of a Toronto union’s strike for a 58-hour work week” (Jim Sinclair, 2012). This would have been a few years before the movement started in the U.S. (KARK, 2012). Unions are having a terrible time of it in this economy: as we workers buy in to the lie that the only way we can save the economy is through more investment. So we funnel more power to the rich and forget that everything that is made also needs to be bought… yet most of the middle and lower classes are losing our capacity to buy anything. Even more liberal governments, like that in Ontario, are determined to privatize resources and conquer unions.

Much though we’re being told that we’re moving forward, collective bargaining is at an all-time low. (The Star, 2012) Strikes are down The power of the people is much less than the power of the rich; so much for democracy. It can first be seen in the dwindling of the unions, and once workers have lost their power to exert pressure as a single force, it will be evident in our bank accounts. We’ve become complacent. In fact, according to a new study in Alberta, modern unions today are regarded as irrelevant and do not contribute to a competitive work environment (Merit Contractors Assoc. Labour Study, 2009). We are in danger of losing the benefits they brought us (rabble.ca, 2012)

So, on this Labour Day, I challenge you to remember why the holiday was brought into existence, and to reject the economic myths that are destroying our capacity to achieve equality through our work. It is something our forefathers worked for, and which we’re now casting away for a few trinkets. We need to be careful, lest “Labour Day” evolve quickly into “Rich Day”. We have enough days that are dedicated to that.

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