I got up (moderately) early today to do some research and writing about Labour Day, a rather unique holiday in Canadian history that deserves some attention. For many of us, Labour day shifts meaning as we get older… it was the last weekend before school starts when we’re younger, and the last weekend for summer cottaging as we age. But that was not its focus when it started, now 120 years ago. The original reasons for the holiday have been somewhat blurred by shifts in social perspective and politics: yet they are just as relevant to remember today as they were when it started.
One of the articles I found while researching was from Time (2014), which stated, “many of the challenges that faced workers more than a century ago are still being overcome today.” Very true. Particularly with the widening income gap between the majority workers and the often exploitative managers and employers, those challenges are rearing their ugly heads in the modern era, now stronger than ever (The Star, 2014). Yet the rhetoric is that unions and organized labour are costly and unnecessary. Another article I found from the Ottawa Sun (2014) stated that many Labour Day Parades and Picnics are, “[o]rganized not to celebrate the working life, but to promote and further the political agenda of organized labour.” Again with the “political agenda” stuff, reminds me of the conservative reaction to Gay Pride parades around the world. (Most of the article is about the author’s failed attempt to find someone who has attended such a parade or picnic… to which I had to laugh and say, “You work for the Sun, the most anti-worker’s-rights paper in the country… what did you expect?”) Personally, I don’t see any difference between those two (“the working life” and “organized labour”). But then again, I don’t expect workers to enjoy one day of celebration and then roll over to be exploited the rest of the year. The celebration is not to honour workers’ continual self-sacrifice to employers’ investment in the overarching economy, but to recognize our participation as the foundation of the way the world works.
Though Western countries have institutionalized Labour days in recognition of workers, interest in unions is dwindling… in spite of all they have done (The Independent, 2014). Probably the biggest problem with this is that we forget how much we can, and have, achieved when we bind together for a common goal: unions used to have the effect of not only improving work conditions for the members, but “for nonunion workers in the same region or industry sector” (Harvard Business Review Blogs, 2014). Scandinavian countries have high union presence and high business competition (The Globalist, 2012). Of course short-sighted leaders and the business owners don’t want us to unite; they have the power of finance and money, while we have the power of unity and presence and numbers. Unfortunately, most of us have also bowed to the reverence of the almighty dollar, and no longer believe in our collective power, in spite of previous successes. Thus even we, as workers, who earn only a (tiny) fraction of our employers, continue to participate in our own decline.