Labour Day, 2004 – Two opinions


This Labour Day – Educate, Agitate, Organize
CUPE; Sept 3, 2004

“These are anxious times in Canada, many social programs are being redefined by the Martin government due to the chronic under funding of the past decades. CUPE believes that there is an opportunity to affect meaningful change to core social programs…”

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A lukewarm celebration for Labour Day
A union leader says workers deserve respect, but the government is undermining their contributions to British Columbia’s success
Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour
Vancouver Sun – Sept 6, 2004

Labour Day is about respect. It’s about celebrating the achievements of people who work hard, develop tremendous skill and experience and make a vital contribution to the economy. Blue-collar or white, old or young, public or private, it’s working people who keep our province moving.

Unfortunately, the critical importance of work and workers is not always reflected in the actions of employers and governments. Instead of pushing to improve rights and standards at work, many employers actively campaign to lower them. Governments, especially the B.C. Liberals, are only too willing to comply with those demands.

Consider a few of the more telling examples from the last three years: Reducing the minimum wage to $6 an hour, deregulating child labour laws and eroding workplace health and safety standards. These are just some of the ways the B.C. Liberals have translated employer demands into lower legislative standards.

The picture doesn’t get much brighter when it comes to our right to form or join unions. Since taking office, the B.C. Liberals have endorsed most of the legislative demands of employer lobby groups. And what do workers get from that? Horrendous examples of intimidation during legitimate organizing drives.

In one case, an employer used high-tech video equipment to maintain a constant broadcast of anti-union messages during the workday to undermine the organizing drive.

In another case, union organizers were physically assaulted by managers to prevent them from talking to workers.

Since the B.C. Liberals took office, they’ve passed law after law tearing up collective agreements, cutting medical services, closing long-term care beds, boarding up more than 100 schools, eliminating funds for women’s centres — and the list goes on and on and on.

These kinds of tactics speak volumes about a shocking lack of respect in far too many workplaces. But the problem doesn’t stop there. The government’s lack of respect can also be found in our communities, where attacking the most vulnerable people seems to be the priority.

A short list of these attacks includes social service cuts for single parents, pharmacare cuts for seniors, lower wages and higher tuition for students, lower wages and no protection for farm workers, and cuts to services for special needs students.

This government is also abandoning the pride of our past and ignoring the needs of future generations. We see it when it directs BC Hydro to stop building power facilities and buy instead from the private sector. We see it when one-third of BC Hydro is turned over to Bermuda-based Accenture, a move that will only help export more jobs. We see it when the government betrays the public trust by selling BC Rail to CN (we can’t say Canadian National because neither term now applies). We see it when the government reorganizes our vital public ferry system, then hires an American who doesn’t give B.C. shipyards a fair chance to build ferries here. We see it when the government fires trained health care workers and instead brings in foreign companies that employ cheap labour, reducing the quality of health care.

None of this makes any economic sense for B.C.’s long-term economic growth. You simply can’t cut corners and still come out on top.

Working people have every right to be proud of our contribution to building B.C. Our work, wages and determination have created a great province, and the trade union movement has raised our standard of living. While the bargaining table and picket line are fundamental sources of power for working people, we can never forget that workers achieved this power at the ballot box.

On this Labour Day, let’s pledge to continue the fight for justice and fairness for all British Columbians. That means supporting those on the picket line and at the bargaining table. It also means working to prevent the reckless sell-off of our province through continued privatization.

Let’s also work to elect leaders at every government level who will act in the interest of every British Columbian. We can build a better province — a better place to live, learn, work and play that will attract needed investment and talented people. An environment like that fosters respect for everyone, and that’s what it’s all about.