The eight hour work day.
Health and safety standards.
The ability to retire with dignity.
The right to organize.
All the rights we cherish today were not handed over to workers willingly. We, and the workers before us, had to fight for them every step of the way.
On May 1, 1886, unions in the United States launched a general strike to demand an eight-hour workday. It was a time when the right to organize and strike did not exist. A few days later, police violently broke up a peaceful mass meeting at Haymarket Square in Chicago where 80,000 workers had gathered. A number of people were killed and many injured. Shortly thereafter 7 labour leaders were arrested and four of them were executed by hanging. One chose to take his own life while in custody.
These shocking events lead to the declaration of May 1 as International Worker’s Day. A time to honour and celebrate workers' struggles. But it is also a time to remember that even as we continue to fight to improve the working conditions and rights of all workers, we must stay vigilant and be ever prepared to defend our gains from the constant efforts of employers to reverse them.
We have seen in recent years how employers, particularly the federal government, can try to claw back our gains at any time and impose conditions that are detrimental to workers everywhere.
As we mark this May 1st, the federal government has yet to take Bill C-27 off the table. This legislation is the employer’s attempt to replace our secure defined benefit pension plans with target benefit plans that do not guarantee sufficient benefits for employees in their retirement. Through the collective action of our union we’ve put enough pressure on the government to stop the bill in its tracks – for now – but we can’t rest until they scrap this terrible legislation permanently.
And the hardships that hundreds of thousands of federal public service workers have suffered under the Phoenix pay system is a stark reminder of what happens when governments ignore unions - and their willingness to ultimately gamble with the livelihoods of their employees. Even in the aftermath of Phoenix’s implementation it has been up to the PSAC to pressure the employer to implement relief measures, and to work towards permanent solutions to the many problems with Phoenix.
We know that we have a lot of work left to do. We need workplaces free of violence and harassment, access to affordable and quality child care, and the proactive pay equity legislation that has been delayed for far too long.
We can also be certain that there will be future attempts from employers to claw back the gains we’ve fought long and hard for. But International Workers Day reminds us that through our collective strength we can resist and fight back – and win.
This May 1st, let’s remember the workers that came before us who fought for and won the rights and benefits that workers enjoy today. And let’s also reaffirm our commitment to continue building a better future for workers and their families in Canada and around the world.
May 1, 2018