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Labour Day and the value of work

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Dear friends,

As we head to Labour Day and the Oct. 6 provincial election, I’ve been thinking a lot about work.

Without work, we have no food, no clothing, no housing. Without work, we have no healthcare, no education, no support for those who can’t work. Without work, we can’t live.

The roots of the union movement lie in the recognition that work, and workers, are at the centre of human existence. The old labour anthem, “Solidarity Forever,” says it plainly: “Without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel would turn.”

It is working people who create the value that makes life possible. But lately I’m not sure our politicians understand. Instead of honouring work and workers, they’ve taken to worshipping what they call “job creators.”

But these “job creators,” by which they mean business people, are not actually concerned about job creation. They’re concerned about profits, and their own personal gain.

Profit has always come from the work of workers, but in the last 30 years business has used its power and influence to squeeze us even harder.

That’s why wages for full-time workers are stagnating. That’s why only five out of eight jobs are full-time these days. That’s why families are working more and more hours just to stay where they are financially.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy for business groups to fuel resentment against people who still have decent jobs. That means people in unions, and a lot of us in the public sector.

As we know, not every public sector job is well-paid. We don’t all have benefits or a pension plan. All the same, those of us who have fought to have good jobs still get told we should take a pay cut because “You’re lucky to even have a job.”

When someone says, “You’re lucky to have a job,” my answer back is, “Isn’t that the problem? Don’t our communities have too few good jobs these days? Shouldn’t we be focusing on creating more good jobs, not tearing down the ones we have?”

Protecting good jobs in the public sector means advocating for good jobs in the private sector. To build support for good jobs, we’ve launched a new campaign about the future of work. It’s provocative. It’s edgy. It’s not the kind of thing people expect from unions. But we’re hoping that “How Screwed Are You?” will help put the issue of good jobs for all front and centre in the upcoming election campaign.

Because good jobs matter.

So on Labour Day, get out and celebrate the value of work. March in a parade. Wear something union. And enjoy the holiday that unions won for everyone.

In Solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Ontario Public Service Employees Union

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