May 1st is International Workers Day. Historically, it is a commemoration of the Haymarket affair, a rally that took place in Chicago on May 4, 1886 in support of a general strike for an 8 hour workday that had happened in communities across the United States three days prior. At the time workdays of up to 16 hours were normal-as were six-day workweeks, child labour, and workplace deaths and injuries. The initially peaceful rally turned deadly when a bomb was thrown into the crowd and the ensuing police response killed four demonstrators and injured many more.
In "normal" times I would be gathering today with my labour family to march through the streets of Vancouver and BCGEU activists from across the province would be rallying in their local communities.
These are not normal times but rather than dwell on the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic means there won't be a rally this year, I want to point out what the pandemic has done.
COVID-19 has put workers' rights at the top of the public agenda. Long-standing issues like sick benefits, workplace safety and the right to refuse unsafe work-issues that the labour movement has been fighting for for generations-are now recognized as essential components of our society's safety moving forward.
COVID-19 has made the abject failure of neoliberal policies like privatization of seniors care impossible to ignore or avoid any longer.
COVID-19 has made us all reconsider not just how we define "essential" work, but how we value that work and the workers who do it.
So as we mark this International Workers' Day let's remember the sacrifices of those who came before us to create the world we now live in. And, as we prepare for BC's post-COVID "economic recovery", let's commit ourselves to not losing the lessons of our current circumstance but to making the most of those lessons to build a brighter, safer, more prosperous future for all working people.
Thank you for all you do.
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