As a mother and an early childhood educator l know that for many British Columbians Labour Day represents the end of summer and the beginning of school. But as a union activist the first Monday in September represents much more. Labour Day is an opportunity to celebrate working people: the ones who built our province; the ones who take care of our families and our communities every day; and the ones who will create the healthy, inclusive, prosperous society we want in the future.
Labour Day is a moment to appreciate how much workers have accomplished since Canada's first Labour Day event in 1872-when unions were still illegal-and since Labour Day was declared a national holiday in 1894. Everything from paid vacations and sick leave to occupational health and safety regulations and protections from bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace are part of our current reality because of the efforts and sacrifices of working people.
Labour Day is also a moment to acknowledge how far we have left to go to create a society where all working people are truly respected and protected. There is still progress to be made, and our ability to create the future we want depends on the actions we take right now.
Representing more than 77,000 members in every community in British Columbia and every sector of our province's economy the BCGEU is always working to create that future not just for our members but for all working people. And this year our work has paid off: We grew our membership-welcoming thousands of new members in sectors like childcare, seniors' care and casinos and solidifying our position as one of the fastest growing unions in Canada; we ratified collective agreements covering more than two-thirds of our existing members-including an agreement that set a new industry standard for wages, benefits and working conditions in BC's extremely profitable casino industry; we spent countless hours travelling the province to learn about the issues our members face in their workplaces and to meet with their employers, elected officials and policy makers to address those issues; and we made substantial progress in our successful advocacy campaigns to improve affordability in childcare and housing to benefit all working people.
The BCGEU has a lot to celebrate this Labour Day. But our union, and BC's entire labour movement, also have a lot to do. Working people are finding it harder than ever to make ends meet: Rising costs for necessities like transportation, housing and childcare mean wages don't go as far as they used to. The nature of work is changing: Call it the sharing economy or the gig economy, what it means for working people is low wages, no benefits and no job security. And we continue to see a shift from family-supporting full-time jobs to lower-wage, less secure, more precarious employment in a range of sectors. All of this adds up to a robust agenda for working people and their supporters in the labour movement, elected office, community organizations, and in communities.
The lesson of Labour Day is the power of solidarity. History shows us that when working people stand together and fight together, we win. The workers of tomorrow are counting on us to come through for them as our predecessors did for us. And this Labour Day I am full of optimism for what we can achieve together. So, what can you do to support working people this Labour Day and beyond?
- Vote. Local election day in BC is October 20th and a federal election is coming in 2019. Do your research and support candidates who are tackling issues that matter to working people-like living wages and affordability in housing, transportation and childcare-and candidates who are committed to creating laws and regulations that make it easier for workers to unionize and that protect non-union workers in precarious and non-standard employment.
- Respect picket lines. Members of the BCGEU in four Okanagan casinos are on strike and will spend this Labour Day on the picket line. If you see picket lines in your community, show your support by talking to the workers to find out how long they've been on strike and what they're fighting for; honking and waving as you drive by; or grabbing a sign and walking with them for a while. But, whatever you do, don't cross the lines.
- Check out the BCGEU's campaigns website to see what we're working on to make life safer, healthier and more affordable for our members and all working people across BC and what you can do to help.
- And if you're working in a non-union workplace and want to know more about how joining a union could benefit you and your colleagues, contact us.