This Labour Day, we rally and march in the shadow of the upcoming federal election. Without question, the stakes are enormous for the working class – issues of economic insecurity, environmental devastation, and the danger of widespread war are all on the line. This is a key moment for the labour movement to campaign for its own political, social and economic policies, and to make these a benchmark for all those seeking labour’s support.
Across Canada, economic insecurity for working people is worsening. Polls show that more than half of the population is $200 or less away from being unable to pay their bills each month – and 12 million people in Canada already cannot meet their obligations. This is the result of nearly 40 years of cutbacks, wage and job loss, austerity and privatization.
Over that same four-decade period, as workers’ real wages increased by less than $3, corporate profits shot up more than ten times.
More than one million people are officially unemployed, and almost 10 million more have left the workforce. Of those who are working, a very large and growing number are struggling with contract, part-time and precarious work.
The gender pay gap remains huge, with women being paid an average of 31% less in annual income than men. This figure is even worse for Indigenous and racialized women. It shows that sexism, racism and other oppressions are endemic to capitalism.
This situation will worsen under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the renegotiated NAFTA deal that gives corporations even more rights to cut jobs and manufacturing in Canada, to gut the supply-management system in agriculture, to privatize universal public healthcare, and to weaken labour and democratic rights. Corporations like GM and Bombardier stepped up quickly to seize that opportunity by announcing plant closures, striking out thousands of union jobs with the same pen Trudeau used to sign the USMCA deal.
In the face of this, the labour movement needs to move into action for a full employment economy with permanent jobs, decent wages and benefits, strong union militancy and density, and gender, racial and national equality. One way to do this is by demanding a shorter work week, with no loss in take home pay, in combination with other improvements like livable wages and strong plant closure legislation. Another is to demand expanded value-added manufacturing, public services and social programs.
The climate crisis and threat of environmental disaster are at the top of the priority list for a majority of people this election. Temperatures in Canada are rising 2.5 times faster than other regions of the world. The results are melting permafrost and ice in the Arctic, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, and extreme weather leading to drought, flooding and forest fires. Already, climate change is seriously affecting health and livelihoods, industries like agriculture and fishing, and threatened or endangered species.
It’s a global crisis that calls for urgent and radical measures by governments. Yet, the response from the Canadian government has been woefully inadequate, and this country is projected to fall far short of the minimal goal of a 30% net reduction in emissions by 2030. Instead of confronting this crisis, successive Conservative and Liberals governments serve up policies that protect their allies in the big energy and resource monopolies.
Labour needs to take a lead in the struggle for climate justice, by demanding that the energy corporations be placed under public ownership and democratic control. This would take profit out of the picture and allow for effective climate change action, through sharply reduced emission limits and strict enforcement, while guaranteeing good jobs and wages. This kind of action can unite workers, Indigenous people and nations, environmentalists and youth, in a mass campaign to achieve an absolute 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 and to completely eliminate them by 2050. But to do this, labour has to stop supporting the timid business-friendly proposals offered up by the NDP and the Greens – carbon taxes which just get passed on to working people, and cap-and-trade schemes which allow corporations to buy and sell the right to pollute, will do nothing to prevent environmental disaster.
Just as dangerous as the climate crisis is increasing militarism and the threat of widespread war. The Liberals promised in 2015 to take a different foreign policy direction from the Harper Conservatives, but they have continued down the dangerous path of escalating interference and aggression. They said they would scrap plans to purchase nuclear-capable F-35 fighter jets, but they are now looking to buy even more than Harper. They promised to increase international aid as opposed to supporting US-led combat missions; but instead, the Canadian government is propping up a right-wing coup government in Ukraine that includes members from overtly fascist groups, and is actively working for the overthrow of Venezuela’s democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro. The Liberals promised to hold the line on the Conservatives’ already bloated military budget, but then they buckled to pressure from Donald Trump and announced that military spending would jump by 73% to $33 billion.
The labour movement has longstanding policies that oppose militarism and that support a foreign policy of peace, disarmament, international cooperation and solidarity. But too many trade union leaders have succumbed to the corporate promises of job creation through military spending. They ignore the facts that spending for civilian purposes – like a publicly owned electric vehicle industry, a federal social housing program, and expanded health and social programs – provide far more jobs and benefits to workers and communities. The labour movement needs to step up and demand that government spending reflect working class priorities, not the priorities of military-related industries or Donald Trump or the generals at NATO.
There is no time to waste – the labour movement needs to start now, to engage the entire working class and its allies in an escalating fight against austerity, environmental destruction, and war. This means building unity in the trade union movement – including unions like Unifor who are outside the CLC – on a class struggle basis. It means challenging, isolating, and defeating those right-wing trade union leaders who block mass independent labour political action so they can have more photo ops with politicians. It means preparing for the election and the struggles afterwards, by advancing labour’s own political demands and insisting that candidates and parties seeking labour’s support must fight for these policies. And it means supporting those political movements, like the Communist Party, who fight year-round for the working class – building the Communist Party and militant left means a stronger labour movement.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the historic 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. We should celebrate this Labour Day as a day of struggle for labour rights, peace, democracy, solidarity and environmental sustainability. It should be a day to build unity in the spirit of 1919, which advanced the struggles to overthrow the capitalist system, to end exploitation and oppression, and emancipate humanity.
We have a planet to save and a world to win!
Labour Day message from the Communist Party of Canada
Central Executive Committee