This Labour Day, working people and the labour movement are facing challenges not seen since the 1920s and ‘30s. A pandemic for which there is still no vaccine, an economic crisis that has left millions without work or wages, and a growing war danger – this time with nuclear and conventional weapons that could destroy the whole world. Add to this a climate change crisis that could make the planet uninhabitable, and it’s a bleak picture.
Fortunately, it’s not written in stone. But changing direction will need the labour and people’s movements to take decisive action to stop and reverse the reactionary corporate agenda that has brought us to the edge of the abyss. And it will require mass action to force Parliament to curb corporate power.
The pandemic demands that healthcare be recognized as a universal human right, and that private and for-profit health- care be abolished. In Canada this means that Medicare must be expanded to include pharmacare, dental and vision care, mental health care, and long-term care (where 82 percent of COVID deaths occurred in Canada) – which was proposed 30 years ago by the Romanow Commission. The greedy and powerful pharmaceutical companies that profiteer with high priced medicines and vaccines should be nationalized, and a new coronavirus vac- cine should be provided freely around the globe, as a human
The economic crisis – triggered by the pandemic but a built-in feature of capitalism – has generated huge profits for the biggest corporations and the super-rich. Elon Musk’s fortune increased by $57 billion (US) this year. Jeff Bezos’ fortune rose by $73 billion in 2020. The financial markets have increased by 30 percent since April 1, generating enormous wealth for the few while 7 million people – one-third of Canada’s workforce – were unemployed and in desperate straits in the same period. According to Dimitry Anastakis, a historian at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, “inequality is now greater than in the 1920s.” Today the wealthiest 20 percent of Canadians control 67.4 percent of the country’s wealth while the bottom 20 percent are drowning in debt and workers’ real wages have not risen since 1975. We’re not all in this together – by any stretch.
The cause? Neoliberal policies of free trade, privatization, deregulation, corporate tax cuts, attacks on labour and democratic rights, and vast increases in police and military spending.
The prescription? Reverse these policies. Tax the corporations and the rich; cut military spending; fund job creation; expand public services and social programs, including a universal public childcare system in Canada; and make post-secondary education free. Build affordable social housing across the country and expand value-added manufacturing and secondary industry. Close the tarsands, nationalize the oil companies and guarantee tarsands workers job in the new publicly-owned, renewable energy sector. And in the process, slash carbon emissions.
Raise wages and pensions and introduce a 32-hour work week for 40 hours pay and a guaran- teed annual livable income – not the subsistence income of social assistance. Get out of USMCA and all the job-killing corporate trade deals that have caused de-industrialization of Canada and continue to drive down real wages in this country and across the continent.
Legislate EI reform that isn’t a short-term fix but makes EI accessible to all the unemployed, including first-time job-seekers, for the full duration of unemployment at 90 percent of previous wages.
Strengthen labour and democratic rights by guaranteeing free collective bargaining and the right to strike, picket and organize in a Labour Bill of Rights. Enact plant closure legislation with teeth and protect workers’ wages and pensions in bankruptcies. Defund and demilitarize the police and disarm most po- lice units. Put police under strict civilian control with the power to act.
The threat of war and environmental catastrophe is also about profits – massive profits for mining companies, oil companies and the military-industrial complex in Canada. Public ownership of energy and resources, combined with a foreign policy of peace and disarmament and withdrawal from NATO, would free up billions of dollars for job creation and social spending, while making Canada and the world safer and more secure.
What’s needed for a People’s Recovery from this crisis is no secret. Much of this policy is al- ready in the CLC’s policy book. It’s in Unifor’s policy book too, and in the policy books of the labour movement in Quebec. Everyone agrees.
What’s missing is the fight. And that’s the real issue for labour today.
Instead of “co-operation with employers and right-wing governments,” the labour movement must find its allies in this struggle against corporate greed and reaction, in the people’s movements: the women’s movement; the youth movement; unemployed and unorganized workers; with Indigenous, Black and racialized people; with immigrants and seniors; farmers and small business people; and with all those who are the victims of these policies.
Working people need to be in this together. And the labour movement across Canada needs to unite them in a people’s coalition to win the big struggle ahead for a People’s Recovery.
Time is short – let’s unlock labour’s enormous capacity to unite and lead working people in a struggle for a future worth fighting for, for ourselves and for our children.