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Michael Laxer's blog

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Michael Laxer lives in Toronto with his partner Natalie and three children. Michael has a degree in history from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, a former socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and 2014 and served on the executive of the Socialist Party of Ontario as its Spokesperson and Chair.

Not at home for the holidays: The assault on the right of workers to collective days off

| June 30, 2013

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As we all prepare to enjoy the Canada Day holiday with friends and family, let us take some time to reflect on just how many Canadians end up having to work on what are supposed to be statutory holidays and whose holidays are sacrificed upon the alter of our consumer convenience and self-indulgence.

Over the years, as a fundamental part of the corporate assault on worker's rights, these holidays have grown to mean less-and-less for retail sector workers especially. In many communities across Canada there has been a strong push to allow more-and-more stores and retail businesses to open their doors on what are supposed to be universal holidays.

This is not, actually, an attempt to help "small" or family run businesses, many of which have no employees or were always allowed to open when they wanted. It is not about "convenience stores". It is really about allowing malls and major retail chains to open every single day of the year and thereby eliminating the idea of collectively shared days off. This push, ironically, also undermines the very small retailers that many who back it claim will benefit from it. They will now face even more overwhelming competition from huge chains, not less.

A basic component of the broader North American corporate agenda is to convince us that we are consumers, not citizens, and eliminating any notion of commerce free days or spaces is completely entwined with that. From selling the naming rights of everything to corporations, to making sure that people can "shop" 365 days a year, genuine, collective, public spaces or days free from corporate and consumer influence are dramatically on the decline. 

The greatest victims of this are the lowest payed or otherwise compensated workers in our society, retail workers, who consistently earn the lowest wages and lowest benefits versus workers in other sectors and who have very low rates of unionization. 

Remarkably, even some government services, like the Canada Post outlets in privately run pharmacies or stores, are open on what is supposed to be our National Holiday. It was not bad enough that years ago Canada Post contracted out postal outlets so that they could shut down post offices and fire unionized workers, replacing them with non-union workers who are technically employees of places like Shopper's Drug Mart; Canada Post does not even ensure that these union busting outlets are closed on Canada Day! 

Or any other holiday. 

It is a very explicit example of the complicity of our own government's attempts, for many years now, and predating Harper, to undermine their own legally mandated holidays. It is equally true in most provinces.

Canada, overall, has a disgraceful attitude towards holidays or paid days off, and we rank as the third last "affluent" country in the world in terms of paid days off guaranteed by law to all full-time employees in the country.  Only Japan and the USA rank lower.

But we all know that the burden of this does not fall equally. 

Most executives, when they ever work, have far more holiday days in their contracts, as do most other managerial workers. Three or four weeks or more of vacation time is common. And none of them ever work on statutory holidays. That is for "little" people.

The people and workers who are made to work, outside of essential services,  are minimum wage workers, retail workers, the young, part time workers, temporary workers (which in some cases allows employers to get around paying statutory holiday pay) and, in reality, the most exploited, least protected and least paid workers in the country.

This really has got to stop. We have to end this notion that the consumer convenience of some demands more "rights" than the collective rights of workers socially to both personal and collective holidays.

We need at least a handful of days where people, all people, are able to enjoy their public spaces and their communities together as friends and family, and we need holidays that are holidays for the large bulk of workers and not just the middle class or well-to-do.

Holidays where we are not certain that many in our communities have been intimidated into working because the law allows their places of work to open.

We need, in the end, to remember and to fight for the very basic humanistic principle that we are citizens, and not consumers, and that as citizens we stand together for the right of all Canadians to be able to truly celebrate our collective holidays. That the very heart of fairness for working people and families is the freedom for all to enjoy our common days together, without having to work for the benefit of retailers and big business.



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