Labour Day 2013: Remembering the past and building for the future

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Another Labour Day has passed. Parents of young children know it as the day to get kids ready for school. Those without young kids may think of it as the last holiday of summer. But for retirees this year it was a time to reflect on what they achieved together, achievements now under attack at every turn.

Older retirees remember the Dirty Thirties of their childhood when any job would have been welcome and where to be old meant surviving on a dollar a day of government Old Age Security. It was during and immediately after World War II that there was a dramatic increase in unionization among industrial workers. Getting a first collective agreement was not always easy. One of the seminal events in gaining union security was the strike at Ford in 1945 in Windsor. Following a 99-day strike at Ford, Justice Ivan Rand was appointed to arbitrate a settlement. One of the issues he resolved was the right to the union dues check-off. The solution where workers in unionized workplace were obliged to pay dues for the benefits they received but not required to join the union was known as the Rand Formula. It did not solve all first contract problems but it was a compromise that recognized the value that unions brought to the workplace.

In the years that followed that decision, unions played an active role in establishing many improvements such as pensions, medical benefits, health and safety legislation, and human rights not only in collective agreements but also in legislation. Today's retirees fought not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of all those in need in society. Thus they played a leading role in the introduction of medicare and the Canada Pension Plan.

This year on Labour Day, retirees look ahead in fear of what will face their children and grandchildren. For the first time since the Second World War, the standard of living of the next generation will likely be lower than their parents. The disappearance of good union jobs due to technology and outsourcing has meant a disappearance of access to a middle-class life.

Defined benefit pension plans at work are becoming rarer and rarer for young workers. The response of those who oppose unions which alas now includes the federal government has been that no one should have access to good pension plans. Everyone needs to fend for themselves. Retirees seeing what is happening to workplace pensions have been strong advocates for improving the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans while the federal government in alliance with banks and insurance companies has pushed another voluntary pension plan (Pooled Retirement Pension Plan) with no regulation of the fees charged.

Many politicians not only want to attack the programs unionized workers gained but the very existence of unions. Thus the Rand Formula itself is under attack by too many federal and provincial politicians.

Retirees in the Congress of Union Retirees want not just to remember the past but to build for the future. At our Convention Oct 22 - 25, we will begin with Ed Broadbent speaking on "Equality and the Importance of Unions" and Hassan Yussuff on "The Attack on Unions." This session can be seen live at 7:30 - 9:00 p.m. October 22 on our website.

Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.

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