J.S. Woodsworth

“What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.”
– J.S. Woodsworth, first leader of the CCF

Oh, today we’re bound to see the usual ginned-up push polls and bent economic “studies” designed to persuade you we don’t need unions any more, not to mention advocacy of “right-to-work” laws and even outright hatred directed at Canada’s unions and Labour movement, from the likes of the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, federations of business, chambers of commerce, the online right-wing outrage machine and their conservative political auxiliaries.

Mainstream media is likely also to be full of the usual seething stream of loathing we’ve come to expect on the last weekend of our short Canadian summer — our country’s real new year, as someone observed on the CBC the day before yesterday — for the Labour movement.

Still — while these bad actors are sure to be back making a nuisance of themselves one of these days — things sure don’t seem as dire in 2016 as they did at this time only a year ago, do they?

The reason for this is at once simple and complicated: Canadians have spoken, and most of them have said they want the War on Labour to end. This is presumably because, despite the endless waves of propaganda from all the usual suspects, ordinary Canadians have come to recognize that a war on labour rights is a war on them.

Government got the message through the simple fact (complicated in execution) that in October 2015 a federal government was changed, and so was the provincial government here in Alberta even before Labour Day 2015, to parties that are not openly hostile to the right of working people to bargain collectively, and are not instinctively averse to the concept of democracy, including workplace democracy.

It is helpful that both the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Alberta New Democratic Party government of Premier Rachel Notley possess a certain degree of economic literacy, even if it is not on display at every hour of the day and night. Nevertheless, this is a welcome change from the quasi-theological market fundamentalist dogma of all the major conservative parties that are active in this part of Canada, all of which place the ideology of austerity ahead of evidence in economic matters, and even on topics such as the science of climate change when it intersects with their economic faith.

Media, of course, have not got the message — nor will they ever in their current state in Canada. This is more than a Labour Day project, of course, but progressive Canadians need urgently over the next couple of years to put their minds seriously to the creation of alternatives to the biased, dishonest, ideologically driven media that is pretty much all we have outside the blogosphere in Canada.

This war should be waged on two fronts: through the creation of alternatives and by an effort to defund corporate media. Defunding mainstream media starts with an end to union contributions to “Labour Day advertising specials” in publications that wage war all year round on the rights of working people. It also means saying No to tax supports for mainstream media that hope to use public subsidies and tax breaks to continue, ironically, their relentless crusade to turn Canada into a Darwinist market fundamentalist dystopia.

Nor can we expect Thinktankistan, Canada’s Republicanized conservative movement and the online rage machine to have a collective Road-to-Damascus moment when they are suddenly overcome by an urge to speak up for ordinary Canadian working people.

No, we’re going to have to do this on our own — and this means continuing to press governments we elected because they made progressive noises to behave in progressive ways, and standing up to the hysterical tantrums of the Organized Right who are stuck in the Anger phase of coming to terms with their recent election losses.

And it means making hay while the sun shines, even if it’s only shining a little. That means pressing governments like Alberta’s NDP not to tarry and to get on with the vital task of reforming labour law, but also preparing our plans for resistance for the inevitable day the conservative movement is able to buy another election … or even to win one honestly.

Still, you’ve got to admit, even if the forecast for Edmonton holds and it rains today, it’s a sunnier Labour Day than we’ve had for a decade, simply because we don’t face an existential threat from an autocratic far-right government in Ottawa.

Sunny ways? Well, Trudeau’s government is far from perfect from the perspective of Labour — squishy on temporary foreign workers and unemployment insurance, and far too enthusiastic about the corporate rights charters masquerading as trade agreements — but it’s sure a vast improvement over what we had on Labour Day 2015.

Next door in Saskatchewan, Brad Wall continues to misbehave — although there are signs voters there are finally starting to cotton on to what he’s been up to.

Still, it’s nice for the first time in a long time to be able to put the Labour back in Labour Day, and celebrate our victories even as we contemplate what needs to be done in the future.

Speaking of which, as it has for several years, the Edmonton and District Labour Council will be handing out burgers, fruit and juice to the unemployed and underemployed in Giovanni Caboto Park from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. Volunteers are always needed.

As J.S. Woodsworth — the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, forerunner to the NDP – said, “What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.”

That is why Labour in Alberta fights for a fair $15 minimum wage — to the fury of all the usual suspects on the right — when there’s not much in it for unions or their members if you only look at them from the perspective of the business they’re in, negotiating contracts for members and enforcing them.

But there’s more to the Labour movement than just business. We do it because it’s a step toward a healthier society, toward a better world. As Billy Bragg sings, “Who’ll defend the workers who cannot organize when the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?”

What we desire for ourselves and for everyone else is more than a couple of burgers and a can of fruit juice, of course, but they’re a symbol, and a start.

Happy Labour Day!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...