Unifor President Jerry Dias on giving thanks for what is possible

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On Monday, like millions of Canadians, I will sit down with my family to our annual Thanksgiving feast.

We’ll carve the turkey, pass the potatoes, tell stories and catch up on what’s been going on in each other’s lives. And we’ll reflect on the good things we have, giving thanks for them as we’ve done for many times on the first Monday in October.

Things like a good home and a family to share it with, and the ability to provide for that family and to help our children pursue the opportunities in their lives.

I’m also thankful for having been a member of a union which made all that possible. Having been a union member since I was 20 years old, I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a middle class life. As a union activist, I’ve been able to help others do the same.

By next Thanksgiving, I’d like more Canadians to be having a similar experience as they gather with their families for Thanksgiving.

But for this year, too many families are struggling in low-paying and precarious jobs that make it difficult -- if not impossible -- to provide a decent standard of living for their loved ones.

Take the difficulties facing a particular group of building cleaners in Vancouver right now. Already struggling to raise their families on $12.65 an hour in one of Canada’s most expensive cities, 150 of them stand to lose their jobs by the end of this month to a contractor paying as little as $10.50 an hour as the jobs are outsourced to a lower bidder

That’s 150 families thrown into crisis for a savings of just pennies per square foot of building cleaned. What kind of work will they find now, in a market with this kind of competitive pressure? What kind of life will they lead, and what kind of hope can they offer their children?

Canada needs to do better, and it can.

A week ago, Unifor helped mark the World Day for Decent Work, announcing it would convene a multi-stakeholder Good Jobs Summit to start a serious conversation about creating and sustaining decent work.

We need elected officials to help chart a path towards a good jobs future. But let’s not fool ourselves. Such a summit won’t be the solution we need -- it will be a start.

It took many years for Canada to fall to such a state where the best we seem to offer our young people is precarious jobs and an uncertain future. It will take hard work to dig ourselves out again.

Which is why we need to get to work right away.

We’ve learned over the years to lower our expectations. To expect less from our corporate leaders in terms of job opportunities or jobs with any kind of a real future like past generations have had. To expect less of governments when we need help in difficult times.

I think it’s time we start raising our expectations, and to believe that we can create jobs that pay fair wages, are safe and stable.

That’s why, if the federal government won’t lead the way, Unifor will. Last Monday, Unifor recommitted to holding a Good Jobs Summit within the year to start turning things around in this country. We want to build positive momentum and rekindle a belief in this country that we are capable of working together to create the kind of society we want for our children – one with jobs and opportunities on which they can establish a life for themselves.

Next year, I intend to be giving thanks for building towards that.

Jerry Dias is the National President of Unifor, formed Labour Day weekend by the merger of the CAW with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union of Canada, and is Canada’s largest union in the private sector with 300,00 members.

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