Heroes Of The Holiday

The stooges and shills hate organized labour. Don’t fall for their self-serving spin

Labour Day | by Stephen Whitworth

The Labour Day weekend is great time to celebrate organized labour’s historic achievements. From shorter work weeks to weekends, from holidays to higher wages, from laws that protect workers from injury to rules that deter discrimination and abuse, labour movement activists and agitators have fought for — and won — a better deal, not just for working people but Canadians as a whole.

Even in our current 40-plus year Neoliberal spiral of social program cuts, reckless privatization and policies that benefit the super-wealthy at the expense of the majority, Labour’s historic transformation of society into a more equitable shape stands. Imperfect, yes, weakened and besieged, definitely. But largely, and likely for at least a little longer, it stands.

I’m not sure Canadians spend enough time appreciating these victories or the heroes that earned them.

More importantly, I don’t think Canadians put nearly enough thought into how unions continue to be the last line of defence against the often-shitty aspirations of the super-wealthy class and their various shills.

What’s the labour movement fighting for in 2019? What isn’t it fighting for? Check out the press releases on the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour’s website (sfl.sk.ca). There’s calls for universal pharmacare. There are demands for action against domestic violence, and the poverty and social conditions that fuel it. There’s calls for progressive taxation and public sector investment. And there’s repeated demands for a $15 minimum wage — a smart way to put more money in the pockets of low-income earners.

These are all bread-and-butter ideas that would make most people’s lives better. And Labour is unambiguously in support of them.

Let’s talk about the fight for $15. Given corporate media’s stranglehold on public discourse, we probably all know the knocks on a $15 minimum wage: “It will drive companies out of business!” “It will kill jobs!” “It will send inflation through the roof!” Postmedia newspapers are bloated with stale-dough-scented stooges who make these arguments — all of which conveniently serve the interests of this country’s wealthiest people (surely a coincidence).

The truth is different. Take New York, which increased the minimum wage to $15 to start 2019, up from $7.25 in 2013. A recent Business Insider story cited a National Employment Law Project study that showed the city’s restaurant scene was booming. That may or may not be because of the pay hike, but one thing’s for certain: the higher minimum wage didn’t slaughter jobs like its critics — not at all self-servingly, I’m sure — warned.

Results are promising in other places that have boosted their minimum wage, too. Seattle’s cruising alone. Alberta went to $15/hour in 2018, capping an aggressive three-year move by Rachel Notley’s NDP government. According to a Parkland Institute study, this same stretch saw an increase in service industry jobs in that province. Unfortunately, we might never know how Alberta’s experiment would have played out, because voters spooked by a wobbly oil economy wimped out in this year’s provincial election and installed oleaginous United Conservative polyp Jason Kenney as premier. Kenney immediately rolled back the minimum for workers under 18, and announced a review of the wage (which we’re all confident will be fair and fact-based).

That’s democracy in a petrocracy for ya. “Business running government,” as those characters like to boast.

The important point stands: take an issue, any issue, and look where the unions stand on it. Almost always, they stand on the same side as the poor, the discriminated against, the injured and the vulnerable. And they do this while landing good wages for their members.

Sure, organized labour isn’t perfect. Sure, that one trade unionist you know is an ignorant, racist, loud-mouthed dickface who literally shit in your sink after the Rider game that one time.

But more often than not, Saskatchewan’s labour movement is fighting the good fight for all of us. We should remember that when the stooges trash unions.

Something to think about on our statutory holiday Monday. Cheers!