Ontario teachers protest legislation imposing wage freeze (Aug 28, 2012)
Every year, Labour Day signals the final long-weekend for school children and teachers in Québec and Canada. But, lest we forget, let’s take a moment to remember what this holiday represents and why it is important.
First, let’s look at a little history. Labour Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in Canada since the 1880s. Celebrated in countries throughout the world, it has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the struggle to achieve an eight-hour workday. In fact, according to Wikipedia, it is the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike of 1872 and its fight for a 58-hour work-week that is at the origin of Labour Day in Canada. In order to fight the strike of 1872, anti-union laws were enacted that criminalized union activity.
The days of anti-union laws may be gone but they have been replaced by increasingly frequent legislation that prematurely ends the collective bargaining process and questions workers’ right to strike. Flashforward almost a century and a half to today and we see that working conditions have increased significantly. Salary, benefits and working conditions have improved, despite the heavy resistance that labour unions meet while advocating better working conditions for their members. Nevertheless, despite these gains we are still far from a Utopia as last week’s Global News’ article Ontario Teachers Rally to Protest Legislation Imposing Wage Freeze proves. (To read the Canadian Teachers’ Federation view on the matter visit their press release here.)
Unions continue to represent their members today, mostly through the collective bargaining process. However, it is important to be vigilant in order to maintain the rights acquired by our fore bearers. Today in education, the threat of a College of Teachers, charter schools and merit pay are offered by well-intentioned advocates of educational change (sometimes for its own sake) and need to be seriously questioned.
So why do we celebrate Labor Day? As a statutory holiday it is important to thank Canadian workers for all the hard work they do. It is also a reminder to us all, of the importance of solidarity when working towards a common goal.
“Je me souviens” – Quebec’s motto