Every year, Labor Day weekend in Manitoba marks the end of summer vacation and the start of a new season and changes in school and work.
Still, some say this year’s September vacation is more important than ever.
Janis Thiessen, a history professor at the University of Winnipeg, points to “the summer of strikes” across the province as one reason why Labor Day history should remain in modern society.
“Given the circumstances in the province in recent years, it looks like it’s becoming a bit more of a militant party this year than in previous years,” she said.
Rotating strikes have been in the public eye recently across the province, as unionized Liquor Mart workers staged six weeks of job action over what they see as unfair wages, while workers at Manitoba Public Insurance walked off the job last week for the same reason.
Bea Brusk, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, said the rotating strikes took place, in part, because of the affordability crisis hitting households amid skyrocketing inflation.
“Every worker understands that it is increasingly difficult to make ends meet. … Unionized workers who come to the bargaining table receive much more public support than in the past,” he said.
Thiessen said worries about affordability grew long before the pandemic, but said some of the things workers are fighting for today date back to the early days of unions.
“One of the slogans of the time was eight hours to work, eight hours to rest, eight hours to whatever we want. And that has been eroded due to technological change and globalization,” Thiessen said.
After being considered a “criminal conspiracy” by workers, unions became legal in 1872 and Canada officially celebrated Labor Day in 1894.
Strike action has long been a trade union right, but this year strike action has been intense across the country.
In the spring, federal public servants led the largest strike in Canadian history, followed by a strike by port workers in British Columbia, a strike by 3,000 workers at Metro grocery stores in Toronto and an ongoing strike at the broadcaster Ontario public.
Elsewhere in Manitoba, the strike at Teranet, which provides land titles services in the province, continues while 11,000 provincial civil servants could go on strike if a new contract is not negotiated soon.
Unionized workers at Winnipeg’s Celebrations Dinner Theater also voted in favor of a strike that would begin on Tuesday after rejecting an Aug. 30 wage offer.
Brusk says Labor Day is important because it reminds workers of their worth.
“We’re seeing workers understand their power like they never have before, and so they’re more willing to stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute, I deserve more,’” Brusk said.
— with files by Katherine Dornian
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