Labour Day 2018

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A Labour Day parade in Toronto in the early 1900's. Photo from the City of Toronto archives via Wikimedia Commons.

The Labour Day weekend… yay, a long weekend!

The origins of Labour Day in Canada come from the late 1800s with the Nine Hour Movement started in Hamilton and the 1872 Printer’s strike in Toronto, at a time when unions were illegal. In those days wage workers were on the job 6 days a week and typically worked much longer than 9 hours a day.

Then on July 23, 1894, the government of Prime Minister John Thompson made Labour Day official here in Canada. However, around the world, Labour Day is more typically marked on May 1, celebrated as Labour Day, Workers Day or May Day. The Peterborough & District Labour Council is planning to join the rest of the world next spring with a few events that mark the gains workers have made, and highlight their need for continued union protection.

The need for unions is highlighted this week with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce calling on the government to roll back the small gains workers received in the previous government’s Bill 148: Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which brought improvement for the first time in a generation to the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act.

But, the Chamber need not worry: the labour movement understands the current provincial government has already set its sights on rolling back the gains for workers. And the labour movement will be at Queen’s Park and at our local MPPs’ offices working hard to make sure the improvements aren’t rolled back.

A Labour Day parade in Toronto in 2011. Photo by CAW Media [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

We have been lobbying the federal government for a number of years now to bring in Pharmacare to Canada. We are the only developed country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t include a universal prescription drug plan. Our patchwork prescription drug system is inefficient and expensive.

Canadians aren’t benefitting from the current system, but pharmaceutical and private insurance companies are. Pharmaceutical companies can charge higher prices for drugs because they sell to so many buyers. Private insurance companies benefit by charging employers, unions and employees to administer private drug insurance plans.

We think it’s time for Canada to catch up to our peers. It’s time to complete the unfinished business of our medicare system with a universal prescription drug plan that will save money through bulk purchasing power.

In New Zealand, where a public authority negotiates on behalf of the entire country, a year’s supply of the cholesterol-busting drug Lipitor costs just $15 a year, compared to $811 in Canada. It just makes sense then that Canada needs to combine the purchasing power of all Canadians under one plan. An annual investment of $1 billion by the federal government will mean Canadians save $7.3 billion a year on the medications they need.

So yes, as we spend Labour Day with family and friends we celebrate the historical gains made by the labour movement and prepare to work to keep those improvements.