Each year, Labour Day weekend in Manitoba marks the end of the summer holidays and the beginning of a new season and changes in school and work.
Yet, some say the September holiday this year is more important than it’s ever been.
Janis Thiessen, a history professor at the University of Winnipeg, points to the “summer of strikes” across the province as a reason the history of Labour Day should be remembered in modern society.
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“With the circumstances in the province these past couple of years, it seems as though it’s becoming a little bit more of an activist holiday this year than it has in previous years,” she said.
Rotating strikes have been in the public eye throughout the province recently, as unionized Liquor Mart workers staged six weeks of job action over what they consider unfair wages, while Manitoba Public Insurance workers walked off the job last week for the same reason.
Bea Brusk, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said rotating strikes have come, in part, due to the affordability crisis plaguing households amid sky-high inflation.
“Every single worker understands that it’s been harder and harder to make ends meet. … The workers that are organized that are going to the bargaining table are getting much more public support than they have in the past,” he said.
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Thiessen said concerns regarding affordability have been building since well before the pandemic, but said some things workers are fighting for today go back to the earliest days of unions.
“One of the slogans at the time was eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will. And that has eroded as a result of technological change and globalization,” Thiessen said.
After being considered a “criminal conspiracy” by workers, unions became legal in 1872 and Canada officially marked Labour Day in 1894.
Striking has long been a right of unions, but this year job action has been acute across the country.
In spring, federal public servants led the largest strike in Canadian history, followed by a port worker strike in British Columbia, a strike by 3,000 Metro grocery workers in Toronto, and ongoing strike action from Ontario’s public broadcaster.
Elsewhere in Manitoba, strike action by Teranet, which provides services for Land Titles in the province, continues while 11,000 provincial civil servants may resort to strike action if a new contract isn’t negotiated soon.
Unionized workers at Winnipeg’s Celebrations Dinner Theatre, too, voted in favour of a strike to begin on Tuesday after rejecting a wage offer on Aug. 30.
Brusk says Labour Day is important in reminding workers of their value.
“We’re seeing that workers are understanding their power in a way that they haven’t before, and so they’re more willing to stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute, I deserve more,’” Brusk said.
— with files from Katherine Dornian
Summer of strikes
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