For the first time in three years, working people from across Toronto and the GTA will be marching in celebration of Labour Day, marking the 150-year anniversary of this historic event. The city streets we return to this September, however, look quite different from when we left them in 2019. After three years of pandemic tragedy, job losses, rising inequality and uncertainty, it is clear we cannot continue down our current path. This Labour Day is a moment not just to reflect on the victories of labour’s past, but the struggles working people face today in this new normal, and how together we will build a new liveable city for all of us.
For a century and a half, workers have used this day as a moment to celebrate and reflect on how far we, and our city, have come. From major events like the Toronto General Strike of 1919 in support of the eight-hour work day to the Metro Days of Action in 1996 when we stood up to the Tory government, our message has always been one of solidarity with the people who built this city – those who not just work in it but make it work.
Time and again, we have shown our strength to persevere, our resolve to fight injustice, and our hope to build stronger communities. When I arrived in Canada from Jamaica as a teenager, this hope inspired me to become involved in my union. As president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council today, I fight on behalf of our 220,000 Members for racial, economic, social, and climate justice.
Even after 150 years of organizing, marching, and winning victories for people across Toronto, our work remains unfinished. The COVID-19 pandemic focused a spotlight on society’s inequities. Our city’s institutions are besieged by those who wish to dismantle what workers have fought so hard to build.
In the middle of a pandemic, healthcare workers are burned out.
As the school year begins, education is under attack.
With winter on its way, rents are skyrocketing.
People struggling to make ends meet are seeing costs go up.
When I speak to people about their concerns, I hear their frustration the loudest. They are angry, pushed to the brink by employers clawing back benefits, corporations squeezing their wallets, and governments quietly forcing austerity. We are witnessing the city services we built slip into disfunction by a callous, inept leadership that does not have our best interests at heart.
How do we charge ahead, using the foundations laid by those who came before us to build a more just and equitable society?
This Labour Day is historic not only because of the 150 years that came before it. Today the labour movement takes the next steps toward a more liveable region. During the pandemic, we have seen working people fight to save our public services. Together we will continue this struggle, because the only ones we can truly count on to get through these difficult times are each other.
On this day we are marching for high quality public healthcare and for paid sick days. We are marching for quality publicly-funded education, higher ODSP, and greater investments in public services. We are marching for fair treatment of marginalized communities, fair collective agreements, and good jobs for all. We are marching for each other, and for you. We are marching to remind workers it is critical they vote in this October’s municipal elections. We will fight for what we need now and drive demand for worker-friendly change.
It was hope that brought me into the labour movement. The sacrifices I saw my fellow hotel workers make every day for their families’ better future, and the solidarity in our mutual struggles, kept me in this movement. I am inspired by the path labour has walked and the challenges we have overcome to march together this Labour Day. Workers are winners. We are proud of the work we do, the battles we fought, and the victories we have won. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to the next generation, to build a liveable city for all of us.
Our city’s best years still lie ahead. Together we are marching toward them.
Toronto & York Region Labour Council