Labour Day 2019
Vancouver and Surrey
The New Westminster and District Labour Council held its annual Labour Day Picnic on September 2 at Holland Park in Surrey.
Various community organizations and unions including the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Carpenters Union, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Federation of Post Secondary Educators set up information booths. The ILWU served hot dogs. An area was set aside for children’s games and entertainment.
The secretary-treasurer of the Labour Council, Janet Andrews, welcomed everyone by acknowledging that the picnic was taking place on unceded Indigenous land. She stated the labour movement is committed to true reconciliation and is working to get the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples implemented. According to Andrews the Labour Council represents 60,000 workers in 100 union locals covering 14 municipalities. She concluded by saying that members of Unite Here Local 40 may soon be taking strike action against several hotels.
The Left Coast Labour Chorus sang a number of union songs followed by a family of Indigenous drummers who sang several songs, one of which was sung in English telling how Indigenous peoples have always lived in harmony with Mother Nature, protecting the land and environment. The main speaker was BC Labour Minister Harry Bains who is also a Surrey MLA. He stated that Labour Day belongs to millions of workers “who built this province” and waged many hard fought struggles to get the labour movement to where it is today.
Activists of MLPC distributed copies of Renewal Update “Labour Day 2019 Uphold the Dignity of Labour! Defend the Rights of All!,” engaged workers in discussion and invited them to subscribe to Renewal Update. Later they distributed Renewal Update at the Vancouver and District Labour Council Labour Day rally and picnic at Jack Poole Plaza in downtown Vancouver.
More than 400 organizations and individuals have signed an open letter to the Attorney General of British Columbia, David Eby, and other federal and provincial government leaders, condemning the Canadian Border Services raid on the Hastings Racecourse on August 19, which resulted in the arrest of 26 migrant workers.
About a hundred people rallied on Labour Day outside the Hastings Racecourse where thousands of people were attending the final day of the Pacific National Exhibition. Speakers at the rally explained that seven workers have been sent to their home countries and barred from entering Canada for five years on the grounds that they allegedly had false registration cards. An employee of the BC Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch is under investigation with regards to the case.
The open letter entitled “Solidarity with Migrant Workers in Racecourse Raid,” which was endorsed by speakers at the rally, points out that the migrant workers, many of whom have been coming to Canada for many years, believed that the documents they had been given were legitimate and they do not deserve to be punished for the alleged actions of others.
The letter says, “In situations of investigations, workers — especially vulnerable workers — should not be punished or harmed for the actions of others. The provincial and federal government must protect these workers through open work permits and temporary resident permits, and allow them re-entry into Canada to continue to work.” The letter calls on all levels of government to reject military style raids and actions that fuel the forces of racism and xenophobia against migrant workers.
The letter concludes with the the demand for “the right to permanent landing status upon arrival for migrant workers, and full and equal access to social programs and employment standards…. We call on all levels of government to not divide workers from each other, to not leave any worker behind, to affirm decent work and universal quality services, and to ensure the protection of all workers.”
The Campbell River, Courtenay and District Labour Council organized a lively Labour Day Picnic at the Merville Hall. Steelworkers, miners, ferry workers, education, health care workers, many retirees and their families attended. They enjoyed a salmon barbecue and listened to speeches by Labour Council President Andrea Craddock, Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney. Music celebrating the struggles of workers for their rights was provided by Art Farquharson.
A common thread in the speeches and discussions during the day was the need for unity in action against employers who trample on workers’ rights and are attempting to take away gains that unions have achieved over many years. This is the situation facing forestry workers and miners in the region. Health care and education workers, including BC teachers, are also demanding increased funding for social programs and the reversal of the effects of the government attacks during the two decades long anti-social offensive of the ruling elite.
The current fight of BC Coastal Forestry workers, members of United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 was on everyone’s mind. Two thousand and six hundred members of the Local have been on strike against Western Forest Products since July 1. The company, which had net profit of $74.4 million and $69.2 million in 2017 and 2018 respectively, wants workers to accept a two-tier pay system for new employees, elimination of the current pension plan and other rollbacks of working conditions negotiated in the past. Steelworkers and their supporters at the picnic, expressed their determination to defeat this attack on their rights and the rights of all workers.
A successful Labour Day march and celebration was held in Prince George, BC, at the Canada Games Plaza. The event was organized by the Labour Day Organizing Committee and was sponsored by over 30 unions, labour organizations and community groups. It began with a march through downtown by 150 union and community members carrying picket signs and banners. Chants included “Fight for the Rights of All;” “Workers Unite, Keep Up the Fight;” “Manufacturing Yes, Mill Closures No;” “Our logs, Our Jobs;” “Who Decides, We Decide;” “Public Services Yes, Privatization No;” and “A Fair Canada for Everyone.”
The march was followed up with the celebration which began at 12 noon. In the course of the day, an estimated 2,000 people participated. The celebration included speakers, free food and snacks, music, games for kids, and display tables for unions, businesses, community groups, and political parties.
The event was chaired by co-hosts Heather Sapergia and Matt Baker from the Labour Day Organizing Committee. It started off with a performance by the Khast’an Drummers and was followed by welcomes by elder Darlene McIntosh, from the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, and Lyn Hall, mayor of Prince George, who noted the presence of Prince George city councilors Frank Everitt, Murry Krause, Terry McConachie, Cori Ramsay, and Susan Scott.
Throughout the afternoon, the bands Cottonwood and Far From Linear, along with folksinger Kevin Hutchings, entertained the crowd with popular, folk and labour songs.
Speakers included Natalie Fletcher from North Central Labour Council, Peter Ewart from the Labour Day Organizing Committee, Brian O’Rourke, president of USW Local 2017, and Sussanne Skidmore, Secretary-Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour.
Activities and discussion carried on for several hours after the presentations, with organizers already planning for next year’s Labour Day.