Today’s youth, however, are predicted to become the first generation in history to face a lower standard of living than their parents' generation.

For the better part of the last century, high school students could expect to graduate into well-paid jobs in manufacturing or other sectors that allowed them to buy a home and support a family. Their counterparts today are graduating from college or university with mortgage-sized debts, only to wind up stagnating in low-paying and precarious jobs that offer little room for advancement.

Simply put, unions are a vehicle for collective action and creating the good jobs that built today’s middle class and will support tomorrow’s families.

Current labour market

At the root of this reversal of fortunes are current labour market trends that are creating greater income inequality, undermining job security, driving wages down and quashing the hopes and aspirations of young workers. But the good news is that these trends are not natural or inevitable, and that means they can be changed. Working together, community groups and labour unions are calling on politicians at every level to adopt a new vision for economic growth that puts the creation of good jobs at the centre of a long-range plan to lift every Ontarian.

Doing so requires us to strengthen public policy in order to prevent the encroachment of a low-wage agenda. There are three important steps that we can take.

Working together, community groups and labour unions are calling on politicians at every level to adopt a new vision for economic growth that puts the creation of good jobs at the centre of a long-range plan to lift every Ontarian.

Three changes

First, we need to increase the minimum wage to raise the bar for everyone. This requires an immediate increase to $14 per hour with annual adjustments for increases in the cost of living.

With a greater number of people earning the minimum wage than ever before, this will lift the working poor above the poverty line and enable them to spend more money in their communities.

Second, we must enhance protections for migrant workers. Whether you know it or not, in nearly every sector, the expanding number of migrant workers is driving down wages and working conditions.

Take, for example, the fact that during the height of the recession, while Ontario’s economy was shedding over 164,000 net jobs over 60,000 migrant workers still entered the province on temporary work permits. This allows employers to side-step the immigration process, employment standards and prevailing wages and it has a negative impact on every worker in Ontario.  

Third, we have to bolster workers’ rights and enhance their ability to join a union. Current efforts to limit union representation are motivated by a corporate desire to silence the collective voice of workers and erode employment standards, wages and benefits.

Current efforts to limit union representation are motivated by a corporate desire to silence the collective voice of workers and erode employment standards, wages and benefits.

Counter-balance

In workplaces across Ontario, unions provide a counter-balance to the unchecked power of corporations while, in communities, they defend the public interest by promoting public pensions, equal pay for women and support for unemployed workers. Simply put, unions are a vehicle for collective action and creating the good jobs that built today’s middle class and will support tomorrow’s families.

As Canadians celebrate the end of summer over the Labour Day weekend, it is an important opportunity to reflect on the kind of economic future we want for ourselves and for the next generation. It is time that we demand that people are put at the centre of Ontario’s growth.