Famous union organizer Joe Hill used to say the most radical thing that working folks can have is a long memory. Today as we prepare to celebrate another Labour Day, this message could not be more important.

Yet, how many people heading to the beach this Monday to enjoy the sunshine realize that they can do this because of the work of the trade union movement?  Yes, that’s right: the federal government introduced Labour Day after the movement fought many years for a holiday to honour working people and the contribution they make.

Working for all of us

For the last 100 years, union members have not only been walking the picket line, we have also been on the front line of improving the lives of all workers, whether they enjoy the benefits of belonging to a union or not. The 40-hour work week, which took years of fighting for, was won first by unions and then extended to all workers as unions pushed governments to make it the standard.

Safety laws that give all workers the right to refuse dangerous work, that provide compensation when workers are injured, and that set standards for hazardous materials were all fought for by the labour movement and won for all workers.

“These workers are fighting for more than just themselves. They are fighting for everyone… Including you and your kids.”

The list goes on. Public education and public healthcare are two fundamentals of a decent country, and both of these critical programs were brought in by governments feeling the heat from the trade union movement and progressive political parties.

The right to a fair wage — whether in a union or not — has been a rallying cry for the labour movement since the early days. Today more than 100,000 workers are receiving $10.25 an hour instead of $8 because of the campaign by the labour movement to raise the minimum wage. Now we are fighting to raise it to $13 an hour.

A benefit to us all

Whole communities benefit when union workers get a decent paycheque and retire with the dignity of a pension.  Many small business organizations have it wrong: it’s not good union wages, fair pension plans, or a higher minimum wage that should cause them worry — that’s what keeps their businesses going.  The economy stalls and business suffers when wages are low and workers only have enough money to scrape by.

Our history of struggle and our daily contribution to the well being of all the people in the province never make the headlines, but it is these efforts that ensure prosperity is possible and at least some of the wealth is shared with ordinary folks.

It would be great to say the fight was over. Although despite our obvious contribution, the attack on unions and good wages is unrelenting.

This Labour Day there are workers in B.C. who are not at the beach, but instead are walking the picket line. They’re fighting because they know providing quality services, like public education, is the way we give our kids the best opportunities to succeed. They’re fighting because they know contracting out of jobs hurts families, and that job security for workers benefits the local economy.

They are fighting because they know new employees should not be paid less, that selling out the next generation before they even arrive on the job is unfair and simply wrong.

These workers are standing up for more than just themselves. They are standing up for everyone...including you and your kids. So on Monday, take the day off. Enjoy yourself. The labour movement was happy to make it possible.