On Labour Day, you, the worker, will be inundated with messages, newspaper ads, radio spots, and corporate or union social media statuses telling you what Labour Day is.
“Labour Day is a recognition of what workers have gained…”
“On this Labour Day, we recognize the hard work of our employees…”
“Labour Day is a time to celebrate…”
And so on. Et cetera. “Hard work pays off,” declares Facebook, patronizingly.
There are times, perhaps, when Labour Day is something to celebrate.
And then there are times like the present, when Labour Day is not about celebrating, because there is little to celebrate — when Labour Day is a battle cry.
A battle for dignity, security, and happiness
There is little to celebrate in a country where the attacks on workers by rich and entitled elites have become more brazen than ever. Despite there being more wealth generated than ever before, workers and their families and communities see less and less of that wealth. It’s more difficult than ever to get a raise, to buy a house, to secure a permanent job where you have no fear or uncertainty about your employment status a year from now.
Unions brought you the weekend, and corporate greed did away with it. In today’s world workers are expected to be on call around the clock, and available for call-in shifts with little to no notice. Health plans are becoming harder to find; good pension plans all but impossible.
Labour Day is a battle cry, because no matter what rich corporations and their political stooges tell us, we all do deserve to live in comfort and dignity.
For some, Labour Day has become balloons, parades and barbecues — patronizing ads in newspapers telling workers that their work is appreciated by their companies. It’s not; if the labour of today’s working class was appreciated it would be in the form of pay raises, longer vacations, stronger pensions and no need to provide a doctor’s note when you’ve got the flu.
Labour Day is the struggle for dignity, security, and happiness. In a world where people are led to expect precariousness and uncertainty, where they’re taught to believe that no job is secure and no future is guaranteed, Labour Day is the day we remind ourselves that a world is possible where we can have the jobs, the homes, the lifestyles, and the old age that we want.
Labour Day is a battle cry, and that cry assumes many forms and faces. It’s inshore fishery boats blockading the harbour to protest government collusion with the industrial fishing fleets dragging our ocean floors. It’s megaprojects ground to a halt because workers refuse to work unless corporate bosses respect their obligation to hire local Indigenous workers. It’s unemployed oil sands workers organizing to demand divestment from fossil fuels and re-investment in sustainable energy.
Labour Day is a battle cry, and that cry is for solidarity. It’s workers at discount department stores pocketing the goods they cannot buy because their bosses pay them slave wages; it’s bus drivers taking on passengers, even when they can’t pay their fares; it’s cashiers turning a blind eye when poor parents slip diapers into their handbags because they can’t afford to buy them. If actions like these are perceived as crimes, they pale by comparison to the bigger crimes which make them necessary: the impoverishment of our society by rich elites who transfer money from the public to the private purse. Depriving workers of higher earnings, secure livelihood and decent benefits is theft from our collective present-day society. Depriving youth of education, and depriving the unemployed of decent jobs is theft from our collective future.
Labour Day is a battle cry for solidarity, for decency, and for dignity. It’s doctors refusing to charge sick patients; EI staff signing off on their clients without performing the intrusive investigations the politicians demand; supervisors looking the other way when workers deal with the urgent demands of their personal lives rather than fulfil the arrogant work demands of their over-entitled bosses.
Despite there being more wealth generated than ever before, workers and their families and communities see less and less of that wealth.
Because no, the work corporate bosses do is not special, it does not require special talents, and it does not justify their inflated salaries. The wages of corporate bosses and political elites, and the tax breaks they demand and often receieve, are a form of theft from the public purse. And when the public is robbed, the public has the right to strike back with whatever tools it can.
In the past century the tools of that struggle have been the burning barrel, the baseball bat, the ballot box. Now the tools of struggle have proliferated. They include the whistleblower’s leaked documents, the woman firefighter’s sexual harassment complaint, the trans worker’s human rights lawsuit, the hacker’s hacked website.
They include the amassed power of the workers who can tolerate the arrogance of management no longer and launch a wildcat strike. They include the collective rage of Indigenous protestors who block a pipeline because the profits of a few white bosses do not justify the poisoning of a community’s water supply—you cannot labour if you are dying of mercury poisoning. They include the justified fury of black workers who blockade a police station, because black lives matter, because you cannot labour with dignity in a police state and because you cannot labour at all if you are dead.
They include the occupied square and the occupied legislature. Because it is not a democracy if the spaces of power are not occupied by the people.
When the people occupy spaces of power, political scientists call it ‘direct democracy’ or ‘popular protest’.
We call it democracy.
Labour Day is a battle cry, and when the trumpets cease to thunder and the marching boots can no longer be heard shaking the pavement, then we know it has fallen to us to raise the cry and breathe life back into the struggle.
Labour Day is a battle cry because life should not have to be a battle — not a battle to survive, nor a battle to live in decency and comfort, nor a battle to raise and educate our children, nor a battle to live out our final years with dignity.
Labour Day is a battle cry because despite a century of technological advancements which should have made life easy and comfortable, life is instead a greater struggle than ever—and this is because those advancements have been co-opted to serve the interests and profits of a few at the expense of the many.
Labour Day is a battle cry, and although the cry comes in many tongues and many ways and many forms, they all cry for the same thing: dignity, security, and happiness.
Labour Day is a battle cry, and until the battle for dignity, security, and happiness is won, we will continue to cry, and rage, and howl, and heal, and help, and hinder, and sabotage, and wage battle however we can.
Labour Day is a battle cry. And today, and tomorrow, and until it is won, the battle goes on.