August, 2013

Labour Day message from Andrew Pritchard

As president of the North Okanagan Labour Council, Southern Interior Representative For Local 40 Unite Here Hospitality and food service industry workers and a member of the board of directors for the United Way, I have witnessed the benefits of having a unionized workforce.
For those that have long enjoyed such privileges as paid vacations, pensions and maternity leave, we should not forget that workers suffered or died to win these benefits. These are not just stories grandparents tell their grandkids -- they actually happened.
"The nine-hour movement" began in 1869 by the Typographical Union in Hamilton, Ont. The owners and employers of printing shops refused to agree to a 58-hour work week. Looking back at newspaper articles from that time and comparing them to recent comments from employers and government leaders now, the similarities are amazing. Lowering the work day to nine hours will ruin productivity, two consecutive days off will ruin the supply chain of goods to the common public.
We hear the same warnings now about raising minimum wage or providing workplace daycares. At the same time the gulf between the haves and the have nots grows ever wider.
"The only effective answer to organised greed is organised labour." -- Thomas Donahue
The employers refused to give ground for the nine-hour work day and on March 25, 1872, workers at The Toronto Globe went on strike. On April 14, of that year, a demonstration march was held. About 2,000 workers made their way through the city. Sympathetic onlookers swelled the crowd to almost 10,000 by the time they reached Queen's Park, Ontario's capital.
The demonstration was a success. On June 14, a labour friendly and politically savvy Sir John A. Macdonald passed the trade union act. It legalized and protected union activity. By 1872, almost all union shops had a 54 hour or less work week in their contracts.
Pressure was put on the Government of Canada to declare a national holiday for Labour Day, and on the July 23, 1894, the Government of Canada declared the first Monday of September as Labour Day. A long weekend was born.
The North Okanagan Labour Council is the umbrella group for labour unions in the North and Central Okanagan. Representing some 8,500 union members from over 40 local unions, we are a charter of the Canadian Labour Congress and affiliated with the BC Federation of Labour. We meet once per month with member delegates.
Our work includes supporting the efforts of local unions, providing and facilitating a network for labour within the Okanagan and British Columbia, and lobbying government on union and worker issues and legislation. The NOLC is working to build relationships in our communities, with municipal councils, union memberships and social justice organizations.
One long-standing partnership is between the Canadian Labour Congress and the United Way. Labour supports the work of United Ways in the Central and North Okanagan through workplace campaigns.
United Way programs support working-class and lower-income members of our communities in diverse ways. The NOLC participates in campaign events and union members are encouraged to fundraise and donate through payroll deduction.
-- Andrew Pritchard


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