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September 3, 2004

Canadian Labour Congress chief delivers Labour Day message

Unions carry torch for workers, leader says

BY GRANT CAMERON

STAFF WRITER

Working people in Canada have faced difficult times over the last 10 years, but unions have made a difference and will be carrying the torch for them in the future, Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents three million workers across the country, promised in a Labour Day message.

“In Canada today, almost one in three workers is unionized because unions make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

“Unions continue to work hard to help employees get organized and enjoy the coverage of their own collective agreement.

“And, consistently, in opinion surveys, workers provide their unions with approval ratings above 75 per cent. What political party or business institution would not envy such approval ratings?”

Georgetti said workers at companies like Wal-Mart continue efforts to organize because unions make a difference.

“Unionized workers earn an average of $5 an hour more than their nonunion counterparts. They also tend to have more and better benefits like pensions, dental and drug plans, life and disability insurance, even scholarships for their kids.

“Just as important, they have more respect at work through better job security and lower levels of harassment and discrimination.”

Georgetti said things changed in the last decade and, for the first time in more than a generation, working people lost ground.

“Standards of living stalled,” he said.

“Important programs like unemployment insurance or public medicare slipped. Rising education and training costs meant fewer opportunities for our children. Governments, listening to powerful corporations, made tax cuts and other changes to policy that produced a windfall for the corporate sector and for the rich individuals who ran them.”

Meanwhile, said Georgetti, the value of stock options, bonuses and other schemes CEOs and other heads of business used to pay themselves shot through the roof.

And, when the market caught up with the indecency of it all, working people ended up paying the bills, he said.

“Too many lost incomes, benefits, and retirement savings.”

Now, he said, people worry about the future, their jobs and retirement.

“Many worry about access to training and post-secondary education and the kind of jobs that will be there for their children and grandchildren. Many wonder whether our health care system will be there for them when they need it, because they see the wait times, the growing cost of drugs, the regular de-listing of services and the eroding down-spiral of privatization.”

However, he said, those in the labour movement know it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Working Canadians know they will be seen, they will be heard and their presence will be felt wherever decisions are being made, as long as they enjoy membership in strong unions.”

Georgetti said politicians should remind themselves daily that the majority of the citizens of Canada are workers and they should focus on what is important to workers if they want the votes to say in power.

“In the coming months, Canadian labour will be the voice for the prime minister to hear, the voice of working citizens, with realistic solutions on the issues that are relevant to the vast majority,” he said.

The labour movement, he said, wants government action to protect pensions, to strengthen and expand medicare, to modernize employment insurance including its training components, and to repair Canada’s international reputation on workers’ rights.

Canadian workers and their unions know that to succeed, companies must share their success with the people that make it possible—the workers, said Georgetti.

“A pat on the back or a free hotdog at the summer picnic are not enough. The best workers in the world come from communities with good education and training opportunities, accessible and affordable health care, and the kind of economic security that comes from high wages and good pensions.

“The most productive workers in the world—not only for their employers, but for themselves—are unionized, because they know that from the shop floor to the floor of Parliament, unions make a difference in people’s lives.”

The Canadian Labour Congress is the national voice of the labour movement in Canada.

The organization brings together Canada’s national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 137 district labour councils.

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