On International Workers’ Day, let’s focus on achieving equality for everyone

In a year when most federal public service employees are preparing to negotiate new collective agreements, International Workers’ Day on May 1 has taken on special significance. It is an opportunity for us to celebrate the importance of certain truly Canadian values: the spirit of sharing, equal opportunity, the role government must play in redistributing wealth through a system of taxation that takes from the rich and provides assistance to the poor, and respect for fundamental rights, such as the right to freely negotiate terms and conditions of employment.

For many years now, we have been exposed to a constant stream of rhetoric from a segment of society that believes smaller government is better, considers austerity the only way to deal with economic crises, and thinks taxation is a burden to be reduced at all costs. The present government has largely embraced these views; consequently, it is stifling the machinery of government, lowering tax revenues by handing out gifts to big business and turning a blind eye to the tax avoidance and optimization techniques employed by the corporate sector and the country’s richest individuals.

We are then asked to believe that a wealthy society such as Canada can no longer afford to subsidize public housing or increase retirement pension benefits, that it has no choice but to turn the CBC into a shadow of its former self, that it must consider privatizing Canada Post, and that cuts to direct services to Canadians are unavoidable. The arguments trotted out by these proponents of economic liberalism put up a smokescreen about how the government must be fair to taxpayers, while downplaying the fact that it is ordinary Canadians who must shoulder the cost of these measures.

To achieve their goals, they are constantly pitting taxpayers against public service workers, claiming that the changes made to our labour laws and the collective bargaining system, as well as the statutory changes that have weakened the power of unions, are necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers.

Next year, at the ballot box, we will have an opportunity to tell the government exactly what we think or their actions. But it is important for people in a democracy to express their views more often than once every four years. On May 1, a number of groups will take advantage of the May Day celebrations to condemn the government’s austerity policies, the vindictive legislative changes affecting public service unions and privatization initiatives, as well as to champion many other causes.

CAPE and several other public and private sector unions will be involved. In particular, we urge you to participate in the march being organized in Ottawa by Solidarity Against Austerity; several of CAPE’s National Capital Region Locals will be there. Take a look at the list of activities provided below. I would encourage you not just to participate, but to join with the courageous individuals who are working to organize these marches, demonstrations and celebrations in order to guarantee their success.

Have a happy May Day.

Claude Poirier

Activities on May 1st