Thousands mark workers’ rights at annual Labour Day Parade

Thousands of people joined the annual Labour Day Parade on Monday, as Torontonians marched in solidarity with members of the organized labour movement in a celebration of workers’ rights.

Mayor John Tory also joined the parade and extended best wishes to all workers, while urging employers — both in government and the private sector — to take a unified approach in dealing with conflicts.

“Attacking labour is a very big mistake because these are people who do a great job for us, whether it’s in our school system, working for the city, working for various companies that are unionized,” Tory said on Monday.

“They are committed to safe work, they are committed to good training and they are increasingly partners for governments and for companies in getting the job done. So to me, picking fights with them . . . is a big mistake.”

‘Sit down and reason together’

Tory also had some words of advice for Premier Doug Ford, even as the mayor acknowledged that the Ontario Premier is faced with some very hard decisions.

“Premier Ford has some tough decisions to make but I think there are ways you can make those decisions that don’t involve huge conflicts with people,” Tory said.

“I think you can sit down and reason together.”

This year, Labour Day is celebrating 125 years, with a focus on the strength and solidarity of workers.

The parade travelled along Queen Street from University Avenue, and parade participants entered the CNE around 11 a.m.

John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, says Premier Doug Ford’s government has been making some “terrible” decisions when it comes to the rights of workers.

“[They’re making] cuts to healthcare, attacking our education system, stripping away the rights of some of the lowest wage workers in Ontario, and taking over our transit system, gutting our democracy. [We’re] raising our voices to say no.”

Looking ahead, Cartwright  said the labour movement wants a Canada after the upcoming federal election “that will stand up for working people, that will not shirk its responsibility to take climate action and that will not be driven by people that want to divide us based on race, religion, place of origin. We are all Canadians.”

Taking strike votes

Meanwhile, with schools set to reopen on Tuesday, Labour Day is almost like New Year’s Eve in the education sector.

But it was not all celebration for CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, which represents members who work in public, Catholic, French and English school boards.

President Laura Walton said they are taking strike votes across the province.

“We answered the call to start bargaining early when the government declared it. We committed to bargaining, we’ve had almost two weeks of bargaining with the government and unfortunately we’ve reached a bit of a stalemate,” Walton told CBC Toronto.

“So we want to go across the province and ensure our members are standing strong behind us. We have a no concession mandate and we provide really key services in these communities and what we need the government and the trustees associations to understand is that our job security is also the security for the services that we provide to our students, our schools and our communities.”

A day to take stock

In a statement on Monday Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton said today is a day to take stock and to recognize many hard-fought wins workers across the province have gained over the years.

McNaughton, who joined thousands of workers to march in Toronto, said workers want to be treated right, paid fairly and come home safe after a hard day’s work.

“In the nearly 150 years since the first Ontario workers went on strike to demand a nine-hour work day, we have made significant progress,” McNaughton said.

“We now have paid vacations, public holidays, overtime pay, and robust health and safety regulations. We continue to improve our labour and employment laws to ensure workers and businesses in this province can thrive.”

But McNaughton said there is still more work to do.

“Worker safety must be an absolute priority for all of us,” he said, while noting that 24 young people lost their lives in work-related accidents between 2014 and 2018.

The province says McNaughton is the first Ontario Labour Minister to march alongside workers during the parade in recent years.

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