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Labour for $15 and fairness

Carolyn Egan

July 29, 2017

Another Labour Day is coming up at the beginning of September and in Toronto 25,000 union members are expected in the streets demonstrating for the $15 minimum wage and improvements to the Employment Standards Act and labour legislation. The very unpopular Liberal government is desperately trying to win support in the provincial election scheduled for 2108 and is tacking left. There is a strong response from business interests who want to maintain the status quo, the uneven playing field that exists between the working class and capital.

There has been a strong movement over the last number of years (particularly in the United States) for the $15 minimum wage. There have been significant victories led by low wages workers, for the mot part racialized women, who have brought the existing economic equality to the fore. We saw a winning campaign in Ontario for the $10 minimum wage a number of years ago, and the more recent fight back—the Fight for $15 and Fairness—has gained inspiration from the grassroots campaigns that have brought people out in cities across North America.

The fact that the provincial government is prepared at this stage to raise the rate to $14 an hour January 1, 2018 and to $15 on January, 2019 is a huge victory for the campaign in Ontario. It came about because of pressure from the community and supportive unions that have waged a consistent campaign along with workplace wins for $15 an hour such as we saw with Unite Here Local 75 at Aramark and the Mississaugua library CUPE workers among others.

We have to continue a strong fight to push back the influence of capital and the lies that business has been spreading about layoffs, rising prices etc. There is strong evidence that such a wage increase will only benefit the broader population and all of us should be in solidarity with the campaign doing all we can to maintain the momentum.

In the United Steelworkers in Toronto activists have been using the postcards (intended to be given to Members of Provincial Parliament made available by the Ontario Federation of Labour) to connect with rank and file workers. As one steward said, “It’s a conversation starter.” Members have been going from department to department engaging with fellow workers about the issues that are at stake. Many times these conversations lead to discussions on all types of other work place and political issues.

As a unit chairperson at a mattress manufacturing plant said, “ I make a good hourly wage but I have three sisters who work at Walmart. This will make a huge difference in their lives.” Many workers have relatives, sons, daughters or parents, who are making minimum wage, and the support is there when they are approached to help with the campaign.

Other proposed changes have not gone as far as we would like and we must continue to push for automatic card certification to make it easier to for all workers to organize, anti-scab legislation, more sick leave, and all the other demands that were fought for. We must also make absolutely sure the Liberals do not cave into the hysterical rants of the business community and back track on the potential improvements that have been announced.

Nothing can be left to chance. The provincial Liberals are vulnerable right now because of their low ratings in the polls. The campaign must continue to build the momentum so that concrete wins can be gained which will benefit the entire working class and in particular racialized women, who make up a significant proportion of those earning minimum wage. We can win this fight and when we do it will bring confidence to all of those fighting exploitation and oppression in our society.

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