A Different Take On Labor Day -- No Worker Left Behind

We cannot fight for worker rights and honor labor without fighting for climate justice.
Bilan Arte
September 4, 2017
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Everyone gets a day off for Labour day, right?

Wrong.

There’s no doubt the labour movement in North America has made countless strides and gains over the last century, from the weekend to the eight hour work day, to paid maternity leave and increases to minimum wage. But there are still too many workers left behind.

Care workers, service workers, precarious workers, migrant workers, homeless workers, undocumented workers, Indigenous workers, young workers, sex workers, racialized workers, disabled workers, queer and trans workers and many other workers on the margins of our society don’t even have the luxury of stable employment or an organized workplace, much less a guaranteed day off on Labour Day. 

This reality isn’t news if your life looks anything like mine did growing up. As a young Black child from a Muslim and refugee household in Canada, I witnessed my mother working every single day of my entire life to feed, clothe and house me and my four siblings. Be it weekends, evenings or holidays, I never saw her take a single day off.

25 years later, gratitude cannot even begin to describe my feelings for my mother’s tireless efforts to keep us alive. Today, I am the first person in my family to have graduated from university. I now have a full-time job with the privilege of a paid day off this Labour Day, and a chance to reflect on the state of workers on our changing planet.

I’ll be honest –  I’m worried.

I’m worried because our climate is changing and we have political leaders who either deny the reality of this crisis or are in denial about how much we really need to do to respond. All the while, our economy and our workplaces are headed for a massive transition that will impact the livelihoods of marginalized communities the hardest.

I’m worried because we are still not seriously planning for this transition. And we are quickly losing time.

This Labour day, we have an opportunity to frame our celebrations in a different way.

We can claim, boldy, loudly and proudly, that a workers rights celebration cannot leave any of our communities behind.

We can connect the fight for a safe climate with the struggle of workers by embracing the cause of climate justice.

We can recognize the leadership of communities that may be at the margins of our society but have been on the front lines of climate justice work for generations.

Naomi Klein put it best when she said, “Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices — from racial profiling to economic austerity — that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes.” [1]

We cannot wait for governments to take action: everyday people like us can be part of building the solution. Through grassroots organizing and pooling of resources, a people-powered movement can build a world that cares for all of us and all of the work that we do. This is the vision put forth by many organizations, including where I work at The Leap.

From Alberta, to Nebraska, to Thunder Bay and Los Angeles, communities across North America are powering a vision for climate justice.  A vision of a world in which we care for the earth and one another. A world where we get serious about fighting the climate crisis and plan for a just transition that creates huge numbers of good jobs. 

I feel both the pride and the weight of my achievements in my family. And I work to honour the tireless labour of love from my mother on this day, by working towards an economy that includes her, and countless others like her in our workforce. 

Are you ready to be part of a just transition? 

In solidarity,

Bilan

FOOTNOTES

[1] Naomi Klein, “Harvey Didn’t Come Out Of The Blue. Now is The Time To Talk About Climate Change”, The Intercept, August 28, 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/08/28/harvey-didnt-come-out-of-the-blue-now-is-the-time-to-talk-about-climate-change/(Accessed August 29, 2017)

September 4, 2017