Workers often toiled 10 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week in the 19th century. In the decades that followed the Great Depression, unions won higher wages and better working conditions for their members.
Although much denigrated by the right these days, union activists are, as the old saying notes, “the people who brought you the weekend.”
The right apparently wants you to believe that the weekend is now out of date.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, along with influential members of the corporate and media world, are hostile to unions, rarely missing an opportunity to portray union leaders as autocratic “bosses.”
Yet, if you’re middle class, a union probably helped you or your ancestors get there. In the 19th century, workers typically toiled 10 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week. Unions fought to change that. In the decades that followed the Great Depression, unions won higher wages and better working conditions for their members, setting a standard with ripple effects that led to a better deal for all workers.
But in recent decades, many of the precious, hard-fought union gains — job security, workplace pensions, as well as broader social goals like public pensions and unemployment insurance — have been under fierce attack by the corporate world (where workers really are under the thumb of unelected “bosses”).
Part of the strategy has been to pit worker against worker. So, as private sector workers have lost ground, they’ve been encouraged to resent public sector workers, whose unions have generally been stronger and better able to protect them.
With workers increasingly baited into a dogfight against each other, it’s been easier to make the case that unions are no longer relevant.
But, given the intensity of the attack, unions are likely more necessary than ever. If you’ve grown attached to the weekend, not to mention the eight-hour day, this probably isn’t the time to throw unions under the bus.
In fact, they’re really the only organized line of defence against the broad right-wing assault on a wide range of social programs and government regulations important to most Canadians.
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