Now is the time to fight for workers and to build worker power.
Unifor members, leaders and supporters marched the streets of downtown Toronto in the 151st annual Labour Day parade – themed "Year of the union" – and celebrated Unifor’s 10th anniversary.
“Ten years ago, Unifor was born as a radical act of hope and solidarity and we have not stopped fighting since,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne in her speech. “It’s been incredible. Right now, in this world, what a time it is to fight for working people.”
Payne applauded the collective efforts at Unifor and its 3,700 Metro grocery store members who ratified a historic collective agreement after organizing 27 picket lines during the month-long strike in the Greater Toronto Area.
“I’m sure Metro was not prepared for that,” said Payne. “The members have to consider what they have done here – they have not just raised the bar for themselves, they have raised it for grocery store workers everywhere. The other two [grocery chains] should be on notice now, especially Loblaws. Because, you’re next.”
Activists met at Nathan Phillips Square and joined with other unions, drummers and supporters, chanting, cheering, and waving banners and flags as they marched to Exhibition Place.
“This Labour Day, let’s celebrate the renewed militancy that we’re seeing among the working class right now, because it is something to be proud of,” said Payne.
“When we build power for workers, when we build solidarity, we can change things for the better. It is the most important tool we have to organize. When we change the conditions of work, we truly can change the conditions of the world.”
Newly-elected Unifor Ontario Regional Director Samia Hashi told the crowd Labour Day is a time to celebrate the labour movement's victories and successes, remember the sacrifices, and honour the hard work and dedication previously made by millions of workers who fought for better labour conditions.
“This has been an extraordinary year for Unifor and mobilization and unity,” she said.
“When we stand shoulder-to-shoulder we do more than just move mountains. We redefine the landscape of possibility. We are making noise in every part of our community, so no one can ignore us. Let’s make it clear to big business that we are here, we are united and we’re not going anywhere.”
Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Len Poirier and Quebec Regional Director Daniel Cloutier celebrated Labour Day at the union’s Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ont. during the Retired Workers Council.
“Today, Labour Day, recognizes the collective power of solidarity from the labour movement,” said Poirier. “Together, with our members and retirees, we are stronger than ever.”
Cloutier echoed the message of worker power.
“This Labour Day, we must acknowledge that there is no other time. We have to fight. We have to fight for future generations and ourselves – and now,” he said.
In Western Canada, Unifor members in Winnipeg, Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, and Edmonton participated in family-friendly barbecues and picnics to mark Labour Day.
Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle attended a large gathering of members at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver. Members and their families got a break from work to enjoy the fair while raising the profile of Unifor.
“In Metro Vancouver, we’re bringing together hundreds of Unifor members and their families as we’ve done in the past, but this year we’re going to give a boost to the historic organizing drive at Amazon distributing promotional t-shirts to members to wear at the PNE,” said McGarrigle.
Meanwhile, Unifor Atlantic Regional Director Jennifer Murray joined a member-led rally in Fredericton, N.B. to support 2SLGBTQIA+ students in the continued fight against harmful changes to public education policy, before hitting a Labour Day celebration in Saint John, N.B. on Monday.
“Unifor has been vocal and active across the Atlantic Region this year, including leading a rejection of homophobic and transphobic meddling by the Premier of New Brunswick over Policy 713,” said Murray.
“We are now seeing these divisive tactics being used by other conservative premiers and it’s more important than ever that workers stand together to push society toward equity and inclusion. Our fight is not and should not be against each other, it’s against corporate greed.”
Murray added that standing up for members’ rights is what the union does.
“Our members know they have 315,000 Unifor friends beside them whether they’re fighting for improved wages or standing up against bullies,” she said. “And that’s worth taking a moment to celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll continue the fight!”
Toronto’s first Labour Day parade took place in December 1872 and was organized by what was then the Toronto Trades and Labour Assembly and staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour workweek.
On July 23, 1894, Prime Minister John Thompson's government made Labour Day an official holiday, moving it to the first Monday of September, with subsequent parades being held on the new date.
Watch Unifor National President Lana Payne’s message in a new video celebrating Labour Day.