Today is May Day. International Worker’s Day.
Today, I got fired.
I got fired less than a month after organising a successful Union drive at my workplace. I got fired with no notice, no cause, and no mercy.
This is not my first experience with an unjust termination. Working as an organiser in political workplaces leaves ones vulnerable to winds of change, and following my last experience I believed it to be crucial to the job security of myself and my colleagues to have the force of a Union by our side.
Indeed, my employers just proved it was the right thing to do.
Last time, I had to tackle my termination and the months leading up to it on my own. Last time, I had to dig deep into my savings (read: credit) to solicit the services of a lawyer. Last time, I endured months of anxiety and psychological turmoil as I grappled to learn everything I needed to know to ensure that my basic rights as a worker were respected.
That process has yet to end. I am still going at it alone.
This time, I have help. I don’t have to grieve on my own, I don’t have to worry about Government red tape, I don’t have to deal with intimidating legal threats. I am a unionized worker, well cared for and protected. I trust that I will get my job back. I trust that Union busting will not pass.
I tried in vain for many years at my previous workplace to find a Union that would be willing to oversee our certification process. None would have us. We were but three employees. We were told that the dues we’d pay would in no way justify the services we may receive. This inaction from labour leadership frankly broke my spirit and left me resenting their complacency. All labour organisers should strive to be just as present for non-unionised workers as they are for their members. No workplace, no matter how small, should be left behind due to concerns for the bottom dollar.
My present workplace also has but three employees, but being under Ontario jurisdiction we were eligible to be represented by CUPE 1281, a union that specialises in small social justice locals. They are a unique component to the Canadian Labour mosaic and one that should have their model applauded and reproduced.
With the arrival of Unifor on the national scene, I remain curious and hopeful to see how their community chapters may fill some voids that their predecessors and counterparts have systemically refused to address.
I need to acknowledge that I have benefited from tremendous privilege throughout my professional life. I have earned wages that have kept me out of poverty and have generally been surrounded by progressive employers who understand workers’ rights. My whiteness, gender, citizenship and sexual orientation have also granted me access to spaces not available to all and continue to provide a systemically unbalanced positive impact on how the professional world sees and treats me.
International Workers Day is rooted in solidarity between workers against the oppressive nature of capitalism and employers. It is a day to remember that all workers deserve solidarity, not simply those who already benefit from systemic privilege. It is a day to remind us to fight with and for migrant workers, injured workers, sex workers, racialised workers, queer and trans* workers. It is a day to remind us to fight with and for the unemployed, underemployed and all the non-unionized workers of the world. It is a dire rally call to mobilise, stand up and fight back.
Because 68% of workers in Canada are non-unionized and on their own every single day. 68% of Canadian workers are defenceless, vulnerable and ripe for exploitation. They all deserve the protection that I am so glad to now have. They all deserve a little solidarity.
Happy May Day, friends. Labour on.