Sudbury workers, community activists sound the alarm on May Day
Posted: May 4, 2022
(May 02, 2022)
By: Jim Moodie, Sudbury Star
It’s a date to celebrate workers but also a call of distress, and those gathered Sunday in Memorial Park were doing both — honouring those who drive the economy with their labour while sounding the alarm on attacks to their livelihoods and dignity.
“May Day has many meanings,” noted Allan Walsh, a jazz musician and former instructor at Laurentian University. “It’s an ancient festival marking the beginning of summer, and it’s also about commemorating the labour movement. But there’s another meaning — the word mayday signals a life-threatening emergency.”
Walsh said he and many others lost income and their role in the community when Laurentian University axed dozens of programs last year, including music.
“I’m part of the tricultural committee and we are saying ‘mayday, mayday, mayday’ — Laurentian University is sinking,” he said. “But it’s not only Laurentian … music and arts programs in high schools are at risk because of provincial government cuts.”
About 100 people turned out for the May Day event, which was organized by the Sudbury District Labour Council and featured representatives of numerous unions, but also members of community organizations and some who weren’t affiliated with any particular group but merely wished to show support for workers and those struggling to get by.
A CUPE local supplied a stack of pizzas that was shared with demonstrators as well as anyone who happened to be passing through Memorial Park, including many members of the homeless community and others having a hard time making ends meet.
“Let’s remind ourselves what being poor means,” said Laurie McGauley, chair of the Poverty and Housing Advocacy Coalition. “It means not being sure if you can pay rent next month; it means the terror of not knowing if we can feed our kids or buy them the shoes they need.”
McGauley said the coalition advocates for the homeless but even those with jobs and roofs over their heads can “understand, at a basic level, the terror of poverty and homelessness … the truth is that most people with jobs are two paycheques away from not being able to pay their bills, their rent or their mortgage.”
The homeless advocate laid out a set of seven demands her group is putting before all parties in the upcoming provincial election, including increased rates for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, strong rent control, more supports for those transitioning out of jail and foster care, and decriminalizing all drugs as well as sex work.
Scott Florence, director of the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre, said paying people a fair wage is critical to not only their ability to lead a decent life but also to keep the broader economy humming.
“Many of you here are from unions and have strong negotiated agreements, but the majority of workers do not have the same kind of protections,” he said. “We need a higher minimum wage, because the best way to put money back into the economy is to give the money to the people who will spend it. Corporate tax cuts do not end up in spending in our economy — it goes to offshore accounts. Workers, when they have money in their pockets, spend it locally.”
Florence also called for paid sick days — “which the current government has resisted and resisted” — and equal pay for equal work. “I’m not just talking about men and women, or those of different colours being paid the same, but also full-time and part-time workers being paid the exact same amount for the exact same kind of work.”
Those toiling in the app-driven world of food delivery and ride hailing also deserve fairer treatment, said Florence.
“Unfortunately our current government has just brought in legislation that misclassifies gig workers and provides them with less protections than real workers,” he said. “The Ministry of Labour and the courts have said, yes, you deserve minimum wage and all the protections of the Employment Standards Act, but rather than give that to the workers the government has created a second system for them so they have less.”
A Skip The Dishes worker in Sudbury cited a famous civil rights activist as an inspiration while talking about a one-day strike he recently helped organize to ensure drivers were being fairly compensated.
“A couple of weeks ago, because of the hike in the fuel prices, the profits were cutting low, so we decided to raise our voices,” said Karanbir Badesha. “Martin Luther King once said: ‘the measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’”
Jessica Montgomery, president of the labour council, noted this year’s version of International Workers Day fell within days of the writ being dropped in Ontario, “so we’re rallying to ensure our issues, the issues that mean most to working people and their families, are front and centre in the June 2 election.”
She said the province needs to implement a $20 minimum wage and repeal Bill 124, which caps wage increases for public-sector workers, as well as provide “housing for all members of our community, permanent paid sick days, well-funded public services and a liveable income for all.”