A smaller, pandemic-sized gathering Sunday rather than a giant parade marked the importance of labour on the Labour Day long weekend in downtown Owen Sound.
All labour was celebrated in remarks by members of the Grey Bruce Labour Council, and by those who’ve benefitted from organized labour.
About 20 people attended, including the local federal NDP candidate, Chris Neudorf, by the gazebo in Queen’s Park along 1st Avenue East, where labour council flags flew.
“Today is not about the pandemic. It’s not about the election,” Grey Bruce Labour Council president Kevin Smith said. “It’s about celebrating . . . those that have went above and beyond for the past 18 months and it’s about celebrating the accomplishments of all workers.”
Coming out of the pandemic there needs to be a focus on “decent work and a more equitable economy for everyone. We are in the middle of an election. After September 20, those who form the new government had better be ready to listen to us all.”
He said recovery will happen because of workers and the labour movement “and years from now it will be us that are remembered for being responsible for a successful recovery.”
Dave Trumble, labour council vice-president for Grey County, said knowing one day we will be done with the pandemic keeps him going. “We’re not any less bright than the people that found their way through the 1918 pandemic.”
Chris Stephen, Bruce’s County’s labour council vice-president, said unions made gains for their own members and for all workers. These include a higher minimum wage and workplace health and safety improvements.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen first hand the value of labour, as they continue to give their all. My biggest pet peeve right now is the vilification of unions. The question is why attack something that does so much good?” Stephen said.
“Are unions perfect? No. But we strive to make the world a better place.”
Theresa O’Connor, of Metis and First Nation’s descent and a Ontario Public Service Employees Union retiree, said the labour movement has long supported Indigenous causes. She noted Unifor’s recent big donation to help Saugeen First Nation through a COVID outbreak.
Lanny Irving, a Sobey’s grocery store worker in Kincardine, talked about how the union helped work with management to deal with a co-worker who publicly revealed him as transgendered.
“Yes, I am a transgender human. But I am also a parent. Those are my two overlays. And outing me puts my kids at risk, in case someone doesn’t take that well.”
He told his union steward about it and “we figured out a game plan — tell the owners and the higher-ups, the employee got disciplined and they made sure that I was OK.”
Watching from a folding chair was Hugh Evans, who said he always celebrates at Labour Day events when he’s around because he’s aware of the importance of the labour movement.
“It’s just not organized labour, it’s all labour that is a part of society that is often not recognized as much as it should,” he said. “If it wasn’t for labour, we wouldn’t have anything. Labour is what makes the world go around.”
He was with the federal civil service for most of his life, working as a forest technician belonging to the Public Service Alliance of Canada. He’s retired and lives in the Owen Sound area.
He said he thinks many workers today need unions, from Uber drivers to Tim Hortons and McDonald’s workers. It would help with conditions and hours of work and unions sometimes get extra pay for working holidays, he said.
All who attended the event were asked to provide their name and contact number so that they could be contacted should someone later test positive for COVID-19.
Smith closed by expressing hope for a return to normal next year. Labour last assembled for a parade in Port Elgin in 2019, attracting an estimated 2,500 people.