Fed­er­a­tion marks 75 years of unions work­ing to­gether to make a dif­fer­ence

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION - BY LANA PAYNE

This Labour Day, we cel­e­brate 75 years of unions work­ing to­gether to make a dif­fer­ence in our province.

It was 1936 when a small group of trade union lead­ers rec­og­nized the need for a big­ger voice for labour, an or­ga­ni­za­tion for all unions, to ad­vance the cause of work­ing peo­ple and to help build a bet­ter so­ci­ety for all cit­i­zens.

They un­der­stood that the power of the col­lec­tive within their in­di­vid­ual unions could be more ef­fec­tive if they worked to­gether on com­mon goals, in­clud­ing push­ing for laws that im­proved the lives of work­ers.

By Oc­to­ber 1936 those for­ward-think­ing trade union­ists had formed a steer­ing com­mit­tee and less than a year later in July 1937 the found­ing con­ven­tion of what is to­day the New­found­land and Labrador Fed­er­a­tion of Labour was held in Grand Falls.

At that con­ven­tion, del­e­gates from 10 unions de­bated top­ics such as work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion, min­i­mum wages, hours of work, and the cre­ation of a gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ment bureau.

Seventy-five years later and many of these same eco­nomic jus­tice is­sues are still de­bated at Fed­er­a­tion of Labour con­ven­tions.

One of the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for the cre­ation of our Fed­er­a­tion was Alphonsus Grego-

Lana Payne, Pres­i­dent of New­found­land and Labrador Fed­er­a­tion of Labour

ry Dug­gan, an ex­pe­ri­enced trade union­ist who helped or­ga­nize the union at the Grand Falls pa­per mill.

Mr. Dug­gan’s vi­sion for the Fed­er­a­tion and trade unions in our province was that we would be­come a voice to fight for re­forms for the en­tire work­ing class. Mr. Dug­gan was elected the Fed­er­a­tion’s first pres­i­dent.

The early days of move­ment build­ing were by no means easy. Re­sis­tance to unions by em­ploy­ers was strong. After all, a union would force em­ploy­ers to share more fairly with its work­force. As much as things have ad­vanced in our province in the last 75 years, some things re­main the same, in­clud­ing the clas­sic strug­gle of unions to share the wealth and bring democ­racy to our work­places.

Con­sid­er­able priv­i­lege

To­day, I am so proud of the con­sid­er­able priv­i­lege I have been given to hold up the prin­ci­ples these trade union­ists fought for so many years ago and to add equal­ity and so­cial jus­tice to our vi­sion of a bet­ter world.

We are still fight­ing for leg­isla­tive im­prove­ments in or­der to level the play­ing field and pro­tect work­ers.

Re­cently, our ef­forts have been to push for a pow­er­ful, in­de­pen­dent safety agency for the off­shore work­ers of our province — some­thing that has been strongly rec­om­mended in two sep­a­rate in­quiry re­ports by re­tired Jus­tice Robert Wells.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to drag its heels with re­spect to mak­ing the nec­es­sary changes to the law gov­ern­ing the off­shore oil and gas in­dus­try. This is not un­like the cause of trade union­ists 75 years ago when they fought for tougher mine in­spec­tions, a nec­es­sary action in the safety of work­ing peo­ple, but re­sisted by the mine own­ers.

Fight­ing for labour laws

We con­tinue to seek a mod­ern set of labour laws that re­flect the world in which we live — a global world with pow­er­ful and wealthy global cor­po­ra­tions. The rise of multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions and the ero­sion of labour laws have tipped the bal­ance in power at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble — the bal­ance re­quired to en­sure col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing is fair and free.

The ero­sion of labour laws, since the time of the Wells Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, has also made it tougher for work­ers to ex­er­cise their rights to be­long to a union, rights guar­an­teed un­der our Char­ter.

With this fall’s provin­cial elec­tion, our Fed­er­a­tion will con­tinue to act for change in the ways en­vi­sioned by our founders. The four is­sues to be ad­vo­cated by our Fed­er­a­tion re­flect the val­ues and prin­ci­ples we have long stood for:

• just and mod­ern labour laws that rec­og­nize and tem­per the power and might of global cap­i­tal and re­move the bar­ri­ers to free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion;

• a fair shar­ing of the province’s eco­nomic wealth ( far too much of our GDP goes to cor­po­rate prof­its — 2.5 times the na­tional av­er­age);

• an early learn­ing and child care sys­tem ( long rec­og­nized as es­sen­tial to ad­vanc­ing women’s equal­ity and crit­i­cal to fu­ture eco­nomic growth); • and re­tire­ment se­cu­rity. This Labour Day, we re­flect on the many vic­to­ries of unions and their mem­bers work­ing col­lec­tively for the kind of world we’d like for all.

This Labour Day, we cel­e­brate 75 years of unions work­ing to­gether to make a dif­fer­ence.

In those 75 years our sol­i­dar­ity has been tested, but those tests have made us stronger. We can take pride in the fact that we have im­proved the lives and liv­ing stan­dards of so many New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans and their fam­i­lies. We have helped to build a bet­ter so­ci­ety, a bet­ter province.

For 75 years, we have tried to be the change we want to see in the world and this will con­tinue to be our un­in­ter­rupted pur­pose.

On be­half of the ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil and 65,000 mem­bers of our Fed­er­a­tion, I wish you safe and happy Labour Day!

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