Labour Day time to think about working conditions
In 1907 at the age of 16, my grandmother helped organize the 1907 strike of women operators at Bell Telephone. In those days, they were not called operators, they were called “Hello Girls.” They received $18 a month.
Bell was attempting to cut their salaries. This was the first time in Canadian history that working women had shown such solidarity and militancy despite the fact that they were described as “pretty young girls in their tailor mades.”
My grandmother was fired along with many others. I am proud of being her descendant. It does not matter if you are pro- or anti-union. It was the solidarity of the union movement that has brought us privileges that we now consider to be rights. Two days off a week, yearly holidays, maternity/paternity leave, 40 hour work week and sick leave, Workers Compensation and Employment Insurance to name but a few.
Children no longer are allowed to work around dangerous, unfenced machinery, or in coal mines. I remember being taught about bars in England in the 1700s where they built little steps so five year olds could climb up and order gin. There are still boarding houses where the beds are never cold, because as one shift gets up, the next shift goes to bed.
Both my sister and I have helped to organize unions in the past in Canada, but Labour Day offers us more than an opportunity to have a barbecue in the back yard with our families. It is an opportunity to reflect on where we choose to spend our money and on the products we purchase.
Everyone in Canada that owns an iPhone (I am one of them) should be dying with shame that there are nets around Chinese iPhone factories to prevent workers from committing suicide by leaping off the buildings.
Every purchase you make is a political decision. Local potatoes? Or Idaho potatoes? Can we demand that our cell phone providers treat their workers with respect? Oh. And your running shoes. What about them?
In this time of globalization, we cannot ignore the suffering of the workers that provide us with the leisure and business items upon which we depend.
Labour Day. Think about it.