May Day 2020: Global crisis creates opportunity for workers

May 1, 2020
May Day illustration, 4 people with a flag and loud speakers

Usually, on the first day of May, workers around the globe celebrate International Workers Day, taking to the streets to demonstrate their solidarity. Today, most of the world is locked down by COVID-19. In Canada, large segments of the economy are frozen, and millions have been thrown out of work and onto the federal government’s emergency benefit plan. Those who are still employed are doing their jobs in extremely difficult circumstances; many are putting their health and lives at risk as they attend to the well-being of others, making sure we have food to eat, and ensure the health and safety of the population.

Yet, while we are all struggling to cope with these unprecedented challenges that the pandemic has thrown at us, we are also experiencing a time of unprecedented social solidarity. Despite the necessity to stay physically distant, people are coming together to help each other in extraordinary ways. Also, this crisis has brought governments—especially the federal government—to take actions that until now they have refused us: actions such as expanding access to Employment Insurance, boosting the wages of low paid workers, providing special financial support for women’s shelters, providing emergency housing, and even making child care free – at-least for some.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous hardship, suffering and tragic loss for so many, but it has also created an opening for big change. The horrific living and working conditions in the long-term care sector have been exposed, as have other dangerous consequences of decades of government cuts and corporate greed. People are more conscious of their own vulnerabilities and understand better the importance of having robust social support systems in place. There is consensus that going back to the way things used to be is not an option.

On this May Day, let’s mourn the loss of so many, and so much, in such a short time. Let’s pledge to keep helping each other through the pandemic. And let’s make sure that we don’t go back to the old normal—instead, let’s work to rebuild and remake our country and the world into something much, much better.

The original version of this article was first posted on the PSAC website.

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