Lawrence McKay, area co-ordinator for the United Steelworkers of America, addresses the crowd during the Amherst Labour Day celebrations at Dickey Park on Monday.
©Darrell Cole - Amherst News
AMHERST – Labour Day is about more than unions and collective bargaining, it’s about community.
Members of several town unions came together Monday during a cool, blustery day to celebrate the community during annual Labour Day celebrations. It’s the first year the celebrations were held at Dickey Park after being held for several years at Victoria Square.
“It’s really important that everyone in the community takes part in Labour Day and takes some time to think what it’s about. It’s not just a day for the unions, it’s for the community in general,” organizer Mike Clark said. “It’s the customers that support the economy and we can make our community what we want it to be by working together.”
Several speakers brought their Labour Day messages to the crowd including Amherst’s deputy mayor Sheila Christie and Coun. Jason Blanch, who said council is there to listen to the community and its ideas.
Lawrence McKay of the United Steelworkers of America said Blanch’s offer is something the community should take advantage of by getting the town to pass a resolution urging the province to support a livable minimum wage of $15 an hour.
“Raise it to a wage where people can afford to live, where they don’t have to make a choice between groceries or whether they pay their heating bill. Town council can say We believe in this town and believe that people in this town are worth more and we want $15 an hour,’” he said. “Start something and maybe Truro or another town will follow.”
McKay said Labour Day started at a time when unions were illegal and people had to meet in secret to plan how to fight for their rights. He said the provincial government’s actions are almost a case of déjà vu.
“This not only about Labour Day, it’s about anyone who works, anyone who has a job,” McKay said. “We’ve come a long way in the labour movement but it’s really sad to see the province going in the direction they’re going by taking collective bargaining rights away from their employees and rights away that people have fought for. It’s not an embellishment, but people have died for what you have to day in overtime and a 40-hour work week, medicare and benefit plans. People have spent days, months and years on picket lines so companies had to pay what people are worth.”
Clark agreed the term minimum wage is not appropriate because it’s more like a survival wage. Instead, he said, a living wage would allow people to be able to have enough money to raise a family, put food on the table and heat their homes.
He doesn't buy the idea that raising the wage to $15 an hour would lead business to cut workers’ hours.
“The thing is the more money people make the more money they will spend in the community,” Clark said. “I think business owners forget that sometimes. With people making more money they’re going to spend that money at those businesses.”
Clark also expressed his frustration at the provincial government taking away the collective bargaining rights of its unions and urged people to send a message to their MLA and the province.