May Day Speech 2019

May 2, 2019

The following is the speech given by VDLC President Stephen von Sychowski at the march and rally organized for International Workers Day 2019 by the Vancouver May Day Organizing Committee. 

Good evening, and happy International Workers Day!

My name is Stephen von Sychowski, President of the Vancouver and District Labour Council

Along with unions and other workers and community organizations we have come together as part of the May Day Organizing Committee to make this event happen today

Thank you all for being here on this historic May Day, 130 years after International Workers Day was declared by the International Labour Conference in Paris.  

Last year when I spoke at this event, I reflected on some of the struggles workers in Canada were engaged in then and continue to be today.

These including the fight for living wages, pensions, migrant workers rights, affordable housing, decolonization, pharmacare, and against privatization.

I talked about how our struggles are all interconnected, about the common interests of all working people, and about the need to organize workers as a class to overcome the root causes of these issues.

And perhaps the most powerful tool in our arsenal for doing this is the strike, the ability to withhold our labour, without which nothing functions and without which no profits are reaped by the bosses.

That’s why we’re talking about the right to strike at the theme of our event this year.

On the one hand we have the massive injustice perpetrated by the Liberal government last Fall, in legislating postal workers back to work.

This is was one of many similar violations of the right to strike that we have witnessed in Canada in recent years, proving that even our legal rights are respected only when they don’t inconvenience those in power.

But while we need to defend the legal rights we have, and fight to defeat politicians and parties that would violate those rights, we are also talking about the broader right to strike.

In the United States, surprisingly, non-union workers have the right to strike without losing their jobs – whether for improvements, or union recognition.

We demand that right for workers here as well.

In several European country’s workers have the right to strike in relation to political causes, another right now enjoyed in Canada.

It’s no wonder that there has been an effort to carefully contain the right to strike as I noted, the strike is our most powerful tool, which is exactly why we need to challenge the limitations placed upon it.

Political action, lobbying, protests, and petitions all have their place and are important, but if we want our voices to have their full impact in those arenas, we can’t give up our power to make them heard in the workplace and in the streets. 

The workers at Haymarket knew it when they demonstrated for an eight-hour work day in 1886.

And the workers in Winnipeg knew it 100 years ago when they took to the streets in a General Strike, one of the most pivotal moments in Canadian history.

Now on the one hand, many victories have been one in the years since those events. Many gains have been made for workers rights, for equality and freedom.

But on the other hand, the past year has continued to show the importance of recognizing these connections and acting on them.

That’s because today we live in perhaps the most dangerous time yet in human history.

Today we face the threat of climate change, and an apparent inability for those in control of our profit-driven system to take meaningful action to curb this catastrophic phenomenon.

We face the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, of wars, interventions, and regime change agendas, and of far-right, fascistic, regimes across the globe.

Incidentally, we face that same danger here in Canada, with an election looming and a Conservative Party which has shifted even farther right poised to attempt to re-form government, as well as the establishment of groups like the People’s Party of Canada, and anti-immigrant groups like the so-called yellow vests.

We also live in a time of unprecedented inequality. Despite the gains won by workers over the decades, today we live in a less equal society than the workers who struck in Winnipeg did 100 years ago.

Wealth continues to be concentrated at the top, while the rest of us are squeezed ever more tightly.

People are angry and looking for answers. They are no longer satisfied with timid proposals and liberal platitudes. They want real change.

The danger is that this change will be in the form to an even more vicious form of capitalism, as is being offered by the far-right.

History offers us examples of this, with disastrous consequences.

So, it’s critical that we take the opportunity today to reflect on how we can all better support one another, how all of us can break down any divisions that may exist between us and build workers unity.

And also, of how we can begin to imagine a different type of economy, a different type of society, one based on solidarity not profit, because our present capitalist system does not, will not, and cannot work for working people.

Who here is up for the challenge? If you are, on three, let’s say it together – SOLIDARITY!

1 – 2- 3- SOLIDARITY

That’s the world we need to build.

Thank you all and have a great May Day.

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