Merriam Webster defines Solidarity as “a feeling of unity between people who have the same interests and goals.” The experiences we have shared since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown us the value of collective action to advance a common cause and defeat our common enemy.
Global lockdowns called on all of us to stay home to protect each other. That solidarity helped lessen the early impacts of COVID-19 and helped saved lives. Essential workers everywhere were celebrated and applauded as their shifts ended. Together we honoured these heroes and waited for a way out of the pandemic and back to our lives. Meanwhile, essential workers faced high risk workplaces, inadequate protections, discriminatory leave practices, and constant harassment on the job.
The vaccines offered us hope for a return to some sort of normal life. All we would need was our unity, our shared commitment to the greater good, and a bit more time. In solidarity, we lined up for our vaccines and hoped for the best. But vaccine hesitancy and anti-mask rallies showed us that the sense of unity was beginning to unravel. Our solidarity was crumbling.
We’re in trouble now, at the on-ramp to a potentially disastrous 4th wave of this disease. As COVID-19 has mutated into new and increasingly unpredictable variants, the need for us to pull together has never been greater. Although many have chosen vaccination, many have refused, and some cannot. Our children are in school and vulnerable, and illness is on the rise.
Solidarity is unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest. Our common interest as we wade through COVID-19 is the health and wellness of our communities, our neighbours, our colleagues. Our common enemy is COVID-19, not each other. We all must measure our own needs as individuals against those of the collective, just as we do when we negotiate a Collective Agreement or establish the societal rules that govern our communities.
This Labour Day we are navigating a federal election campaign, the increased risk of the Delta variant, and a Municipal election cycle in the Yukon. At YEU, we’re going into bargaining with the Government of Yukon and the City of Whitehorse as well. We are all working our way through a time of epic challenge. None of this is easy, but any big job is easier when everyone is pushing in the same direction.
We can call on our solidarity this election to push for real protections for our most vulnerable essential workers; we can demand paid sick leave for every worker. We can ask the leadership candidates how their party will support workers and workers’ rights as we rebuild after the pandemic. We can demand investments in training to help fill the thousands of healthcare positions that are vacant across the country. When we are united, we have tremendous power; no candidate dare ignore the voices of thousands of grassroots union activists across the country who are demanding safe workplaces and paid sick leave for everyone.
Last year I stated “Labour Day was born of the sometimes violent struggle between exploited workers and exploitative employers. To a working class without much in the way of protections or rights, the fight was critical, and the victory paved the way for the Labour laws we rely on even now. In the face of a global pandemic, the unity of workers and the fight for workers’ rights is just as important today.”
On this, our second pandemic Labour Day, it’s worth remembering that solidarity has been the key to every major victory, every historic win, and every enemy defeated. Happy Labour Day. Today we rest.
Steve Geick, President
Yukon Employees’ Union
CNA Worker - Essential Worker Portrait #26; Pastel by Carolyn Olson