Letter to the Editor -
On Monday, Sept. 7, Canadian workers will celebrate our economic and social achievements as we have every year since Labour Day was established as a national holiday 1894. Over the past 115 years, we have had much to be proud of, although we have also faced world wars, global epidemics and other difficult times, often at great cost. We have battled employers and right-wing governments for our very right to exist, to bargain collectively and to improve the wages and working conditions of our members. We are facing dramatic challenges again this year.
Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s have we seen such enormous job losses combined with a corporate greed that has placed the world economy on the brink of disaster. Industries that until recently formed the core of many local economies have collapsed under the stress. Working people are paying the price for an economic crisis we did nothing to create. More than 1.5 million Canadian workers have lost their jobs and many of them are being left to fend for themselves. The EI program has a stunning $57 billion surplus but only about 50 per cent of unemployed Canadians are actually collecting benefits.
Unemployment is devastating for workers and families but it also hurts our communities because the unemployed have less money to spend in the local grocery store or garage. These are workers who can't pay the rent or get retraining and education for new jobs in a changing economy. Yet the federal Conservative government refuses to make EI available to hundreds of thousands of unemployed Canadians. That is why the Canadian Labour Congress along with our affiliate unions and local labour councils, is fighting to make EI accessible to all workers who need it.
The economic storm that has hit our country has exposed some dangerous cracks. While people are reeling from job losses, they have also watched their pensions and retirement income evaporate as the stock market deflated and companies went bankrupt. This past spring a leading bank economist confirmed what many had suspected for many years. Most of us are unlikely to have enough money saved to support ourselves in retirement. More than 60 per cent of working Canadians don't have a workplace pension plan. They rely on the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and whatever they can save for themselves. Those savings are woefully unprotected and exposed to the kind of corporate irresponsibility that triggered this latest economic crisis.
Despite two generations of aggressive market promotion and generous tax policy, RRSPs remain beyond the reach of many Canadians, who cannot afford to contribute significant amounts. The median amount in RRSPs for those nearing retirement today is only $60,000, enough to pay an annuity of just $250 a month. The promise that RRSPs will provide security in retirement has proven to be false.
The hard-working people who built our country must be able to retire with dignity and security. The Canadian Labour Congress has launched a campaign to double the benefits of our public Canada Pension Plan over the next 7 to 10 years. The CPP already covers 93 per cent of working Canadians. It offers a safe and portable plan that is efficiently administered and provides pensioners with an accurate sense of the income they can expect in retirement.
Unions can and do make a difference in peoples lives. We make no apologies for bargaining to improve the lives and economic security of union members, but we also believe that our proposals for improving EI and protecting pensions will serve the interests of all Canadian workers.
Canadian Labour Congress