May 1, International Workers’ Day

Used with permission by Ricardo Levins Morales, artist.

May Day is celebrated by millions around the world as International Worker’s Day. A national public holiday in many countries, it has come to be known as the original Labour Day and honours both the contributions of workers and the achievements of the Labour movement.

The origins of May Day are bloody. On May 1 1886, workers in Chicago went on strike en masse, demanding an eight-hour work day. In the plans for 2 years, workers were ready to march. Up to 80,000 joined a parade up Michigan Avenue, arm-in-arm carrying union banners demanding shorter hours of work, higher pay  and an end to child labour.

A May 4th demonstration turned violent when a bomb exploded in the ranks of police on hand to disperse the crowd. Police opened fire on the crowd and in their panic many shot their own men:  67 policemen were wounded and 7 died, though only one as a result of the bomb blast. Four workers died that night and many more were injured.

Martial law was declared and labour leaders were rounded up and jailed across the US. In Chicago, four labour activists were tried & hanged for their  roles in the Haymarket Affair. Three more were pardoned shortly after, and the unjust judicial process was condemned by the Governor.

Today, May Day is celebrated as Labour Day in almost every industrial nation. During the 1990’s, the Chinese Government even created a week long holiday to honour its workers, though the holiday was restored to 1 day in 2008.

Despite its American origins, Labour Day is not observed on May 1 in the United States.  Concerned by the political threat of a holiday conceived by socialists & anarchists, Grover Cleveland pronounced the first Monday of September as the official Labour Day in 1894. During the “Red Scare” years of the 1950’s, Eisenhower went further and declared May 1 “Loyalty Day” in America.

In Canada, a September Labour Day was also declared a holiday by Prime Minister John Thompson in 1894, bowing to pressure from the working class. Canadian Labour organizations do honour the day however, and we wish you  a very happy International Workers’ Day on May 1, 2016.

Originally published in the YEU Newsletter, April 2016

PTSD & Work: The Link is Clear

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It’s time for Yukon’s legislation to catch up.

The Ontario legislature has unanimously passed a bill making it easier for first responders with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Under old Ontario legislation (similar to current Yukon law), first responders diagnosed with PTSD were required to prove to the WCB that they had suffered either a specific traumatic event or a number of cumulative traumatic events that caused their PTSD.  This process involved reliving the events to prove they were traumatic enough to cause PTSD.  The WCB or employer would often ask intrusive questions about the worker’s personal life to see whether the PTSD might have another, non-insurable cause.  The process could be long and emotionally destructive, leading to delays in treatment and worsening of symptoms.

This new legislation will change all of that.  Ontario’s new bill ensures that if a first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, the WCB presumes the PTSD is caused by their job.  This will save injured workers from having to relive trauma  and should provide more timely access to support and treatment.  The bill is an important step toward removing the stigma carried by first responders suffering from PTSD.

Finally, governments are recognizing that first responders are real people with normal reactions to the sometimes devastating things they face on the job.  They are required to attend scenes of injury, violence and death, occasions of destruction and loss. They do what most of us cannot even imagine.

It’s time to recognize that our firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, dispatchers, Correctional Officers, Youth Justice Workers, Community Nurses and others face difficult and traumatic events regularly at work.  We need to show our support, and pressure the Yukon Government to amend our Workers’ Compensation Act. Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta have amended WCB legislation to include presumptive Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder language and New Brunswick is close behind. It’s time for the Yukon to show our first responders that we see their struggle.

Add your voice to the story; email Minister Mike Nixon, Minister Responsible for Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Board  and ask him to bring this issue forward.