OPINION By Frank Saptel
Communications Representative, IAM Canada
If history has taught us anything, it’s that if we don’t learn from past events, we will repeat the same mistakes.
COVID-19 has caused havoc in Canada and around the world. Workers have lost jobs; businesses have closed and few in the world have remained unaffected. The standard of living for those negatively impacted is cause for concern. The recovery will take some time, perhaps years.
The CEWS, CERB and other emergency programs have quickly been deployed to help working Canadians. Students will also benefit from this spending. The Canadian government has generally done a good job of stabilising the economy and saving large numbers of jobs.
The Liberals should rightly be credited for this. However, we cannot forget that the New Democrats forced them to embark on many of these programs because the Liberals are in a minority government. Otherwise said, they need the NDP to pass any legislation in the House of commons or face defeat in a confidence vote and risk another federal election.
IAM members have benefitted from these programs and we are glad they have been able to maintain some sense of normalcy. Still others have not been able to keep their jobs as the union has lost roughly one-third of its dues-paying membership. We hope the government remains sensitive to their needs. We continue fighting for them.
The Yowling Begins
The so-called fiscal conservatives are in such a rage these days that it sounds like cats on a fence at 3:00 am! They complain about the money spent to save the livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers and businesses. They want “austerity”.
The calls for austerity measures have started to echo across the country. This is not surprising. We are seeing employers use the pandemic to try and cut the wages and benefits of unionised workers, as well as those who have no union. Some saintly companies that offered Pandemic Pay, have now ripped it away.
Provinces governed by Conservatives (there are six in Canada), are mouthing the words from their friends in right-wing think-tanks and lobby groups.
Decades of austerity, tax cuts for corporations and the rich, privatization, and cuts to the social safety net have left Canada hobbled and barely able to respond to COVID-19. The state of long-term care homes stands out in shocking relief. We have also seen that too many small business and individuals are only a paycheque away from utter ruin.
Present and Past
Roughly 3 million Canadians are affected by the pandemic. The unemployment rate is 12.3%, a reduction from 13.7% in May. By contrast, Toronto’s Depression-era rate in 1931 was 17%. Women have been affected disproportionately in terms of layoffs and recovered jobs. Indigenous and racialised women have been most negatively affected.
During the Great Depression (1929-1941) 30% of Canadians were out of work. The hardship it caused made the government invest in massive projects to provide work and wages.
In the 1930 federal elections, Conservative R. B. Bennett campaigned on massive spending and high tariffs and won. But due to a growing deficit, he did what most Conservatives do: slashed spending, cancelled public works projects and deepened the unemployment crisis by laying off government workers. Eventually, he was forced to implement many of the promises he made during the election.
Investing on a large scale helped the economy recover much quicker and gave people some peace of mind. If people have money, they will spend money, and they’ll do it locally. Everybody wins.
Giving money to the wealthy, super-wealthy and large corporations only means our money goes into offshore accounts to enrich those who are already rich.
That’s really what austerity means: stop helping those who need it most and make sure the wealthy add more to their piles of wealth. We know that’s wrong, but we continue voting for the same people who don’t want change for the better.
I didn’t coin the saying “Austerity Sucks” but I’ll gladly use it over and over – because it does. It really, really does. And we should do something about it.
This article is the opinion of the writer and does not imply the IAM supports or endorses views contained within it.
SOURCES: Wikipedia, Government of Canada Finance Ministry, Catalyst.org,