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Thousands march in Toronto's 141st Labour Day Parade

09/03/2012 11:33 EDT | Updated 11/03/2012 05:12 EDT
Thousands marched in Toronto's Labour Day Parade, resulting in several road closures.

The 141st annual parade's theme is 'unite against austerity.'

Although Labour Day became associated with the end of summer and a nice long weekend, the holiday's roots in the labour union movement are still evident as union workers gather to march in downtown Toronto.

Parade organizer John Cartwright said it was important for workers to send the message that they will not accept an austerity agenda from the provincial government.

"People are here to express their anger," said Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. "The politicians are happy to give billions in corporate tax cuts and say to ordinary people, 'You have to tighten your belts' while the rich are getting richer everyday."

Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said Labour Day is a time to recall what labour has done in the country and what should happen in the future for workers.

"Today is an opportunity for labour to celebrate the contribution that we've made to our economic system," Ryan said, listing the weekend, the eight-hour workday and pension plans among the accomplishments of labour over the decades.

"We eventually have to turn our minds to what's going on in the future, the challenges facing labour…governments at all levels are attacking the basic rights of workers: their rights to strike, rolling back wages, brining in legislation to do so," Ryan said.

This year’s Labour Day comes at a time when Ontario teachers have rallied against a newly proposed bill from the provincial government that would freeze their wages for at least two years.

The governing Liberals have also warned that other public-sector workers may faces a similar fate.

Cartwright said the large turnout at Monday's parade was a signal that the labour movement is still going strong in Canada.

"This is a day about unions and our roles in society," he said. "It's the labour movement that have taken poverty wage jobs in manufacturing, construction and elsewhere and turned them into decent jobs where people can raise a family on. That's been our historical role in society."

Union leaders made speeches at Nathan Phillips Square on Monday morning before the parade kicked off at 9:30 a.m.

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was seen marching through the crowd.

"Today, we march in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and we dedicate ourselves to build, in Canada, a more responsible economy where no one is left behind," he said in a statement.

The parade began on University Avenue and headed west along Queen Street before it turned south on Dufferin Street, finishing at Canadian National Exhibition grounds at around 2:30 p.m.

Members of ACTRA, Ontario Federation of Labour, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council, CAW and federal and provincial NDP members are expected at the march.

"It should not be difficult to join a union in 2012," Ryan said. "It's a basic, democratic, human right that should be afforded to any worker."

Labour Day events were also scheduled in several other locations across the country.

In Canada, Labour Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September since the 1880s.

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