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Employment Conditions Aren't So Different Now Than A Hundred Years Ago

07/23/2014 12:32 EDT | Updated 09/22/2014 05:59 EDT

We're five years away from celebrating the centennial of the Winnipeg General Strike, arguably the most important labor action in Canadian history. Spurred by high unemployment, low wages and unsafe working conditions, virtually the entire working population of Winnipeg went out on strike and was violently put down by the Conservative government of the day.

Although we are in an entirely different era, there are some parallels. Unemployment is high, especially among young people. Working conditions, while not as onerous as a hundred years ago, are far from ideal. In particular, more and more young workers are being exploited through non-paying internship programs. And modern free trade agreements have undercut the very fabric of our nation.

Perhaps the most striking similarity is the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest. Although the wealth gap is not as glaring as it is south of the border, it continues to widen in Canada exacerbated by the current Conservative government.

The signs and symptoms of an economy in crisis have been manifest for some time now. Whatever job growth there has been in recent years has centred primarily in part-time employment. And many of those low-paying jobs have gone to university grads burdened by onerous student loans.

The United States is on the leading edge of this economic devolution. A capitalist economy run amok has saddled the nation with unimaginable debt. Despite bringing the world economy to the brink of disaster, the financial titans of Wall Street were not brought to justice. In fact, they have pretty much continued in their irresponsible and profligate ways.

Average Americans may not understand the intricacies of the high crimes committed by the upper class but they know something is wrong. They are on the hook for bailing out the millionaire miscreants yet wonder why there never seems to be any significant financial relief for them.

Young Americans also sense the inequity of the current situation which explains, in part, the Occupy Wall Street Movement. What started out as a New York City-based phenomenon quickly spread elsewhere. Sadly, the media, for the most part, ridiculed and belittled the movement and its surfeit of grievances tended to weaken and ultimately defeat it.

But that doesn't mean that nothing further can be done. The upcoming Winnipeg General Strike centenary should serve as a rallying point for further action. It's time that economically disenfranchised youth join with unionized workers and underemployed workers in a general strike action.

So long as the plutocrats can dictate the economic fundamentals of our nation, the unfairness will remain. The wealth gap will continue to widen, financial regulations will be gutted and the social safety net will be weakened.

Political involvement is no longer the answer. It's not just the Conservative government of the day that is the problem although it certainly bears a great deal of the responsibility for today's sad state of affairs.

Even if another party could somehow take power federally, there is now little they could do to turn things around. The damage has been done thanks to decades of right wing demagoguery in the United States and some of the same right here in Canada. The legislative and regulatory agenda has been so slanted to the captains of capital that only an outright overthrow of the current order will set things right.

Let's use the next five years to plan and organize for the next Canadian general strike. But let's not limit it to Winnipeg. It's time to set in motion the steps needed to initiate a Canada-wide work stoppage.

We have an overeducated and underemployed youth contingent. We have a rapidly disappearing middle class burdened by debt. We have an under-taxed and under-regulated upper class which continues to shirk its societal duties and instead squirrels away more and more wealth.

If we don't want to become a two-class nation filled with upper class gated communities and see the disappearance of our commonwealth, it's time to take action. It's time for labor unions throughout the land to join forces with the underemployed and the youth of this country to mobilize for Canada's General Strike of 2019.

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