In the waning hours of Monday evening at the Canadian Labour Congress’s Young Worker Summit, a surprise guest was announced. The 400 young union activists who had gathered in Ottawa to address the issues facing their generation would be face-to-face with the most influential decision maker in the country: Justin Trudeau.
As Prime Minister Trudeau began to speak to the large crowd on Tuesday morning, dozens of young workers representing various unions across sectors stood together and turned our backs to protest the hypocrisy of the Liberal government’s actions while in office.
The protest was a symbolic rebuke of a leader who has turned his back on young workers. For us, turning our backs was how we chose to communicate to the Prime Minister. It was a physical representation of what we believe labour and social movements must do when confronted with anti-worker and pro-corporate policies.
As the initial agitators rose from their seats, we were joined by other workers from across the convention floor who are tired of watching the government use political rhetoric to hide gross inaction. We do not believe the Prime Minister was there to have meaningful dialogue that will result to lasting progressive policy changes.
Long on words, short on action
In just the past few weeks we saw the government turn its back on electoral reform. We saw it push pro-corporate trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). We saw the finance minister trade cash for access while telling young people to accept the reality of precarious work. We saw the Prime Minister reassert his opposition to a $15 federal minimum wage. And we saw them approve the LNG pipeline despite huge implications for the environment and Indigenous land rights.
The government is long on words but short on action. The Prime Minister is MIA on the issues that matter to us as young workers but eager to “dialogue” with us for the sake of a photo-op. That is why we turned our back. We are not his photo-op.
During our protest, the Prime Minister attempted to pit worker against worker and condemned the action as being disrespectful and counterproductive to the interests of young workers. We say it is his broken promises that are disrespectful and counterproductive.
Things escalated quickly beyond the vetted questions and armchair discussion with young workers shouting for serious action on a variety of critical issues:
There were calls to stop Kinder Morgan pipeline project; to end the repression of Indigenous land defenders and climate justice activists — including the 99 youth arrested in front of Parliament Hill on Sunday; to reject the TPP; to raise workers out of poverty by meeting the demands of the Fight for $15 and Fairness; to deliver an affordable childcare program; to repeal Bill C-51; to end unjust Canadian military operations around the world; to institute anti-scab legislation; to implement free post-secondary education, and many other issues. Beyond the selfies and the carefully crafted image, young workers are increasingly seeing that Trudeau’s government holds little meaningful promise for workers of any age.
As the event came to a close, the Prime Minister told the room he would “be back.” We sincerely hope he does return but we have some words of advice about how he should prepare for his second visit.
Prime Minister Trudeau — return having kept your promises on electoral reform, on the federal minimum wage, and on meaningful climate action. Return with a plan to address the human rights violations still facing countless citizens of this country. Return and demonstrate action, not just words. Otherwise, return expecting to face the same response you received on Tuesday.