Janet Andrews and Stephen von Sychowski: During Local Government Awareness Week, let's not lose sight of workers

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      By Janet Andrews and Stephen von Sychowski 

      With COVID-19 discussions turning toward economic recovery, it is very good timing for Local Government Awareness Week, May 17 to 23. As labour councils our focus is on workers, families, and resilient communities. Ensuring the recovery centres on those priorities is of critical importance. So much of the response to the pandemic has been about home: getting home, staying at home, working from home, unemployment, rent, and homelessness. Recovery must focus on home, too.

      The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed both the best and the worst of people and governments here and around the world. The essential nature of work and the omnipresence of workers is being rediscovered while in real-time every crack and gap in our systems has been revealed. The impact of the decisions made by past governments at all levels is every bit as clear as the actions of those in power today.

      Nowhere is this more obvious than the crisis of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes. Years of rollbacks to wage and job protections led to precarity for care-home workers and their families. Prioritizing profits put downward pressure on a system centred on the already vulnerable and compromised. The result is heartbreak for families and the realization that the cost of some profits is too high.

      We welcome the provincial government’s swift response to the crisis unfolding at long-term care homes, and call for long-term solutions that support patients, workers, and families.

      We cannot let the same kind of downward spiral happen to our cities or our public transit systems. In many cases, COVID-19 has placed municipalities and transit authorities in serious financial jeopardy.

      In some jurisdictions financial alarms raised by local governments have been met by resistance, accusations of mismanagement, and a clinging to partisan politics and ideologies. There is no time for that now. Senior levels of government must commit to helping local governments through this crisis.

      We have only to look at the hardships faced by those in cities forced to declare bankruptcy to understand where austerity and a hard line will take us. The services we have relied on while at home and the workers who provide them depend on a commitment to get our local governments through this crisis. Now is the time to reimagine the future and take bold steps to support communities, workers, and families.

      Janet Andrews and Stephen von Sychowski say a healthy local economy is circular, in which everyone can participate.

      Cities must have short-term solutions for revenue shortfalls and long-term solutions for recovery. Every working person is the foundation on which our local economy rests. Local governments must have the resources they need to ensure staff and city workers are not laid off and continue to have good, sustaining jobs, which in turn will support other workers, services and businesses when quarantine restrictions are lifted.

      A healthy local economy is a circular one where everyone benefits and can participate. It is past time to flatten the curve on inequality.

      Senior governments must re-engage and invest in creating affordable housing, funding transit, health care and education, and make new investments to support universal childcare and a green economy with good local jobs. For too long, the response has been piecemeal and uncoordinated, resulting in lost opportunities, particularly for women, and racialized and marginalized people.

      Recovery should involve national strategies for transit and childcare. Global industries and trade deals have their place in our economy, but the shuttering of 90 to 100 percent of some industries and resulting massive unemployment has clearly shown us that resiliency starts at home. For our future well-being as a society, the recovery must be balanced, with strong supports for workers and a level playing field for business and industry.

      There are many local jobs that are possible, if we choose to engage with our local governments, to see the opportunities that are all around us and call on senior levels of government to listen and act. Local Government Awareness Week is a good place to start.

      Janet Andrews is secretary-treasurer of the New Westminster & District Labour Council, a community-based central labour organization representing over 60,000 union members from 100 affiliated local unions in fourteen Lower Mainland municipalities. Stephen von Sychowski is president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, a central labour organization representing approximately 60,000 unionized workers from affiliated local unions in Vancouver, Richmond, North Vancouver, West Vancouver and surrounding areas.