London

Activists celebrate 'May Day' in London with calls for paid sick leave and $20 minimum wage

While tens of thousands of people marched Sunday in cities throughout Europe in observance of May Day, around 50 people gathered in Victoria Park as part of what they say is a “historic” provincewide day of action for workers.

May 1, also known as May Day, honours workers around the world

Patti Dalton is president of the London and District Labour Council. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

While tens of thousands of people marched Sunday in cities throughout Europe in observance of May Day, around 50 people gathered in Victoria Park as part of what they say is a "historic" province-wide day of action for workers. 

May 1, or May Day, is traditionally International Workers' Day. In London, Ont., union representatives and labour activists marked the date by taking aim at the Ford government, in an event spearheaded by the Ontario Federation of Labour. 

"We have experienced a government that has been utterly disrespectful of workers and has failed on so many levels to provide communities with what they need," said organizer Patti Dalton, president of the London and District Labour Council. 

"And during a pandemic, this is a government that, despite being in the midst of a deadly pandemic, has refused to give permanent paid sick days, which is totally shameful and unacceptable."

Dalton said Sunday was the first time in decades that there had been mobilizations by labour workers across Ontario. She added it was the first time in two years she'd seen members of local organizations officially come together to observe International Workers' Day. 

'We're done with how they've been treating workers'

In the northwest corner of the downtown park, flags for the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Ontario NDP, Ontario Public Service Employees Union and Ontario Public Service Staff Union were among those that could be seen. 

"To me, this day is really a way to first show the government that we're done with how they've been treating workers," said Nicole Abbott, who works with the movement Justice for Workers. 

"But second, to show how everyone is coming together, how everyone cares about workers rights, and how we can stand up for each other." 

Participants watched on as a water serpent representing Indigenous rights was paraded through the crowd. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Abbott said she was rallying for a $20 minimum wage, and 10 permanent paid sick days with an additional 14 in a pandemic. 

"It is not that ridiculous to ask for people to be able to stay home if they possibly have COVID," Abbott said. "Ford wants to pretend like COVID is over, but it's not. And people need paid sick days." 

Ahead of the rally, participants said they made a stop at Labour Minister Monte McNaughton's office in Strathroy. After speeches in Victoria Park, the group continued on by caravan to Kitchener-Waterloo. 

London North Centre MPP Terence Kernaghan said he stood in support of workers affected by Bill 124. Enacted in 2019, the bill caps the wage increases of provincial employees, like nurses and teachers, at just one per cent per year, which is below the rate of inflation.

"It's a time where we need to make sure that workers are at the table," said Kernaghan.  "Workers are the ones that built this province who have to make sure that their voices are being heard." 

With files from the Associated Press

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