September 7: Playing a part in making the world a better place

Playing a part in making the world a better place     #ptsafety  #nursing  #skpoli

[September 7, 2015] 

I am because we are – Ubuntu. This single word represents an ancient African philosophy that embodies the very spirit of what it means to be human. Simply put, Ubuntu is about being kind, fair and generous to those around you. It’s about having a collective respect for human dignity.

Ubuntu speaks to the fact that we are all interconnected and that we do not, and cannot, exist in isolation. Too often we think of ourselves as just individuals.  We forget that everything we do affects those around us. Ubuntu is the understanding that each of us belongs to something greater and that we all have a responsibility and part to play in making the world a better place. It’s about finding a way to be prosperous together.

This simple philosophy encompasses what the labour movement is all about. This value of working together to raise each other up is embedded in the core of trade unionism.

While most associate unions exclusively with collective bargaining on behalf of their members, few are aware of the broader positive impact they have on the overall health and wellbeing of society.

History has proven that when unions are able to achieve fairer wages, benefits, and safer work places for their members, nonunionized workers are positively impacted too. Unions set standards, norms and practices that become generalized throughout the economy, thereby improving earnings and living and working conditions for everyone.

In 2015, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) linked a decline in unionization to an increase in income for the top one per cent, weakened earnings for middle- and low-income workers, and the erosion of minimum wages. In 2014, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that Canada has one of the fastest growing gaps between top earners and others in society. Over the past 30 years, the top one per cent has captured more than 37 per cent of the overall income growth. This ever widening gap between rich and poor poses a significant threat to the nation’s long-term health.

For Canadians, unions continue to be a major line of defence against these burgeoning inequalities. Unions have a strong track record of humanizing economies to the benefit of all, not just their members, through the promotion of social justice, human rights and democracy. This commitment to improving the lives of everyone is a foundational pillar of the labour movement.

Unions have been instrumental in the creation of many of the privileges Canadians enjoy today. Strong health and safety laws; employment standards including hours of work, maternity/paternity leave and sick and vacation pay; as well as human rights laws mandating fair treatment of everyone regardless of their age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, are just a few of the achievements.

Unions impact more than just wages and benefits; they are a consistent voice for common good.

Registered nursing unions, for example, play an important role in promoting better health care. At a provincial level they advocate for safer staffing numbers and appropriate staff mixes to ensure patients always have access to the care and care provider they need. At a national level, they advocate for health care improvements such as national pharmacare strategies that will provide universal prescription drug coverage for all Canadians; and sustainable health human resource and seniors strategies to meet future demands.

This recognition that we are all inextricably connected, and that if some are suffering we all suffer, is not exclusive to the labour movement. Perhaps this seemingly foreign African idea of valuing the good of the community above self-interest is actually already engrained in our collective Canadian consciousness.

Medicare is one of the greatest sources of pride and national identity for Canadians. It symbolizes a shared recognition that we all have a responsibility to improve the lives of ordinary people — a principle that has become a core Canadian value. This is without question the spirit of Ubuntu.

So, this Labour Day, as we celebrate everything unions have achieved, let’s also reflect on how each of us can live with a little Ubuntu in our lives. It’s this way of thinking that has made Canada strong and one of the best places in the world to live. 

In solidarity,

Tracy Zambory RN

President, Saskatchewan Union of Nurses