The Front Line and COVID-19

Nobody ever wanted or expected to find the world in the situation it is as we face perhaps one of the greatest challenges in over one-hundred years. Just over one-hundred years ago the world reeled after a devastating world war directly into an influenza pandemic that killed millions.

The front line shifted from the battlefront to places of care. One hundred years ago these places of care were not the places of care we see today where modern-day practices, emergency responders and skilled healthcare workers trained in these modern techniques save lives that a century ago would have been lost.

The frontline of today, not so often talked about, but as we have found out is every bit as critical to our survival, is populated by the services and people we too often have taken for granted. Grocery store staff, truck and transport drivers, convenience store staff, postal workers, bank and financial institution staff, internet service provider workers, utility workers, sanitation workers and so many more providing services that our lives would be impossible without.

Experiencing life in a COVID-19 shuttered workplace and talking about public services, Waterloo Regional Labour Council President Kelly Dick is hopeful of a change for the better that history aptly demonstrates often follows after humanity’s biggest challenges. Dick notes, “Watching both provincial and federal leaders, the tone has changed drastically from the polarizing rhetoric of the last four decades and in some cases the months immediately preceding our current crisis. Much of the rhetoric, until very recently manifested in vicious attacks on public service workers and the repeal of legislation that was put in place to protect the rights of all workers. To see the historically right-wing, anti-worker, pro-privatization, anti-union politicians dropping the vicious attack language and perhaps realizing that privatization will not stand up to the rigorous test of a national and international challenge is a hopeful moment in this rather dark time.”

Dick makes it clear that “she is no starry-eyed optimist, but perhaps this global challenge will bring us back to a place of compromise instead of destructive polarization. Compromise and a realization that we accomplish more together than apart which could lead us, like those before us, to the greatest period of prosperity in history, that period of about thirty or so years immediately following World War Two”.

“For over fifty years, the Waterloo Regional Labour Council has been the voice of workers in our community. The Council is fortunate to have all manner of public and private sector workers at our table. In looking back at these fifty-plus years, the Waterloo Region Labour Council and all of organized labour have consistently called for adequate funding of public services and a broadening of public services. As we progress through the COVID-19 crisis, holding the line in support of public services as much as possible, will show that organized labour and our progressive partners have been correct all along in that government tax cuts to corporations at the expense of public services has been a disaster waiting for time to show itself”.

“Members of the WRLC executive are actively speaking about the countless people working and supporting us in our communities in places like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, banks, etc that are greatly deserving of recognition and thanks for putting themselves on the frontlines to keep us going. The time has come for these workers to receive pay that will commensurate with their contribution to our communities. Perhaps the icing on the cake will come after we have come through the crisis that these very same workers will find their way towards union representation that will help them hold onto gains made in and as result of this pandemic, before the memory of our current crisis begins to fade. Perhaps when we do a deep dive, a very close analysis on what we did right, wrong or not at all after this pandemic is over, we will come out of this with a new perspective and new respect for those workers who, in times of calm and safety, are not deemed essential workers. This will be the ultimate test on capitalism as we know it.  For it is the essential workers that are keeping people safe and fed. Not the CEO’s and the billionaires.”

Dick adds “Organized labour is a partner in getting all of us through this. And when all is said and done, organized labour will be there, as always, doing everything possible to secure adequate funding for our public services, healthcare and long term care workers, proper pay and protections for precarious, part-time and vulnerable workers and holding every level of government accountable to the people who put them in office.”

“Let each of us do what is required of us to get us safely through the COVID-19 crisis. Let us also do everything we can to support those supporting us and for those that need our help and support in our communities.” says Kelly Dick.  

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