The Good Fight

Pictured here with the lead campaigners for the Fight for $15 and Fairness, Atkinson’s Executive Director Colette Murphy‘s announces the inaugural Atkinson Good Fight Prize on November 3rd, 2017 in Toronto on the occasion of the foundation’s 75th anniversary.

We’re here tonight to celebrate the good fight. The fight for a better world. No one can reach the age of 75 without having to think about what makes some fights good and others not. The Atkinson Foundation is no exception. We’ve had our fair share of both.

What we know now that we didn’t know when we started out as novice funders is the difference it makes to fight alongside people — with people — versus for them. It’s not that being “for people” is unimportant. You’ve heard it said tonight that Joseph Atkinson believed in “humanity above all.” Being for people is, in fact, the starting point for philanthropy.

But along the way all of us have a decision to make about how we understand our stake in the outcome of any fight. The realization that we’re all in this together changes everything. When we see that no one succeeds on their own, then we know our fates are bound together. No longer can we support a cause from a safe and objective distance. The cause becomes ours too and we recognize own unique role in it. The distance between the people who give money and the people who ask for it starts to close. And that’s when real change starts to happen from the ground up.

That’s how it is for us in this 75th year when we think about the cause of decent work. We’re part of a movement that spans many generations and will continue long after we’ve left the arena. We’ve had some big wins and some painful setbacks but what matters most is what we’re up against today: rampant inequality, disruptive technology and polarizing politics.

The Atkinson Foundation is proud to be in this fight with the finest decent work activists in the country, many of whom are here tonight. They’re community organizers who are advocating for better wages and working conditions. For nonprofit workers, child care workers, migrant workers, domestic caregivers, and everyone who finds themselves juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet on $11.60 an hour.

We’re also with those who are organizing their communities to leverage multi-billion public infrastructure investments. They’re fighting for jobs, apprenticeships and other economic opportunities for people who live on low-incomes. Business owners, environmentalists, economists, health care practitioners, academics and students, elected officials and public servants, journalists and other philanthropists — so many of us are in this fight today. There are fewer and fewer of us on the sidelines. A growing number are doing our share.

Our reasons are as varied as our own stories of work and wealth. I know from my own that many are in it for the children we love. Mine — Celeste and Malachy — are getting ready to make big choices about school and work, and to leave home. I wonder what they’re going to do, what it’s going to be like for them. Will their lives be more or less precarious? What can we, as a country, do to make decent work more like an inheritance for every child and less like a lottery?

And while my children have many privileges, their entire generation will inherit a planet that is getting hotter and more volatile in every way, an economy that is structured to produce few winners, and a society that will suffer by every measure as a direct result. Will it even matter if Celeste and Malachy get the education and jobs they want if so many others can’t? Everyone will be stuck with the rising costs of inequality and climate change. That’s if we don’t invest in the basic infrastructure of decent work policies and programs for a green economy.

The future of work will be shaped by what we fight for today. Legislation like the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act that includes a set of reforms that are long overdue and absolutely necessary. Programs like employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, medicare, early childhood education, and pharmacare. And policies that support families with children, injured and disabled workers, young people and immigrants.

The future of work will also be determined by who we fight alongside. The conventional wisdom is to get behind a small group of private wealth creators to deliver prosperity for all. But we know community wealth builders create great cities because we’ve met them. You’re here in this hall. You are using your power to make things work better for everyone. And real change — lasting change — comes when more people are using their power to that end than those who aren’t.

We’re celebrating this fight above all tonight. The good fight. It includes Canada’s fight for decent work and decent lives. It’s your fight and ours.

Tonight, we have a special announcement to make. We want to present the very first Atkinson Good Fight Prize. This prize will be awarded at special milestones like this one, but not every year. We’ll give it out when inspired by the purpose, the stamina and the progress made by a broad coalition of campaigners. It’s a prize for a campaign, not an individual or an organization. It rewards collective effort but fuels it too. Because, let’s be honest, our opponents in these kinds of fights usually have way more money than we do.

The Atkinson Good Fight Prize is worth $75,000. It is my honour to present it to the Fight for $15 and Fairness and its lead organizers, Deena Ladd, Brenda Campbell, Mary Gellatly, Beixi Liu, Nadira Begum, David Harris, Nil Sendil, Shawna Dixon and Linda Bernard.

Put up your hand if you have participated in any way in this campaign — if you have:

  • Signed a petition
  • Tweeted or retweeted support
  • Gone to a meeting or a march
  • Wrote to your MPP
  • Talked to friends or family members
  • Wore a sticker or button
  • Made a deputation
  • Bowled for donations or made a donation yourself
  • Watched a video or read a report

Virtually everyone in this hall has been engaged by this brilliant campaign in one way or another. That’s why it deserves this prize. The scope of the organizing effort is impressive but the results – so far – are truly inspiring:

  • The campaign is poised to win significant material benefits for low-wage workers in Ontario. The government has made a commitment to raising minimum wage to $15 by 2019.
  • Polling results show that 70% of Torontonians support this decision.
  • A significant number of economists and business owners have signed onto the campaign to support the business case for decent work.

The Atkinson Board of Directors chose the Fight for $15 over other important campaigns because it most closely aligns with the Atkinson Principles and our priorities at this time. We value its focus on long-term, systemic policy change, and the sound research that underpins it. This provincial campaign makes effective use of traditional and digital grassroots engagement tools. It’s connected across geography, sectors and issues for greatest impact. But it is the organizing approach that puts the people who do not have decent work at the centre of their campaign, amplifies their voices, and follows their lead, that tipped the scale in their favour.

You may see the Fight for $15 and Fairness crew as change makers — but I believe future generations will think of them as history makers.

Here’s the Workers’ Action Centre’s response to  receiving this award.