4 September Labour Day

Labour Day – A Lesson in History

How much do you know about the history of Labour Day? What evolved into another summer holiday began as a working class struggle and massive demonstration of solidarity that began in the streets of Toronto, Ontario.

During the 2nd half of the 19th century, Canada was undergoing rapid changes. With increased immigration, cities were becoming crowded and industrialization was drastically altering the country. As machines began to replace a great deal of work processes, employees found they no longer had valuable skills to offer employers. The average worker could easily be replaced if they voiced any complaints and were often unable to speak out against poor wages and extended work weeks, not to mention unsanitary or unsafe working conditions.

For 3 years the Toronto Printers Union had been lobbying its employers for a shorter work week. When their demands weren’t met, they took action and went on strike on March 25 in 1872. Toronto’s publishing industry was paralyzed. On April 14th, a group of 2,000 workers marched through the streets in a show of solidarity, picking up more supporters along the way as they marched to Queen’s Park.

Prime Minister John A. Macdonald spoke out in favour of the working class and passed the Trade Union Act. The employees still didn’t obtain their goal of a shorter work week and many still lost their job. However, their strike proved that workers could gain the attention of their employers, the public, and most notably, their political leaders if they worked together. This movement (known as the “Nine-Hour Movement”) soon spread to other Canadian cities with a shorter work week as the primary demand.

The parade that was held in support of the strikers carried over into an annual celebration of worker’s rights and was adopted in cities throughout Canada. In 1894, Prime Minister Sir John Thompson declared Labour Day a national holiday.

Over time, Labour Day evolved into a popular celebration enjoyed by every Canadian. Now, it’s viewed as the last celebration of summer. No matter what you’re doing this Labour Day, take a minute to appreciate Canada’s labour pioneers.

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