Happy Day-After-Labour-Day, everyone! We hope you all enjoyed a well deserved long weekend. For our part, we headed to the mountains, spending time with family in Hinton and Jasper and showing our French exchange student our gorgeous province. It’s good to be back to the office after some restorative time away.
As we settle back into the daily routine, we want to reflect with you all on the meaning of the holiday we just enjoyed. For business owners and workers, Labour Day is more than just a long weekend or an excuse to picnic. Those are the byproducts, and we all appreciate them, but they’re secondary to the outcomes of a movement that began in the streets over 130 years ago.
It was March 1872 when a group of printers in Toronto decided they’d had enough. Their work weeks were too long—at least 12 hours in most cases, and reliably 6 or 7 days a week. Their requests for reprieve were dismissed outright by employers as “unreasonable,” so they decided to strike.
2,000 men marched in the streets on April 15 of that year, and the crowd that turned up to support them from the sidelines swelled to 10,000 strong. Clearly, the time was ripe for change, but instead of securing a quick win, strike committee members were jailed and union activity was upheld in the courts as a criminal offence.
In the short term, things got worse from there. Most of the striking workers lost their jobs and homes, and others were edged out by replacement workers that employers brought in from small towns. The strike looked like a failure from that perspective, but the working class had made an unforgettable impression, and the seeds of change had been planted.
In June, the Trade Unions Act was passed to protect union activity going forward, and that victory inspired an annual celebration in support of what had become known as The Nine-Hour Movement. After 1872, the nine-hour workday became the standard for Canadian unions, inspired similar uprisings in the United States, and eventually led to the first American Labor Day on September 5, 1882. By 1894, Canada officially implemented national recognition of the same holiday, and the first parade, held in Winnipeg, was five kilometers long.
Today, Labour Day (or some version of it) is recognized in many countries around the world, including Jamaica, New Zealand, and Trinidad & Tobago. While its history and even calendar dates differ from country to country, all share the common root of recognizing and respecting the frontline worker, which we all had the opportunity to do yet again yesterday, today, and every day.
We salute you, Canadian workers. Thank you.