30 August 2013
How Canadian printers started Labour Day
TORONTO—Labour Day holds special significance for the Canadian printing industry. The annual holiday, and the worker's rights it celebrates, would not exist without the 19th century Toronto Printer's Union.

Inspired by a bubbling movement in Hamilton, Ont. where workers were wrangling for shorter nine-hour work days, the Toronto Printer's Union in 1869 began lobbying employers for a reduced 58-hour work week and threatened to strike if ignored.

A Toronto Labour Day Parade on Yonge Street, circa 1900

At this time, unions were illegal in Canada thanks to a carried-over British law that England itself had already turned its back on. With that trump card in its back pocket, the publishing industry, most notably George Brown of the Toronto Globe, sneered at the union's demands.

The printers walked out on March 25, 1872. On April 15, workers throughout the city gathered in solidarity, walking to Queen's Park with marching bands in tow, swelling in number from approximately 2,000 to 10,000, which Canada's History magazine notes was a solid 10% of the city's population.

Employers stood their ground, bringing in scabs from surrounding small towns to fill out production floors. Brown from the Globe took legal action, having the 24 strike leaders arrested for criminal conspiracy.

However, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, a political rival of Brown's, had been watching from the sidelines. He intervened to abolish the outdated British law. The Trade Union Act passed on June 14, decriminalizing unions and securing the release of the jailed printers.

The victory was bittersweet. Many strikers were fired and forced to leave town, but the movement was nonetheless on its way. Workers had discovered how to raise their voices; soon, a 54-hour work week was a common union demand and parades were held regularly in support of the Nine-Hour Movement.

These celebrations evolved into an annual affair where unions from different industries gathered in solidarity, and the fire was spreading to surrounding cities and into the U.S., where "Labour Day" was established in 1882. In 1894, Prime Minister Sir John Thompson followed suit and declared Labour Day an official holiday in Canada.

For many, Labour Day is now just another day off from work. This year, however, raise a glass and toast the Canadian printers and worker's rights pioneers of the past.
1. Ana says:
4 October 2013 at 10:58 PM
You put the lime in the coocunt and drink the article up.
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