From David Anthony Hohol…
When people think of Labour Day today, fairs and festivals, and the last long weekend of the summer come to mind. It’s original intention was a very historic one however – a heartfelt celebration of workers, their rights and their families.
In a time when the news of labour “problems” are dominated by disputes between millionaire athletes and billionaire owners, a historical look back on the origins of Labour Day provides some much needed perspective on a time when working people had to fight to work less than 12 hours a day. The “Nine Hour Movement,” began soon there after. Today, we take paid holidays, we have safe work places, unemployment insurance, medical benefits, fair hours, overtime pay and a weekend to ourselves.
Labour Day is celebrated around the world, but the first ever Labour Day celebrations originated in Canada, beginning on April 15, 1872. This was only five years after Confederation and speaks to how the Canadian progressive approach as a nation was there from day one. On that historic day the Toronto Trades Assembly, the original central labour body in Canada, organized the country’s first significant worker’s strike. A demonstartion was organized to protest poor working conditions and although the short-term effects were very damaging, as many lost their jobs, the long-term effects speak for themselves. After 1872, nearly all union demands, including the nine-hour day / 54-hour work week, were met. Thus the Toronto printers pioneered the shorter work week for all of North America. Campaigns for an eight-hour day were already growing, and eventually took hold as well.
In the end, April 15th, 1972 was a defining moment in Canadian labour history, opening the door to what eventually became the Canadian labour movement, leading the way for what is now an annual workers’ holiday around the world. In Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia it is known as “May Day” – or International Workers’ Day – and it is celebrated on May 1. In New Zealand, it is held on the fourth Monday in October, and in Australia the date varies from state to state across the country.
Countries and dates aside, it remains a day that acknowledges the hard work and the dignity of those people that do so everywhere. And this remains one of the reason Canada continues to stand as a beacon of fairness, respect and hope to people around the world.