September 2, 2013

Toronto - One reason I am not proud

Labor Day (or for any fellow Canadian reading this, Labour Day) is of course a celebration of the contributions of workers to society. Or at least it used to be back when unions mattered. Sadly, I must report that the concept of Labor Day, originated in my hometown of Toronto, Canada.  Sorry for that.
What started the actual strife did not lead directly to Labor Day;
In 1869 the union sent a petition to their employers requesting a weekly reduction in hours per week to 58, placing itself in the forefront of the industrialized world in the fight for shorter hours. Their request was refused outright by the owners of the printing shops, most vehemently by George Brown of the Globe. By 1872 the union's stand had hardened from a request to a demand and a threat to strike. The employers called the demand for a shorter workweek "foolish", "absurd" and "unreasonable." As a result, on March 25, 1872 the printers went on strike.

On April 15 a demonstration was held to show solidarity among the workers of Toronto. A parade of some 2000 workers marched through the city, headed by two marching bands. By the time that the parade reached Queen's Park, the sympathetic crowd had grown to 10,000...
The result of the strike was what led to Labor Day not only in Canada but in the U.S. as well;
...For the strikers themselves, the short-term effects were very damaging. Many lost their jobs and were forced to leave Toronto. The long-term effects, however, were positive. After 1872 almost all union demands included the 54-hour week. Thus the Toronto printers were pioneers of the shorter workweek in North America. The movement did not reach places such as Chicago or New York until the turn of the century.

The fight of the Toronto printers had a second, lasting legacy. The parades held in support of the Nine-Hour Movement and the printers' strike led to an annual celebration. In 1882 American labour leader Peter J. McGuire witnessed one of these labour festivals in Toronto. Inspired, he returned to New York and organized the first American "labour day" on September 5 of the same year. Throughout the 1880s pressure built in Canada to declare a national labour holiday and on July 23, 1894 the government of Sir John Thompson passed a law making Labour Day official. A huge Labour Day parade took place in Winnipeg that year. It stretched some 5 kilometres. The tradition of a Labour Day celebration quickly spread across Canada and the continent. It had all begun in Toronto with the brave stand of the printers' union.
So yeah, really sorry about that for all you capitalists out there, but at least there's an extra BBQ day now in the summer. 

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