Commentary – All wealth is the product of labour

Tom Henihan

We accept Labour Day as the official end of summer, especially with kids returning to school the Tuesday following that long weekend.

While it may remain warm in September, the weather also possesses a discrete inversion that unequivocally asserts that summer is over.

Even if some people still get in another camping trip in early September, most venues associated with summer, local museums, campgrounds, ice cream stands etc. put up their shutters and life moves on to other concerns.

When celebrating that long weekend, deriving the last excitement and recreational diversion out of the season, we tend to forget the significance and the origins of Canada’s Labour Day.

Though we now accept it as a right, having a long weekend as a grand finale of a hectic summer, the genesis of that holiday are rooted in a huge street demonstration of working people in Toronto campaigning for a shorter workweek.

The Canadian labour movement began essentially, when the Toronto printers lobbied their employers for a shorter, nine-hour workday and though illegal at that time, in order to achieve their objectives the printer’s union called a strike in March 1872.

In solidarity with the striking printers, on April 14, approximately 2,000 workers took to the streets of Toronto to march on the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park garnering greater support en route eventually reaching an estimated 10,000 demonstrators.

Recognizing the growing strength of the Canadian labour movement, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, saw it as political expedient to side with the workers and although the strike and street demonstration did not immediately accomplish the objective of a shorter working hours, it did instigate decisive change with Macdonald passing the Trade Union Act, decriminalizing unions.

The Canadian and international labour movements continued to grow in strength and in response to that increasing power, in 1894, Prime Minister John Thompson declared Labour Day a national holiday as did president Grover Cleveland in the US the same year.

In much in the same way as veterans are commemorated on Remembrance Day, it is also important to remember and celebrate those who fought for better working conditions, a reasonable standard of living for working people and to liberate workers from being indentured to their employers through poverty and intimidation.

Social justice and an equitable share of the wealth are still matters that working people cannot take for granted. Considering the amount of money CEOs and others in that elite realm receive, by comparison it is clear that it is would be in most people’s best interest to keep in mind the original struggles that Labour Day represents.

I am not suggesting that Labour Day become a day of solemn remembrance, as there is a great deal for which we should be grateful and celebrate.
However, when enjoying the Labour Day weekend, it is important to be mindful of those who put their life and liberty on the line so working people could enjoy safer and more rewarding working conditions, and the experience of a better quality of life.

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