For many Canadian families, the Labour Day long weekend marks the end of summer and is a time for family gatherings, special events and barbecues. In the midst of our celebrations it is, unfortunately, too easy to forget why there is a Labour Day, and why we should acknowledge it as a special day.
The statutory holiday we now enjoy was created in 1894 only because workers demanded recognition of their right to be recognized as legitimate partners in the economy and in society. In 1872 when Toronto printers went on strike for a nine-hour day, they learned that their organization was illegal — a union by whatever name was regarded as a criminal conspiracy.
The prime minister, John A. MacDonald, for reasons not entirely noble, introduced legislation to make unions legal. There were enough ongoing disputes in the years following that the government established a Royal Commission that recommended the unions’ right to exist, to organize and to withdraw their labour. As the commission reported, the person who sells his or her labour, should, in selling, be “on an equality with the one who buys it.”
On Labour Day this September we should be celebrating that right, and all those who fought and continue to fight for the hard-earned advantages that have resulted from the introduction of MacDonald’s legislation.
I am the NDP candidate for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, and my party was created in 1961 in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress, to ensure that the legitimate rights of working people would be recognized.
I have worked in both union and non-union environments, and am mindful of the huge contributions the labour movement has made to Canadian society. They were in the forefront of all the battles: minimum wages, overtime pay, workplace safety standards, maternity and paternity leave, and protection from discrimination and harassment.
As constituency assistant to our MP, Jean Crowder, I became acutely aware that we need to continue to work hard today to protect the rights we have already won, and to win new rights for all workers. Not only is the gap between rich and poor widening, but incomes are stagnant, our social safety net is weakening, and families must work harder every day just to get by.
Thank goodness the labour movement is still fighting for gains we can make for society as a whole.