I originally posted this three Labour Days ago and edit it – just a little – every year!
The first Monday in September is Labour Day. In Canada it’s the last big day to barbeque before the kids go back to school, or attend a local fall fair (this year even a rodeo!)
Labour Day is a statutory holiday here, where almost all stores, except for the essentials are closed – because it’s a holiday for labour of course. In our Northern town most things are closed, but in the South – our local factory outlet mall will be open for back to school shopping – and The Beer Store is open in many places. (Just the essentials?)
I can remember many years when the kids were small, struggling to find one last thing for school lunches – or that thing they really needed for their pencil cases.
Even though my kids are now all adults and are finishing up or are finished University – this is the first year that I haven’t packed them up fresh school supplies. Apparently nobody uses pencils and pens and notebooks anymore…………
While we may think of Labour Day as marking a change of seasons and back to school, it has much more important significance in history. Being a tad on the stodgy side politically, I am not always so sympathetic to current labour unions. A raise, dental benefits, banking of sick days and quiet quitting – may all come to mind when we think about Labour Day. Labour Day should help us remember that it wasn’t so long ago that it wasn’t OK to strike or protest, and a 12 hour workday 7 days a week in unsafe conditions was the expectation.
The first Labour Day occurred just five years after Canada’s confederation in 1872, when the first large scale labour demonstration was organized. In late March of 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike. The first Labour Day parade – of 10,000 people descended upon Toronto on April 15 1872 – when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized a protest for workers rights. 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking to campaign for a 9 hour workday.
My ancestors were from the printing trade in this time period, so I am curious as to their involvement in these events – I will likely never know. In reading the 1871 census, my great great grandfather was a printer at a newspaper east of the now Greater Toronto area. In 1881, I saw that he was employed at the Toronto Globe. I don’t know where he was working in between these dates, but I do know that the Typographical Union was striking against the Toronto Globe and protesting working a 12 hour workday. George Brown, the editor of the Globe called on the police and the strikers were jailed. It was illegal to belong to a union and the workers were charged with “criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade.”
Demonstrations in support took place on September 3, 1872, and the following year the anti-union law was repealed. Other unions began demanding a 54 hour work week. Labour Day became an official national holiday in Canada in 1894.
In the United States, the first Labor Day parade took place in 1882 in New York, (10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square) and in 1894 Labor Day became an official national holiday, although many states had already adopted the holiday.
Each year, Labour Day occurs at a time of change of season – back to work, back to school, – I remember however, the purpose of Labour Day and this time period when striking and unions were illegal and considered criminal conspiracies in Canada and around the world.
Oh, and I know that I’m not supposed to wear white after Labour day, but I just found the white pants I bought in the spring – so that’s not a rule for me.
Happy Labour Day and Happy Back To School!
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