Monday, 5 September 2011

Celebrate Labour Day ... But, Remember!

In Canada, Labour Day celebrations are rooted in the December 1872 parade organized by the Toronto Trades Assembly in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour work-week. Somewhat behind the times even then, Canada still had laws against unions and strikes. 24 union leaders were arrested and more marches and parades were held. Eventually, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald's government passed the Trade Union Act in 1873, thereby making unions legal. By the 1880s, labour festivals were being held annually in the spring. In the summer of 1882, Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor was invited to speak at an event in Toronto. He returned to New York City to organize a parade on September 5 that year.

In 1894, based on the American parade, Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson's government made Labour Day a statutory holiday on the first Monday in September. In turn, President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day an official holiday in the United States that same year, on the same first Monday of September. International Worker's Day (May Day) of course was held every spring. New Zealand made the fourth Monday in October Labour Day beginning in 1900. Many other countries have varying Labour Days.

For most of us this is the last breath of fresh summer air before autumn (meaning work and school schedules, not seasonally which begins on September 23 with equinox). But with the decline of living standards, the political right's attack on unions, the cutting of public services, the demonization of public employees and the destabilzation of employment over the past few decades, we should remember the roots of this celebration and that our society and its communities were built (are built) by the work of countless workers of all kinds, by human beings with dreams, passions and stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment