A history lesson on Labour Day

Thom is grateful he wasn’t born in the 1800’s

A history lesson on Labour Day

Sometimes I marvel at what we have accomplished and created as a species.

Such was the case Monday as I contemplated writing about Labour Day.

It is a hazard of my profession, perhaps, that I can’t just gratefully take my stat holidays for granted, but it is very instructive to think deeply about what they mean.

Personally, I feel very lucky to have been born in the place and time I was.

It’s almost incredible today to recall that when the labour movement started to take off in Canada in March 1872, it was over a shorter work week.

In those days, Toronto print workers worked 11- to 12-hour shifts seven days a week and the Toronto Typographical Union demanded a nine-hour work day.

When the publishers refused, they walked off the job and Toronto Globe publisher George Brown had the strike committee arrested for criminal conspiracy.

A month later, Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald introduced the Trade Union Act, which legalized and protected unions.

This was probably not so much out of concern for workers as MacDonald’s rivalry with Brown, a reform politician.

MacDonald, of course, is also notorious for having conscripted Chinese labourers to build the Canadian Pacific Railway at $1 per day compared to other railway workers who earned $1.50 to $2.

In fact, throughout history, most of everything that has been built was done so on the backs of slave, or near-slave, workers.

In many parts of the world this is still true and although we made great strides in the industrialized West toward a more egalitarian society during the 20th century there has been erosion of those gains in more recent decades.

I’m not going to rehash all the data here. Suffice it to say, despite the average person being better off than previous generations, income inequality is at an all time high and growing.

The Conference Board of Canada suggests “high inequality can diminish economic growth if it means that the country is not fully using the skills and capabilities of all its citizens or if it undermines social cohesion, leading to increased social tensions. Second, high inequality raises a moral question about fairness and social justice.”

We can all see this already happening around us.

The irony here, is that the labour movement may be partially a victim of its own success. It has given us higher wages, better benefits, shorter work days and shorter work weeks.

These are all things we should feel pretty good about, but have perhaps led us to a point of complacency.

I feel like that is changing.

The emerging generation is finding its voice and that voice is screaming for social justice.

I hope they are successful, for our kids’ kids sake.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
52 positive COVID-19 cases now associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

Eight cases still active, 44 considered recovered

Haley Callison. (Facebook photo)
Former Smithereen frustrated with COVID-deniers following horrific bout with the disease

Haleigh Callison hopes people will follow precautions and tone down the rhetoric

Pellet plants deal with a lot of combustible materials. (File photo)
“Fire-related event” at Houston pellet plant injures three, shuts down operations

Rumours of an associated explosion cannot be confirmed at this time

The Smithers District Chamber of Commerce coveted Alpine Man Statue for winners of the 2020 Community and Business Awards Nov 25. (contributed photo)
Smithers Feed Store named Business of the Year

Chamber of Commerce Community and Business Awards handed out in virtual ceremony via Zoom

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

Most Read