Reflecting on Labor and 150 Years
As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, many across our vast country will be celebrating and remembering the history that made Canada the great nation it is today. Labour played a key role in that history, by fighting for rights and improving conditions for all workers, both represented and unrepresented alike. Our forefathers in the Labour movement fought hard on issues like hour of work, decent wages, health and safety, maternity leave and more.
Many lives were lost and many injuries sustained during the early years of our Unions to give us what we have today.While the list of achievements and benefits earned by Labour are seemingly endless, I would like to cover a few key moments in our history that changed the Labour movement forever and changed the lives of working people for betterment of all.
The Trade Union Act, 1872
On March 25, 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union walked of the job to advance workers’ interests on
the issue of a shorter work week. Replacement workers were brought in. On April 15th of that year a rally was held at Queens Park that was over 10,000 strong. The next day the strike committee was arrested.
Just two days later Prime Minister John A. MacDonald introduced legislation called the Trade Union Act
which legalized and gave protection to Unions and to the Canadian workers fighting to form them.
Winnipeg Strike, 1919
The Winnipeg general strike in 1919 is another key moment for the Canadian workers. In one of the biggest strikes in Canadian history, workers from all walks of life from both the public and
private sectors — walked off the job at 11:00 am on May 15, 1919. Just over a month later, on June 19, police and union-busters were brought in. Shots were fired at
striking workers. Two were killed and many more were injured.
While the violence brought an end to the strike, these bloody events set the stage for many future
Unemployment insurance, 1940
The Unemployment insurance we all take for granted was born only after the heroic efforts of unemployed workers in Vancouver, who were forced to work in camps for next to nothing. Finally, they abandoned the camps and struck for two months. The workers then trekked to Ottawa to further their cause by addressing elected officials on Parliament Hill. This was stopped by government orders and the strike was ended — but the legacy of protection from unemployment lives on.
Windsor Ford strike, 1945
Even today, Unions’ enemies push right-to-work laws to let freeloaders to enjoy Union terms without
paying dues. The 1945 strike at Windsors massive Ford plant led to the precisely opposite ruling.
In 1945 the Canadian Auto Workers went on strike. There were 14,000 workers in the Ford plant, many
of whom were voluntarily paying dues. The Union wanted automatic dues check-off and two weeks paid
After 99 days, government intervention and the appointment of an arbitrator, the strike ended.
Six weeks later arbitrator Ivan Rand, a Supreme Court justice, gave his decision rejecting mandatory
Union membership but approving automatic dues check-off—based on the reasoning that because
everyone in the workplace benefits from the Union they should contribute to the Union.
Our struggle continues
While these events represent important moments in our nation’s history, they are only a few glimpses
at a struggle that includes many other battles—all fought to give us things like overtime pay, maternity
leave, health and safety legislation, and much more.
Today, Unions fight constantly to maintain the gains that working families won many years ago and to
stave off the relentless attacks from those who oppose us and who look to degrade our decent standard
In order to successfully protect our gains and our standards, We must continue to stand together as
Brothers and Sisters collectively while we also work with those who stand with us.
Doing so will ensure we can maintain and build upon our history and the gains we now enjoy
—because for future generations of working families, their livelihoods will depend upon what
we do today.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA!