So what IS Labour day. Eh?

I’m writing this post for you, the 4 people who aren’t at the cottage, back to school shopping or suffering from a hangover so large you not only look like death, you’re kind of looking forward to it.

rosie-the-riveter-1943

I’m a very kind person.

So, you 4, wanna know why you have the day off?  What exactly IS labour day other than the beginning of a deep dive into pumpkin spice everything and seasonal affective disorder?  We in Canada get a long weekend, generally celebrate all the workers in the country and probably scarf down summertime classics like burgers and salad.  But how did labour day start and why?

It’s a holiday that happens all around the world but in North America, where I am writing to you from, it always happens on the first Monday of September. Which just happens to be tomorrow.

Which is also why this is going to be a short post, because why should you get three full days off, but not me? And don’t bother getting ready to yell at me if you happen to be working today because you’re currently browsing the Internet while you’re supposed to be hard at work which means you’re slacking just like I am.

Slack all you want at work today, I don’t give a care. Unless you’re a firefighter because people still need their cats rescued and someone to cry to when they accidentally set off their house alarms.

All my American friends out there can thank your lucky stars and stripes that you live right next door to Canada because we’re the ones who gave you the idea for Labour Day. Or Labor Day as you call it.

The history of labour day

In April, 1872 there was a big stink going on in Toronto, Canada. 10,000 workers took over the streets in the first organized labour demonstration. That was 10% of the population in Toronto at the time.

They were protesting on behalf of 26 typographical workers who had been sent to prison for striking. These typographical workers wanted their work week to be shortened from 72 hours to 55 hours. Lazy, lazy, lazy. This was frowned upon so they were sent to jail.

Unions were outlawed at the time you see, making striking an illegal offence punishable by being throw in the clink.

For the next decade Canadian unionists and workers organized a day of celebrating and fighting for the rights of labourers. After ten years of celebrating like this, in 1882, the event organizer invited an American union activist to speak at the Canadian labour festival. He was so impressed he immediately went home and started organizing a similar event in New York City for that year.

And you know the rest of the story from there. We get a day off to relax from our 40 hour work week.

Those typographical workers in 1872? I’m sure they knew they were taking a chance by doing what they did. But chances are they didn’t know they would change history.

Immediately after the ruckus, John A. MacDonald, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time updated the laws to allow unionization.

Yay Johnny!

A decade later this freewheeling champion of the people, John A. MacDonald authorized and approved of the creation of Canada’s residential school system that saw hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children taken from their parents. 

So. 

Sorry for the downer diversion but there’s no way I could talk about MacDonald without mentioning the … well, you know, the cultural genocide/potential actual genocide that went on for over a century.

Back to Labour day. Whether or not you agree with or like unions now, if it weren’t for those typographical workers and the unions that followed, you might just be reading this post from work today instead of from your pool float.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, be aware, and don’t drink so much that you set your own home alarm off.


Click here for a concise and easy to understand explanation of Canada’s Indigenous school system.


21 Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    You need a “like/love” button at the end of your posts. I’m too tired of labouring to type

  2. Chicagorandy says:

    I do hope you know what a true delight you are to the soul, mind and eye.

  3. Other says:

    Very interesting!

    Too bad no unions for retail / restaurant workers.
    80 or 96 hour weeks (IF you can get work).
    Little to nearly no pay sometimes. Waitresses often get only $2 an hour! So be nice, and tip nice please!
    (Really, if you’re not nice to the waitress / waiter, who is going to protect your food from the things that happen to it when you can’t see it? I could tell y’all some stories. *shudders* lol ;)

    • Colin says:

      No union and no minimum wage?!

      That’s just plain awful.

      In my comment further down, I outlined how Australian workers obtained a 40 hour week. Other things we were granted were a national minimum wage (currently $19.84 an hour) and the freedom to join a union. And there is one here *specifically* for restaurant workers… it’s a damned shame you don’t have such rights :(

    • Benjamin Hepple says:

      96 hour work week? Is that 12 hours a day for 8 days a week, or 8 hours a day for 12 days a week. Be real sis, no server works a 96 hour work week.

  4. Mary W says:

    I didn’t know any of this stuff – thank you! We always began school the first day after Labor Day and I still think that is a good idea. But, First week in August, teachers go back. YUK. The air was cleaner, fresher, cooler this morning – sure sign that fall will be soon. My granddaughter works at a school down here in Florida and of course, she got Covid and is at home now. She was vaccinated and her illness is very much reduced but we all were around her and now I’m thinking I have it. Everything tiny cough makes me afraid even though I’ve been vaccinated. I’m old! How is your Mom? Haven’t heard anything lately and miss hearing about her and smiling.

    • Karen says:

      Betty is good! I just dropped some pizza/focaccia to her yesterday. She’s a bit of a wild child. I have a hard time keeping her at home and away from people (Costco). She wears her mask, is double vaccinated and I just cross my fingers and hope for the best. ~ karen!

  5. Gretchen says:

    I join the throng of fans who loved this post! I especially appreciated the further info on MacDonald—who knew? Which just goes to show: there is always more to the story! Thanks Karen!

  6. Lynn says:

    Well we are visiting grand babies , tomorrow we are having a family get together with all the kids. An calling iit ( Thanksgiving/ Christmas) for our family. Our Kids idea as it’s been almost 24 months since we all got together.
    Looking forward to seeing all them in person plus storing memories on my foggy old brain box hahaha. ( no powers required) laughter is best served in large doses often as family likes to say.
    Happy Labour day everyone.

  7. Teresa says:

    Thanks, Karen. I love this post and did not know we owed this to brave Canadian workers. It is always good to remember that just a few people can spark a huge change for the good. (Insert clever, smart-ass, slightly cynical addendum here)

    Tomorrow I’m going to sing some rousing Union Songs!

  8. Peggy Pharr says:

    I love, love, love your posts. They are so real.
    I’m 83 and still find enjoyment in them.

  9. Colin says:

    Labour Day in Australia is celebrated on every year too (but on various dates depending on which state you live in. It’s complicated.) Like your typographical workers of 1872, stonemasons in Melbourne, Victoria, went on strike way back in 1856, and were granted 40-hour week, with no loss of pay. The rest of Australia followed suit not long after.

  10. Chicagorandy says:

    Since I’ve been retired here in Chicago since 2014 – or some year like that cuz once you retire you tend to lose all track of time as mere mortals know it – I never really know how to act this coming Monday morn. Maybe I should actually DO some sort of ‘work’? Maybe something along the lines of ingesting then digesting too much food and drink? That sounds like the kind of work I’m qualified for these days. Yep, that’s the plan.

  11. kemosabe says:

    Thanks for the information and thanks for “Labour” day. I always labor on “Labour” day and enjoy it.

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