Labour Day - in the beginning

Labour Day celebrated on the first Monday of September is a statutory holiday throughout Canada – and, the Canadian labour movement can justly claim the title of originator of Labour Day.

Although Peter J. McGuire, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labour has traditionally been known as the 'Father of Labour Day' , historical evidence indicates that McGuire obtained his idea for the establishment of an annual demonstration and public holiday from Canadian trade unionists.

Winnipeg 1906Earliest records show that the Toronto Trades Assembly, perhaps the original central labour body in Canada, organized the first North American 'workingman's demonstration' of any significance for April 15,1872. The beribboned parade marched smartly in martial tread accompanied by four bands. About 10,000 Torontonians turned out to see the parade and listen to the speeches calling for abolition of the law which decreed that trade unions were criminal conspiracies in restraint of trade.

The freedom of 24 imprisoned leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union, on strike to secure the nine-hour working day, was the immediate purpose of the parade, on what was then Thanksgiving Day. It was still a crime to be a member of a union in Canada although the law of criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade had been repealed by the United Kingdom parliament in 1871.

Toronto was not the only city to witness a labour parade in 1872. On September 3, members of seven unions in Ottawa organized a parade more than a mile long, headed by the Garrison Artillery band and flanked by city fireman carrying torches.

The Ottawa parade wound its way to the home of Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald where the marchers hoisted him into a carriage and drew him to Ottawa City Hall by torchlight. 'The Old Chieftain', aware of the discontent of workers with the laws which made unions illegal, in a ringing declaration from the steps of the City Hall, promised the marchers that his party would 'sweep away all such barbarous laws from the statute books'.

The offending conspiracy laws were repealed by the Canadian government in 1872. The tradition established by the Toronto Trades Assembly was continued through the seventies and into the early 1880's.

In 1882, the Toronto Trades and Labour Council, successor to the TTA, decided to organize the annual demonstration and picnic for July 22. The council sent an invitation to Peter J. McGuire of New York requesting his services of as a speaker for the occasion. McGuire was the founder and general secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters which had organized the previous year.

Vancouver Labour DayIt was in the same year, that McGuire proposed at a meeting of the New York Central Labour Union that a festive day be set aside for a demonstration and picnic. Labour Day was first celebrated in New York on September 5,1882. It is apparent, however, that the custom had developed in Canada and the invitation sent to McGuire prompted his suggestion to the New York labour body.

Soon pressure for legislation to declare a national holiday for Labour Day was exerted in both Canada and the United States. In 1894 the government of Sir John Thompson enacted such legislation on July 23, with the Prime Minister piloting the bill through Parliament against the opposition of some of his Conservative followers.

Canadian trade unionists have celebrated this day set aside to honor those who labour' from the 1870's on. The first Labour Day parade in Winnipeg, in 1894, was two miles long.

There can be little doubt that the annual demonstrations of worker's solidarity each Labour Day in North America owe their inspiration to small group of 'illegal' members of the Toronto Trades Assembly.
The above is an edited version of an article written in September, 1961 by Clifford A Scotton, editor of the former CLC flagship publication, "Canadian Labour".

Better seniors care a solution to overcrowded hospitals and surgery wait times

by Marcy Cohen

A recent landmark investigation by BC’s Ombudsperson highlighted the serious problems seniors experience in accessing affordable high-quality home and community-based services (such as residential care, home nursing and home support). At the same time, BC continues to grapple with overcrowded hospitals and long waitlists for emergency care and surgeries.

Taken together, these challenges can seem overwhelming, prompting dire warnings about the “financial sustainability” of Medicare and fears that aging baby boomers are about to overwhelm the health care system, leaving few resources for younger British Columbians.

But a more comprehensive and better-coordinated system of seniors care can help us move beyond this impasse. It can help seniors stay healthy and independent in their own homes and communities. It can reduce strain on family caregivers, many of who are already balancing full-time work and parenting. And it can reduce pressure on hospitals, the most expensive part of our health care system.

However, a decade of underfunding and restructuring has led to a home and community care system that is fragmented, confusing to navigate, and unable to meet seniors’ needs.

A research report I published this week finds, for example, that access to home support for seniors 75 and older dropped by 30% since 2001/02. Access to residential care dropped by 21%.....


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