How did we get here and what’s next?

By Jim Lipkovits

Labour Day - a brief rest and respite from the daily grind, not just for Union workers, but for everyone. How we got here and where to from here?

One hundred and forty six years ago there was a lot of work needing  to be done to build, extend and consolidate political power and a physical presence to the edges of Canada. A great many people were needed to do all that was needed and although it was against British law, many of these working people were able to organize in Canada and struggle for justice and their basic human and civil  rights.

Labour DayIt was in Hamilton in Ontario, on January 27th, 1872, that workers organized “the Nine Hour Movement” in support of, naturally- the nine hour day. The idea spread quickly and  it was picked up first by the Printers Union in Toronto and then spread around the country. Very quickly after that, on March 25th  of 1872  the Printers Union went on strike for a fifty-eight hour week against publisher George Brown ( a “father” of Confederation) who immediately had the printers arrested and jailed under the provisions of Britain’s Combination Act.

 A month later workers in Hamilton staged a hugely successful march through the city of Hamilton demanding the nine-hour day. The action drew widespread support from the many other “nine-hour” groups, who sent delegates to the Hamilton marchers and became Canada’s first regional labour federation. 

 Out of the confrontation, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald saw an opportunity to embarrass George Brown, his political rival and before the summer was out, passed the Trade Union Act.  On  June 14, 1872 the new law legalized and protected trade unions – it was no longer considered a conspiracy for workers to band together to improve working conditions.

 From that time on, federation members continued parading and protesting annually and twenty-two years later on July 23, 1894, then Prime Minister Sir John Thompson passed a law making Labour Day a national holiday in Canada every year.

 OK, where to now?

In British Columbia under the Liberals, the last eighteen years have been models of collusion and corruption at the highest levels. We  have seen  reductions in public services and staffing cuts across a wide range services. While the government was on its cost cutting spree of public services they still managed to enrich their contractor and development croneys with a succession of boondoggles.

Pull QuoteLooting crown corporations like Hydro and ICBC or outright selling them in spite of  public protests was all too common. Contracting out of public services, and stripping publicly owned entities of their assets and their people. We have been  witness to  the sell-off of BC  assets and resources to corporations and anti-union companies.

And of  course the  attack on working people and their unions with the creation of an unfair playing field pitting union companies against non-union companies and Fake/company unions. The Liberals have surely proven that they had no use for the rights of working people and their unions in this province.  

It really is time for a change.

At this point, British Columbia Premier John Horgan has the opportunity to match Prime Ministers John A. MacDonald and Sir John Thompson to take a step forward for working people. British Columbians can only hope that the introduction of Community Benefits Agreements into legislation will begin to push back the unfair labour legislation and business practices of the past Liberal governments. We can always hope.


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