Labour Day

On this Labour Day (or Labor if you prefer), remember how your day off came into being.

In Canada, in 1872, a parade was held by the Toronto Typographical Union in support of reducing the work week to 58 hours. George Brown, their boss, had police charge these unionists with “conspiracy”, resulting in 24 arrests. Another parade was held on September 3rd in protest of the arrests, and eventually the laws criminalizing union activity were repealed. Canada set their Labour Day to the first Monday of September in 1880, and it’s a national holiday.

In the States, after the Haymarket Massacre in 1886 where a number of workers were killed by police on May 3rd, and unionists rallied the next day to push for an eight hour work week and to protest the deaths of the workers the day before, acts which were widely speculated to have been done by the police at the behest of the corporate interests. The protest ended in riot when some unknown assailant threw dynamite into the crowd, killing seven officers and four civilians — an act that resulted in arrests of 24 anarchists, but is frequently speculated to have been committed by an anti-union provocateur. No bomber was ever brought to justice.

While most other countries had May 1 as their labour day to coincide with (or *be*) International Workers’ Day, Grover Cleveland feared May 1 would be used to commemorate the events of the Haymarket Massacre, so he set it to the same day as Canada’s instead. Unions continued to push for a 40-hr work week, and eventually won it — of course, unless you’re salaried, then you’re expected to work or be on call basically all the time without extra compensation.

Remember that people literally died for your labour rights, and that even despite the massive income disparity and corporate-tilted playing field, you might have it even worse if it weren’t for unions and labour rights advocates.

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Labour Day
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