Labour movement in Canada
By Rathika Sitsabaiesan
With the end of summer holidays and students preparing to return to school, many people are happy to have the Labour Day long weekend to rest and recuperate before the fall. However, we often forget the importance of Labour Day and the contribution that working people have made to Canadian society.
Labour Day is a celebration of the role that working people play in driving our economy forward and has taken place on the first Monday of September since the 1880s. In addition to celebrating the contributions that current working people make to Canada it recognizes the many rights that we now have due to the labour movement. This ranges from the right to fair wages, safe working conditions and compensation for injury, equitable labour relations, a 5 day work week, and countless others.
Many people gave their lives for these improved conditions and it’s no wonder that labour is often an emotional issue. However, individuals from all political backgrounds can appreciate the improvements to working conditions and wages that unions have brought in the past.
The labour movement began in the mid nineteenth century as large factories began opening up in Canada as we experienced the industrial revolution. Workers in these factories had to work long hours, for little pay, and with a significantly high risk of injury or loss of life. The first workers to form together to combat the poor conditions were the skilled-craft workers, and they were swiftly followed by general labourers who began to form unions in the late nineteenth century.
Despite initial gains, the labour movement made little progress until after the Second World War due to a lagging economy and strong-arm tactics by the provincial and federal governments. However, as Canada’s economy picked up following the Second World War the labour movement took some huge steps forward, not least of which was the formation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).
The CCF would soon become the New Democratic Party of Canada, and was helped by the formation of many strong public sector unions during the mid 1960s.
Regardless of your political stripes and colours, Canadians across the country have all benefited in one way or other from the advancements made by the Labour Movement in Canada. While some people may question the necessity of the Labour Movement in modern Canada, Canadian Labour is still pushing hard to see many changes and modernizations made – the up-keep and modernization of the Canadian Labour Code and Health and Safety Regulations, the complete instatement of equal pay for work of equal value, child care provisions to help working families, the betterment of national pensions and drug benefits, and many more. The Labour Movement is also active internationally in issues ranging from trade agreements to international working conditions to democracy promotion to HIV/AIDS. They still play a very current and important role in our democratic and political process.
So this September long weekend, while enjoying the holiday Monday, I invite you all to take a moment and think about how this day came to be. I hope you all had a great summer and I look forward to welcoming fall with you all this September long weekend.
(Rathika Sitsabaiesan, MP, Scarborough-Rouge River)