In case you missed it, we had Labour Day this past Monday. Like many of the stat holidays that we enjoy in North America, the origins of Labour Day have been largely forgotten. Here in Canada, it was in April of 1872 in Toronto that the first demonstrations were held in support of the rights of workers. 24 leaders of Typographical Union had been thrown in jail after they publicly campaigned for a nine hour day.
Striking was regarded as “a criminal conspiracy to disrupt trade”. In one of his more sober and sensible moments, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald attended a labour rally in Ottawa that spring and he promised to repeal all Canadian laws against trade unions.
Labour Day has been celebrated across North America on the first Monday in September since 1894. The U.S. Congress declared the holiday in memory of Pullman workers who were murdered that year by army soldiers and federal marshals after 4,000 of them staged a wildcat strike in Chicago. They worked on Pullman railway cars, and they walked out after the company slashed their wages because there was a recession going on, but chose not to reduce the rents they had to pay for the miserable company housing they were forced to live in.
The U.S. President at the time was a guy named Grover Cleveland, who made Donald Trump look like a bleeding heart.
Stories like this no longer happen in 2016 because enough people cared back then to do something about obvious injustice. But you have to wonder about the relationship and lack of respect between organized labour and government in a place like Saskatchewan. Brad Wall has been Premier since November of 2007. Larry Hubich is still waiting for his first one on one meeting with the Premier. He is president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. That was the body that took the government all the way to the Court of Appeal over its labour legislation, and they won. They also won a moral victory on the issue at the United Nations.
If Uncle Brad had been prepared to show a little more respect over the past nine years, perhaps the story would have been different.
I’m Roger Currie