Well, rather than rant about why it’s a big deal for ME… here I will share the 2 epic stories of American and Canadian Labour day. (Ours was first, and better… as usual)
There was mass protest, political power crushed by the weight of the peoples need for change, and people jailed for speaking up! (Canada)
There was open warfare, murder, mass evictions, and perversions of justice to extend the oppression of the poor! (America)
Both led to more freedoms, Unionization, and better laws as well as a VERY important holiday. Even then, the way we did things differed wildly.
First, thanks to the Tyee for this enlightenment:
Canada’s Labour Day:
Like most things with Canada/US relations we did it first and better. Canadian Labour day’s story from the Tyee:
The origins of Labour Day in Canada trace back 140 years to 1872 and a parade held in support of a Toronto union’s strike for a 58-hour work week. Back then, union activity was illegal in Canada and 24 workers were jailed for their role in the strike.
An outcry of support and rally on Sept. 3 of 1873 led Prime Minister John A. MacDonald to commit to repealing the law banning union activity, helping to lay the groundwork for real progress for working people.
Since 1894, when Prime Minister John Thompson declared Labour Day an official holiday, working people have celebrated our gains and honoured those who fought for the rights and privileges we enjoy today.
*Personal Note from Mike via John O’Brian* In between the 1872 strike and the 1894 declaration of Labour Day, the Haymarket affair occurred in Chicago. In 1884, North American unions had picked May 1st as the day that the 8-hour workday would become standard, declaring general strikes until it was won. In 1886, there was a bombing at a May Day rally for which several union activists were unjustly executed.
May Day, is the day that working people picked to be International Worker’s Day. Thompson was a conservative and declared Labour Day in September as a clever way to defuse rabble-rousing (looking back on a history 24 people jailed for organizing doesn’t move people as much as 500k on strike, dozens dead or wounded and 8 murdered by the government) and break solidarity between Canadian unionists and lefties elsewhere in the world.
An equally cynical move came in 1958 when Eisenhower declared May 1st “Law Day”, to commemorate the importance of law and order, countering the “red”-ness of IWD.
So we should celebrate twice a year. At least. =D - I completely agree John, thanks!
Unfortunately, the last 30 years has seen a troubling growth in inequality in our society.
From World War II through 1980, working people shared equally in the gains of productivity with shareholders and owners through higher wages and improved purchasing power. But from 1980 forward, while productivity increased at an even greater rate, workers’ wages stagnated and all gains of productivity have gone to owners and senior executives.
Today’s middle class family feels like they are having a harder time making ends meet, because they are. Meanwhile, the rich have never been so rich.
Signs of hope
On this Labour Day, however, I look forward with optimism that we are turning a corner towards greater equality.
Front-line workers in B.C.’s public service are negotiating for fair and reasonable wage increases. And despite the intransigence of Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon, polling consistently shows that women and men across British Columbia support these workers in their simple demand to not fall further behind or lose rights they and their predecessors fought to secure.
British Columbians want a fair and equitable society, and they recognize that the front-line workers in our schools, hospitals, and social and government services are an important part of that society.
In the private sector, workers are once again negotiating agreements that see them share in the gains of their productivity and the value of their work. Recent agreements between workers and companies like Rio Tinto and Teck Resources have put more income in the pockets of workers, and boosted the fortunes of local communities.
The power of local investment
Tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy are too often invested in overseas companies or simply held as cash, creating no local economic activity. But when working people earn more, they tend to spend it in their own communities.
Just ask business owners in Trail, where employees of Teck Resources, represented by the United Steelworkers, negotiated a $10,000 signing bonus earlier this year. Trail businesses in every sector, from auto sales to restaurants to retail, immediately reported a significant increase in economic activity in their community.
These agreements are setting a pattern for wage growth for all working people, whether in a union or not. This is good news for working and middle class families and it’s also good news for our economy.
Liveable communities are anchored in a strong middle class and it was unions who were responsible for the development of the middle class.
This Labour Day, as investment bankers and CEOs fight to hold on to a greater and greater share of the wealth working people generate, unions remain as relevant as they were 140 years ago when our predecessors fought to reduce the work week to fewer than 60 hours.
We continue to fight for better work and better lives for all Canadians, and I am hopeful that we are turning a corner towards better times for us all.
American Labor Day
(I spelled it wrong, because they do).
This weekend marks the anniversary of the most brutal confrontation in the history of the American labor movement, the Battle of Blair Mountain. For one week during 1921, armed, striking coal miners battled scabs, a private militia, police officers and the US Army. 100 people died, 1,000 were arrested, and one million shots were fired.
It was the largest armed rebellion in America since the Civil War.
This is how it happened. In the Twenties, West Virginia coal miners lived in “company towns.” The mining companies owned all the property. They literally ran union organizers out of town – or killed them.
In 1912, in a strike at Paint Creek, the mining company forced the striking miners and their families out of their homes, to live in tents. Then they sent armed goons into that tent city, and opened fire on men, women and children there with a machine gun.
By 1920, the United Mine Workers had organized the northern mines in West Virginia, but they were barred from the southern mines. When southern miners tried to join the union, they were fired and evicted. To show who was boss, one mining company tried to place machine guns on the roofs of buildings in town.
In Matewan, when the coal company goons came to town to take it upon themselves to enforce eviction notices, the mayor and the sheriff asked them to leave. The goons refused. Incredibly, the goons tried to arrest the sheriff, Sheriff Hatfield. Shots were fired, and the mayor and nine others were killed. But the company goons had to flee.
The government sided with the coal companies, and put Sheriff Hatfield on trial for murder. The jury acquitted him. Then they put the sheriff on trial for supposedly dynamiting a non-union mine. As the sheriff walked up the courthouse steps to stand trial again, unarmed, company goons shot him in cold blood, in front of his wife.
This led to open confrontations between miners on one hand, and police and company goons on the other. 13,000 armed miners assembled, and marched on the southern mines in Logan and Mingo Counties. They confronted a private militia of 2,000, hired by the coal companies.
President Harding was informed. He threatened to send in troops and even bombers to break the union. Many miners turned back, but then company goons started killing unarmed union men, and some armed miners pushed on. The militia attacked armed miners, and the coal companies hired airplanes to drop bombs on them. The US Army Air Force, as it was known then, observed the miners’ positions from overhead, and passed that information on to the coal companies.
The miners actually broke through the militia’s defensive perimeter, but after five days, the US Army intervened, and the miners stood down. By that time, 100 people were dead. Almost a thousand miners then were indicted for murder and treason. No one on the side of the coal companies was ever held accountable.
The Battle of Blair Mountain showed that the miners could not defeat the coal companies and the government in battle. But then something interesting happened: the miners defeated the coal companies and the government at the ballot box. In 1925, convicted miners were paroled. In 1932, Democrats won both the State House and the White House. In 1935, President Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act. Eleven years after the Battle of Blair Mountain, the United Mine Workers organized the southern coal fields in West Virginia.
The Battle of Blair Mountain did not have a happy ending for Sheriff Hatfield, or his wife, or the 100 men, women and children who died, or the hundreds who were injured, or the thousands who lost their jobs. But it did have a happy ending for the right to organize, and the middle class, and America.
Now let me ask you one thing: had you ever heard of this landmark event in American history, the Battle of Blair Mountain, before you read this? And if not, then why not? Think about that.
PS Here is the story in pictures, via heavy metal history