Celebrating the Accomplishments of Labour Unions, Past and Present

In Canada, we have a lot to thank the labour movement for: from shorter work days to retirement benefits to maternity leave. Labour Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the labour movement, and recognize the value of unions in our society.

In celebration of Labour Day 2018, let’s take a look at the important reasons we celebrate Labour Day:

The Fight for Shorter Work Days

In Canada, the labour movement’s first major achievement was the fight for a shorter work day. In Toronto in 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union demanded a nine-hour work day from the city’s publishers. When the employers refused, the printers walked off the job. Their strike earned widespread support from other Toronto workers – a crowd of 10,000 supporters showed up for a rally on April 15, 1872. In those days, union activity was criminal and the strike committee was arrested – however, Prime Minster John A. MacDonald introduced the Trade Union Act on April 18, 1872, legalizing and protecting unions.

This fight to obtain a nine-hour work day sparked the movement, and showed workers the benefits of being part of a union. This movement led to annual celebrations of Labour Day across the country to pay tribute to these important achievements.

Raising the Bar for All Workers

Over the years, unions have fought hard for rights that all workers enjoy, including:

  • Health and safety regulations

  • Overtime pay

  • Minimum wage

  • Vacation time

  • Retirement benefits

  • Maternity leave, and more.

These work standards actually benefit non-union workers as well, as it raises the bar for employers everywhere.

Today, unions continue to advocate for:

  • Better maternity and parental benefits, including better access to quality and affordable child care.

  • Fair wages – including a higher minimum wage. Thanks to successful organizing, three of Canada’s largest provinces – Alberta, Ontario and B.C. – have began to implement a new minimum of $15/hour.

According to the Canadian Labour Congress, today just 30.4% of workers are union members. Being part of a union makes a difference – on average, unionized workers across Canada earn $5.28/hour more than non-union workers. Women also earn $7.10/hour more with unions – narrowing the gender pay gap.

Today’s unions continue to campaign for workers’ rights, providing greater job security, workplace safety, and a work-life balance to members and non-members alike.

Looking to the Future

The labour movement is certainly not a thing of the past, despite the anti-union sentiment expressed at times in the media; unions continue to organize and lobby for better standards in our country’s workplaces. Labour Day is a great chance to remember why unions were created: to improve the lives of workers. There is still work to be done, and unions continue to fight for greater benefits and fairer working conditions.

This Labour Day, take time to consider the value of unions, and all the benefits we enjoy because of the labour movement. Send a “thank you” to unions and their members this holiday weekend. After all, we wouldn’t have weekends at all if it were not for unions.