Celebrating Labour Day: the holiday Canada gave the world
- National Union of Public and General Employees, Canada
Labour Day began in Canada on April 15, 1872, a mere five years after Confederation. On that historic day the Toronto Trades Assembly, the original central labour body in Canada, organized the country's first significant 'workers demonstration.'
At the time trade unions were still illegal, and authorities still tried to repress them, even though laws against 'criminal conspiracy' to disrupt trade unions had already been abolished in Britain.
Despite the obstacles, the assembly had emerged as an important force in Toronto. It spoke out on behalf of working people, encouraged union organization and acted as a watchdog when workers were exploited. Occasionally, it also mediated disputes between employers and employees.
By the time the landmark parade was organized in 1872 the assembly had a membership of 27 unions, representing wood workers, builders, carriage makers and metal workers, plus an assortment of other trades ranging from bakers to cigar makers.
One of the prime reasons for organizing the demonstration was to demand the release of 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union (TTU), who had been imprisoned for the 'crime' of striking to gain a nine-hour working day.
The event took on a life of its own and was one that authorities could not ignore.