We get to enjoy a long weekend this week because of Labour Day. In Canada, we have celebrated Labour Day on the first Monday in September since the 1880’s. This day is set aside to acknowledge the sacrifices and vision of workers who came before us and fought for many of the benefits we now take for granted; things like a forty-hour week, an eight-hour day, sick leave and maternity leave and – yes, long week-ends.
Today, unions in both the private and public sector are being pressured to give up some of their rights. Many workers are facing the threat of losing opportunities to earn livable wages with fair benefits, especially in non-union jobs. All of this makes it more important than ever to remember the struggles of earlier workers and to ensure that we hold on to everything they fought for. Also important on Labour Day is to simply remember these earlier workers and their vision with gratitude for all they did to make lives better for everyone.
The labour unions were the first to advocate the “eight-hour movement” – eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation and eight hours for rest. Prime Minister John A. MacDonald repealed anti-union laws and under his government, the first Trade Union Act was passed in 1873. This happened due to the efforts of the Toronto Trades Assembly, a coalition of twenty-seven unions.
Labour Day is especially important to union members all over the world and is celebrated world-wide, although not all on the same day. Countries site the origin of Labour Day as the fight for the eight-hour workday and for fair working conditions and benefits.
Those who are not members of a union also appreciate the actions of organized labour. Their efforts over the years have led to workers being treated more fairly and with more respect in their workplace. It was because of the pressure exerted by the members of organized unions that even non-unionized workplaces began to offer eight-hour days and forty-hour weeks. We continue to enjoy many other benefits, no matter where we work and no matter if we are affiliated with a union or not.
Many of us see the Labour Day weekend as the end of summer and the start of the new school year. People often close down their summer place on this weekend. And of course, in Saskatchewan, we cheer on our Riders in the annual Labour Day Classic against the Blue Bombers. Parents often use this weekend to spend leisurely quality time with their children before the mad rush of school and extra-curricular events and sports begin.
Whatever your plans are for this weekend, I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you take a moment to reflect on the reason we observe this weekend and acknowledge those who came before us and who fought for the benefits we continue to enjoy today.