The Labour Day long week-end is just ahead of us. This day has been celebrated in Canada on the first Monday in September since the 1880’s. We set this day aside to acknowledge the vision of the workers who came before us. They fought and sacrificed for many of the benefits we now take for granted; things like a forty-hour week, an eight-hour day, sick leave, maternity leave and …. long week-ends!
In today’s world, unions in both the private and public sector are being pressured to give up some of their rights. Many non-union and union workers are facing the threat of losing opportunities to earn livable wages with fair benefits. Therefore, it is more important than ever to remember, especially on Labour Day, the struggles of working men and women who earned these rights for us and to ensure that we hold on to everything they fought for. It is also a day when we should remember these earlier visionaries with gratitude for all they did to make lives better for their generation and the generations to follow.
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 Prime Minister John A. MacDonald repealed anti-union laws and under his government, the first Trade Union Act was passed in 1873.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 a coalition of twenty-seven unions under the banner of the Toronto Trades Assembly.
Union members all over the world celebrate Labour Day, although not necessarily on the first Monday in September. Most countries site the origin of Labour Day as the fight for the eight-hour workday and for fair working conditions and benefits.
Non-union members appreciate the actions of organized labour because 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. Parents use this week-end to spend one last leisurely week-end with their children before the school year begins. And of course, in Saskatchewan, we normally cheer on our Riders in the annual Labour Day Classic against the Blue Bombers, but in this COVID year, that is simply the stuff that dreams are made of.
Whatever your plans are for this weekend, I hope you enjoy it. Take some time to reflect on the reason we observe this weekend. It’s a good time to thank those who came before us and fought for the benefits we continue to enjoy today.