This day in labour history

May 27, 2015

In April of 1872, unionized printers striking for the 9-hour day are arrested in Toronto and jailed.  Their demand was a decrease in their work days to nine-hours at a time when some workers were expected to work for as long as 12 hours.  The printers paraded with union supporters to Queen’s Park where a crowd of 10,000 strong rallied on their side. The following day employers, led by Liberal George Brown of the “Globe”, had 24 strike leaders arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy.  They could do this because it was legal for workers to use their collective action as union members to strike their employers.

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Capitalizing on the political folly of Brown’s action, and growing outrage, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald passed the first labour law in Canada.  On May 7, 1872, the ‘Trades Unions Act’ was born. Following this, the Prime Minister also removed union members from “criminal conspiracy” for taking strike action.  In Ottawa Union men marched to his home in celebration and paraded him through the streets by torch light. 

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