History

Canada’s labour movement has a long history of improving workers’ everyday lives. We fought for and won many of the rights enjoyed by all workers today – minimum wages, overtime pay, workplace safety standards, maternity and parental leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination and harassment.

Today unions work hard every day to protect the rights we’ve won, and to win new rights for all workers. We are social unions, focused not just on the gains we can make in bargaining, but the gains we can make for society as a whole, like fighting to end child labour, or to win workers compensation, public pensions and social programs that help people keep working, like health care and child care.

This Week in Labour History

The poem that inspired a movement

On December 1, 1911, The American Magazine published a poem with the title “Bread and Roses” for the very first time. Over the next few years, it would become an anthem of the trade union movement, linked to the struggle for social justice and equality. Now a favourite anthem of the labour movement around the world, James Oppenheim was inspired to write the poem by a slogan “Bread for all, and Roses, too”. When his poem was published again in 1912, the…
Read More

Labour History

1919: The Winnipeg general strike

The year 1919 saw soldiers returning home after World War I to find high unemployment rates and inflation. They couldn’t get their jobs back and social tension was high.  Workers in various trades wanted fair wages: much like workers today, they just wanted to earn enough to be able to support their families in the changing economy. At 11:00 am on…
Read More

The birth of Unemployment Insurance

During the economic depression of 1929-39, young, unemployed men had to work in government work camps for paltry wages in isolated locations. In pursuit of a living wage, workers in Vancouver abandoned the camps, launching a strike. After striking for two months with no relief in sight, they took their case directly to Ottawa, travelling by rail and on foot.…
Read More

1945: Windsor’s Ford strike

In 1945, Ford’s Windsor complex employed 14,000 auto workers, making it Canada’s largest workplace. Times were tough. War-time production was slowing down, and many companies, including Ford, wanted to break some of the gains that had been made by unions for workers since the depression. Union dues were still voluntary – meaning United Auto Workers Local 200 had the near…
Read More

The Rand decision: Everyone who benefits should contribute

Six weeks after the Ford workers were back on the job, arbitrator Ivan Rand, a Supreme Court judge, brought down his award, rejecting mandatory union membership, but approving automatic dues check-off. His decision ruled that because everyone in a workplace benefits from the union, everyone should contribute to the union. Justice Rand believed dues check-off would foster labour peace and…
Read More

1956: Founding of the Canadian Labour Congress

By the 1950s, the time had come for a single, country-wide labour organization to help unions work together around common goals. Industrial growth, the rising influence of “big business” and expanding government involvement in the social and economic life of the country demanded a strong, unified voice for working Canadians. That led to the creation of the CLC in 1956.
Read More

1965: Public service workers win bargaining rights

Because of unions, public service workers in Canada have decent pay, benefits and pensions. But they had to fight to win those gains. Back in 1965 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers wanted the right to bargain collectively, the right to strike, higher wages and better management. They defied government policies and staged an illegal, country-wide strike. That strike would…
Read More

The right to safety at work

In the 1960’s exploitation of workers – especially immigrants – was still widespread. Many barely earned enough to support their families, lived in fear of deportation, and were forced to work in very unsafe working conditions. Many, unable to speak English, were unaware of any rights they did have. On March 17, 1960, five Italian immigrant workers, Pasquale Allegrezza, Giovanni…
Read More

Maternity & parental benefits

Did you know that paid maternity leave benefits have only been around since 1971 in Canada? Before that, a new mother had to quit work or return to work quickly if her family depended on her income. And while the federal government, through the unemployment insurance program, introduced limited 15 weeks of paid maternity leave in 1971 at 66% of…
Read More

1872: The fight for a shorter work-week

Imagine working at least ten or more hours a day. Every day. That’s what many of Toronto’s print workers’ daily lives looked like in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union demanded a nine-hour workday from the city’s publishers. nine hour movement Employers refused, and the printers walked off the job on March 25, 1872. Publishers hired replacement workers, but the…
Read More