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. 

Employers refused, and the printers walked off the job on March 25, 1872. Publishers hired replacement workers, but the strikers had earned widespread support from other Toronto workers.

The result: a crowd of 10,000 supporters showed up for a rally at Queen’s Park on April 15, 1872. In those days, union activity was criminal, and then Toronto Globe publisher George Brown had the strike committee arrested for criminal conspiracy the next day. The community protested in support of those arrested.

Prime Minister John A. Macdonald – no friend of publisher and Reform politician George Brown – introduced the Trade Union Act on April 18, 1872, legalizing and protecting unions. The strike in Toronto evolved into the “Nine-Hour Movement”. Toronto printers led to annual celebrations of Labour Day, celebrated today in communities across Canada every year.

Workers movements had begun to develop as early as the 1850’s but it was this issue – the need for a shorter work week – that galvanized the movement and convinced more workers that joining unions would change their lives for the better.