Labour Day: A Brief History

Next Monday is Labour Day and as we all know, Labour Day has fallen on hard times as of late.  North American consumer culture keeps chugging along; therefore, many workers (labourers, if you will) have to work on the first Monday of September.  For the rest of us, it’s the last long weekend of the summer — time to heat up the barbeque, cool off the drinks and relax one last time – cuz pretty soon the great Canadian winter is going to bring us six months of snow and Hockey Night in Canada.  However, as you’re sitting with a cold one — fat, dumb and happy that the kids are going back to school on Tuesday – here are a few historical tidbits to chew on before the steaks are ready.

Legend has it that Labour Day is actually a Canadian invention.  It’s the result of two canny Conservative Prime Ministers and a hard-case Liberal newspaper editor.  I don’t know if the story’s exactly true or not, but I’ve heard it told this way a couple of times, so it’s mostly true.  Besides, it makes a good story.

In 1872, the Typographical Union of Toronto was on strike against The Toronto Globe newspaper – which, by the way, is the great-grandfather of today’s Globe and Mail.  The noted Liberal politician, George Brown, was none too happy about this, since he had founded the Globe in 1844, and it was his paper they were striking against.  He rooted around in his law books for a while until he found some antiquated anti-labour laws and had the strike leaders arrested for conspiracy – 24 of them!  Other labour leaders decided not to take this sitting down and organized a mass rally in Ottawa for the first Monday of September, 1873.

Remember, Canada was less than a decade old at this point, and there was great concern that the shiny new Dominion would not survive.  Socialists roaming the streets, making outrageous demands (a 54 hour work-week, for one) were seen as a serious threat to the orderly conduct of business and to the country.)

Enter, Prime Minister, Sir john A. Macdonald (who has also fallen on hard times as of late) but is still one of the wiliest politicians this country has ever produced.  In 1873, Macdonald’s government was up against the wall.  (Long story short: they’d been taking bribes from railroad companies — really, really big bribes.)  So, where other people saw lawless socialists attacking the foundations of our nation, Sir John saw potential votes and a chance to slap the crap out of the Liberals.  He promised the marchers, as God was his witness, to repeal the anti-union laws.  Unfortunately, the railroad bribes were so big that Macdonald’s government didn’t survive.  Fortunately, his promise did.  The Trade Union Act of Canada was passed in 1874.  Pretty soon, everybody and his brother (pun intended) were legally demanding things like a 54 hour work-week and time to eat their lunch — and those September marches continued.

Meanwhile, in the USA and over in Europe, trade unionists were working away, trying their best to get a few decent working conditions themselves.  Internationally, labour leaders all had the same agenda.  They wanted something a little better than legalized slavery for their people.  Then, if there was any good will left over, they figured a little dignity for the working man would be nice, too.  Most union demonstrations revolved around May 1st.  The thinking was that people would come out and join spring demonstrations after a long winter.  Plus, the trade union/radical/socialist message could tag team with May Day celebrations already in progress.  After all, May Day stuff — like music and street fairs and dancing around a pole — had always been the practice of common folk.  Obviously, the thinking was sound because the idea caught on.  Today, May 1st is universally recognized as International Worker’s Day — and it’s a legal holiday in over 80 countries!

Back in Canada, the trade union movement was growing apace and in the industrial heartland of the northeastern United States, it was exploding – almost literally.  On May 1st, 1894, labour disputes erupted in violent and deadly clashes in Cleveland, Ohio.  Then, at the end of June, the first large interstate labour action took place: railroad workers in several states staged a boycott in what came to be known as The Pullman Strike.  Just as an aside, American President Cleveland ordered federal troops to put down the strike.  Hundreds of people were injured and 13 union workers were killed.  However, this isn’t important to our main story.

Our Prime Minister at the time, John Sparrow Thompson (never heard of him have you?) saw what was happening in America and around the world and decided to defuse the situation before it got started.  As the Pullman Strike in the US was entering its fourth week, on July 23, 1894, his government declared that the first Monday in September would be a national holiday.  It would be in the tradition of those original Ottawa trade union marches — dedicated to the labour movement and appropriately called Labour Day.*  The more cynical historians say this was simply a move to draw attention away from May 1st.   Whatever Thompson’s motivation, even though Canada had its share of labour pains, it avoided most of the bloody clashes that characterized the international labour movement — situations like the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1896, which started as a peaceful May Day union march and ended up scattered with corpses — over twenty dead.

Labour Day was a small concession to the early trade union movement, but it demonstrated that Canada and Canadians do recognize the importance of ordinary working people.  So, if you get a minute between long weekend activities, lift your glass to the men and women who got seriously kicked around to gave us this holiday.  Good on ya, folks!

*President Grover Cleveland also created an American Labor Day less than a month later.

Summer Thoughts 2022

We’re not even halfway through summer yet.  OMG!  It’s hot.  I’m grouchy.  There are motorcycles.  The guy down the street still believes everyone in the neighbourhood loves classic hip-hop.  And I wish there was an Advent Calendar for the Autumn Equinox – but there isn’t.  Anyway, here are some random thoughts to occupy your mind while Mother Nature tries to broil us in our own oil — again this year.

Life is not a bowl of cherries, a river, a journey or a process – life is a ski jump.  You start off slowly, gather momentum and just when you reach maximum velocity and think you’ve got it all going on – oops! – you’re sailing fifty metres in the air, and there’s nothing underneath you.

Isn’t it totally convenient that most of the people you know — from the woman you see on the bus every morning to that best, best friend you’ve known since university — go into suspended animation when you’re not there?

That great subversive Winnie the Pooh is still banned in China.  Which proves that if you want to upset a dictator (I’m lookin’ at you Putin) laugh at him.

One of the coolest things about getting older is that, when people talk about you behind your back, you can’t hear them.  And this works on so many levels.

In fashion, sometimes the only difference between faux pas and faux posh is about $500.00.

This is the best way to explain the difference between movie audiences in Europe and North America.  In North America, people want to see Gary Oldman play Macbeth.  In Europe, people want to see Macbeth played by Gary Oldman.

In the small town of Union Bay, Canada, a 95-year-old woman, Anna Stady, chased a bear out of her kitchen.  This says a few things about wildlife in Canada and a whole bunch about Canadian women.

And speaking of …  They’ve reintroduced European Bison to Britain.  Someplace in Kent has a whole pile (herd?) of them.  They haven’t been around in the wild since the Middle Ages.  Good on ya, Brits!  Is this the short road to Jurassic Park?

And finally:

Young people spend so much time using their phones to “interact” with their friends on Social Media, one would think that teenage pregnancies would be somewhere around zero.

The Real Conspiracy

Hang on to your bonnet, baby, because I’ve uncovered a massive international conspiracy.  Unfortunately, I’m such a total coward I’m too scared to name names, but I have evidence that powerful covert forces are at work — even as we speak.  These shadowy figures are grimly determined to totally suck the joy out of every aspect of human life!  Their nefarious goal is to turn every one of us into miserable Neo-Puritans, just as riddled with guilt and apprehension as they are.  And the problem is it looks as if they’re succeeding.  Check it out:

Remember when holidays were a time to take a moment, have some fun, relax and recharge the batteries?  Buckle up ’cause those days are over.  These days, holidays are a battleground.  Look at Hallowe’en!  Every costume comes with a ferocious debate.  Columbus Day?  Chris would have been better off sailing the other way.  Valentine’s Day is a minefield of who got missed in the sexual orientation parade, and Christmas?  Just forget it — between the Christmas-is-too-commercial crew and the anti-Christian lobby, even Santa Claus has tossed in the towel.  No, special occasions are a good time to keep your head down, and, just to be on the safe side, lie about your birthday on Facebook.
Celebrations?  Gone!

Have you ever wondered what happened to junk food?  Think about it!  One minute we’re chowin’ down on cheeseburgers, fries and a Coke, happy as clams. The next thing we know, it’s all 90 calorie, gluten-free, low sodium, Tai Chi chicken and kale salad.  Whoa!  The point of junk food is … it’s junk!  It’s supposed to be bad for you!  Going to McDonald’s for a salad is like going to a hooker (Oops! sex-worker) for a hug — why bother?
Junk Food?  Not gone — but smothered in guilt.

Did you know there are historical records which categorically prove that sex is supposed to be messy?  That’s right!  It involves all manner of mouth-breathing, involuntary twitches and tensions, grinding, groaning, gripping and sticky stuff.  Orgasm, for most of human existence, was a noun not a verb (the verb was a lot more folksy) and for thousands of millennia, humans had body hair — and it wasn’t icky.   The antiseptic procedures most people practice these days are designed to tear the soul out of sex and make it just one more hyper-allergenic reward challenge of “the relationship.”
The Joy of Sex?  Replaced by I’m not sure what. . . .

And we all know what “relationships” are — they’re the long-winded workaholics idea of love slowly drowning in an ocean of issues and dialogue — until finally, totally fed up, even the dog runs away from home.
Love?  Dissolved away like sugar in the rain.

It was the original Puritans who banned Christmas, discouraged poetry, art and music.  They also got rid of theatre, dance and comedy.  They believed that life was a grim business and that they knew what was best for everybody.  Our contemporary puritans are a lot sneakier but just as grim — and just as certain of their own infallibility.  They’re definitely dedicated to stomping out fun, excitement and humour.  They scare the hell out of me and I tend to keep a low profile whenever they’re around.

However, on a totally unrelated matter (nudge/nudge – wink/wink) have you ever noticed that the people on BOTH ends of the Woke/Unwoke spectrum look remarkably the same and never smile?