Labour Day: just another three-day weekend?
By Mike Zettel
Aug 31, 2007
ST. CATHARINES -- For many, this weekend simply represents the last vestiges of summer, a chance to run to the cottage for the last time or to otherwise enjoy the final long weekend before heading back to school or work.
But in enjoying ourselves, are we missing out on the significance of the holiday and how we first got it? Labour Day is sometimes referred to as the holiday Canada gave the world. It was first marked April 15, 1872 with a parade for workers' rights in Toronto.
At the time, simply belonging to a trade union was to engage in "criminal conspiracy" and many of the rights taken for granted today -- eight hour days, minimum wage, occupational health and safety regulations -- didn't exist.
"It's very much become just another holiday for people, whether it's people having their last hurrah for the summer or getting ready to get back to school, but there's some important significance here," said Larry Savage, a professor at Brock specializing in labour movements. He notes studies of history often overlook those of working people, who he calls an integral part of history, particularly Niagara's.
"The Welland Canal didn't just appear out of nowhere," he said. "People constructed the canal. And there were important struggles and fights and strikes over the building of the canals." The canals brought manufacturing and industry, he said, with unions who fought for and won the rights ordinary working-class people enjoy today.
"None of these rights were just given to them out of nowhere," he said. "People had to fight for them in order to win them. And I think a lot of people forget about those struggles and take for granted the rights."
Wayne Gates, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 199, agreed the significance of the holiday is too often overlooked.
"It's become like any other holiday," he said. "It's just another three-day weekend." There's a lot we have to celebrate about, but obviously the struggles continue," he said.