Women’s Worker’s Strike in 1912.

International Women’s Day is one of the few celebrations observed in Canada that is the product of dissident or reform movements. Its origins go back to 1909 when the American Socialist Party held an event honouring the 1908 garment worker’s strike in New York, where women protested against gruelling working conditions in the city’s factories. The following year there was a women’s conference in Copenhagen and from a motion by two German socialist women, International Women’s Day was declared.

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Music Mondays
Vancouver Public Library photos #8796 & 8788, via Lorne Brown, When Freedom was Lost (Black Rose Books, 1987)
may day vancouver

In Vancouver, in 1935, as many as 30,000 demonstrators paraded from the Cambie Street Grounds to a rally in Stanley Park. Vancouver Public Library, via Lorne Brown, When Freedom was Lost (Black Rose Books, 1987)

While May Day is celebrated widely just about everywhere except North America, its roots are firmly in the United States, in Chicago to be precise. It is also a product of the struggle of workers for the eight-hour day, one of the key demands of workers during the late nienteenth century and much of the twentieth. While May Day is known as the day of international workers’ solidarity, there is no one song associated with it. “Solidarity Forever”, “Joe Hill, Hold The Fort” and “The Internationale” are all widely sung in Canada as is “Bread and Roses”.

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Canada Soup
In the News
Air Canada Strike

Canada Post stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

With Air Canada staff staging a wildcat strike today (including a horrific incident involving a man spitting into a baggage handler’s face) the CBC reviews the ailing airline’s history of labour strife. [CBC]

In a major legal decision, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that judges who do not consider lenient or creative sentences for aboriginal offenders are violating the law. The decision has been so polarizing (and energizing) that the Globe & Mail article, posted today, has received over 900 comments, some insightful, others deeply offensive. The crux of the matter seems to be this: how far does historic disadvantage (including institutionalized racism and oppression) extend?

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Labour Day Parade
Labour Day Nine Hour March

On 15 May 1872, Hamilton's "nine-hour pioneers" defied opposition with a procession of 1500 workers (Canadian Illustrated News, courtesy NAC/C-58640).

In a time when the news of labour “strife” is dominated by disputes between millionaire athletes and billionaire owners, history provides a useful perspective on a time when working people had to fight to work less than 12 hours a day. The “Nine-Hour Movement” began in Hamilton, Ontario, and then spread to Toronto where its demands were taken up by the Toronto Printer’s Union.

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