Labour Day is coming up this weekend, but do you know the history behind it? Victoria News file photo

Labour Day celebrated to remember workers’ rights

National holiday characterized by most as summer’s last long weekend, but there’s a history there

The Labour Day long weekend has long marked the end of summer and the kickoff of a new school year for people in Canada – but what does it really stand for?

“Labour Day is an important day for the labour force and the labour movement,” says Mike Eso, president of the Victoria Labour Council. “It’s clear now there are many things we take for granted, such as the right to a safe environment, paid vacations, sick leave and an eight-hour work day… it’s about the people fighting to achieve those rights.”

Labour Day has been celebrated in Canada since the 1880s, and began after an infamous parade was staged in Toronto in December, 1872 in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike. At the time, trade unions were still illegal.

Workers were fighting for a 58-hour work week, and many were arrested during the strike action. This spawned more demonstrations, which prompted the federal parliament to pass the Trade Union Act on June 14, 1872, which decriminalized unions and prompted most of them to pursue a 54-hour work week.

A parade held in celebration of the union workers became an annual event, and in 1894, Labour Day was declared a national holiday.

Fast forward to 2018 and a 40-hour week, but there’s still room for improvement, Eso says.

“One of the biggest campaigns that organized labour councils in Canada have now is to trying to establish a national pharmacare program,” he says. “It’s long past the time that we should establish a national pharmacare system to look at covering the costs for medications.”

Eso adds that labour councils in Canada represent over two million workers.

In Victoria, Labour Day celebrations will take place at the B.C. legislature from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m on Sept. 3. Festivities include live music, food, and kids events for everyone to enjoy.

For more information about local unions and other topics, you can head to victorialabour.ca.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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