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A Review of Canadian Labour History

In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, we thought we’d take the time to look back at the game-changing moments in Canada’s labour history. Many life-changing moves for workers have taken place right here in Canada because of workers just like you who refused to be complacent and chose to fight for a better future. Here are some significant moments in Canada’s labour history.

Fight for fair hours – 1872

On March 25, 1872, print workers in Toronto came together to demand a nine-hour workday. At the time, these employees were working 10+ hours a day, 7 days a week. As union activity was a criminal offence back then, 24 members of the strike were arrested and jailed. More protests followed, leading to the Trade Unions Act being passed on June 14, legalizing trade unions.

First general strike – 1918

The death of labour activist, Albert Goodwin, led to Canada’s first general strike. Before his death, Goodwin had called for a general strike in protest of workers being drafted against their will.

Winnipeg general strike – 1919

Known as one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history, the Winnipeg general strike lasted six weeks and brought together workers in various industries that fought for a living wage.

Unemployment insurance – 1941

In August of 1940, the first national unemployment insurance system in Canada was introduced in order to offer security to workers who were out of a job; it then came into operation a year later.

Collective bargaining rights – 1965

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers organized a country-wide (illegal) strike for better wages, the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike. This strike was successful in bringing about extended collective bargaining rights for the public service.

Maternity leave – 1971

In 1971, the government introduced maternity leave as part of unemployment insurance.

Occupational Health Act – 1972

In 1972, the Occupational Health Act was passed in Saskatchewan, holding management responsible to creating a safe work environment and giving employees the right to refuse unsafe work.

Female leadership in labour unions – 1975

In 1975, the Canadian Union of Public Employees elected Grace Hartman as president, making her the first woman president of a major union in North America.

These moments only scratch the surface of what has taken place in this country over the past 150 years, and we’re only just getting started! We’re grateful for what our brothers and sisters have accomplished to make this country what it is today, and we’re honoured to be a part of the ongoing fight for a better future for Canadian workers.

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