Labor Organizations Of Canada

IT is only when a country reaches a certain stage of development, when the pioneers and the backwoodsmen have done their work and industries assume a diversified form, calling for that division of labour essential to modern methods of production, and when a capitalist class grows up in the community, that the organisation of labour becomes necessary, to enable the labourers to secure that share of the results of their labour, to which they deem themselves justly entitled.

As long ago as 1827 the Quebec printers had a local union whose functions were the regulation of wages, care of sick members and other benefits. This in 1852 was merged into the National Typographical Union, and seventeen years later became the International Typo-graphical Union. In 1834 shoemakers were organised in Montreal, where also in 1844 was to be found a Union of stone-cutters, which continues to this day. Looking to Upper Canada, we find the Knights of St. Crispin and the Union of printers existing in 1834.

All these Unions, led by the printers of Toronto, became affiliated with the International Union.

In 1868-9 stone masons, bricklayers, and blacksmiths of Ottawa were organised, and from 1870 onwards the spread of Unionism was extraordinarily rapid in all parts of the country. Three years later, in 1873, labour became such a force in the country that a Trade Council was organised in Ottawa and the following year the president of it was elected as the representative of the capital in the Ontario legislature, where he sat as an independent member. In 1881 the first local assembly of the Knights of Labour in Canada was formed, the first assembly of Painters being still in existence. In 1882, the telegraphists of Toronto were organised as a local assembly, and in the same year the factory and shoe workers also joined the Union.

By 1886 there were six district assemblies of the Union of Labour in Canada, and of this number Toronto, No. 125, had representatives from some forty local assemblies. As has been the case elsewhere there have been numerous changes in the field of organised labour since the beginning of the movement, but the tendency has ever been to expansion in numbers and in strength till during the present year there are many powerful organisations of workmen in the country. In the case of a particular organised trade it will generally be found, both in Canada and the United States, that it takes its general policy from some International Union consisting of representatives of the Union of the particular trade. In the same fashion the local assemblies of the Knights of Labour look to the district assemblies, and these in turn are part of the international organisation of the Knights of Labour. The principal organisations from which local Labour Unions hold charters are the following:

1. The Dominion Trades Congress, a body consisting of representatives of local labour organisations throughout Canada.

2. The International Unions belonging to many trades, headquarters of which are in the United States.

3. The General Assembly of Knights of Labour whose headquarters are in Washington.

4. The American Federation of Labour, which is the largest labour organisation in America. Its methods are not unlike those of the Dominion Trades Congress, and it has been instrumental in organising a great many trades in Canada.

5. The United Wage Earners of Canada, which is a general organisation. There are also two other local bodies which confine their activity to the upper provinces in which they are ; namely, the Provincial Workmen’s Association, composed largely of coal-miners in Nova Scotia, and the Western Federation of miners in British Columbia, which is very well organised, and is associated with an international organisation known as the Western Federation of Miners.

The national labour movement in Canada began in 1873, the year the veteran agricultural labour organiser, Joseph Arch, visited the colony, and was a guest of the labour men of Toronto. In that year there assembled in Toronto what was then called the Canadian Labour Union composed of delegates from the following industrial centres :—Toronto, Ottawa, London, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Bowmanville, Cobourg, and Seaforth. Forty-four delegates attended this congress, which was presided over by J. W. Carter, house painter, an Englishman by birth and training. In his opening address the President said :

” You meet today to inaugurate one of the grandest events in connection with the labour movement that has ever taken place in the Dominion of Canada. Its significance may be gathered from the fact that from all the centres of industry in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec the working classes have determined to centralize their energies to promote the adoption of those laws and regulations which must be established for the good and protection of the labourer. You do not meet to create an agitation for supremacy or power, nor to create hostilities between capital and labour, but you do meet for the purpose of disseminating the true principles of unionism ; to foster a spirit of common brotherhood throughout the Dominion ; to seek the promotion of those laws which shall make no distinction of man as man. To this end, and, with these objects, you are called upon, in the first place, to establish a Canadian Labour Union. Its necessity is beyond doubt.” . . . . ” I urge upon you the necessity of being wise and moderate in deliberations and enactments, and let those who are watching your movements at this, the first Canadian Labour Congress, be compelled to admit that we are honest, earnest and prudent workers.”

The object sought to be obtained by this Congress was to organise the artisans and manual labourers of Canada in one great national movement, for the purpose of mutual protection, and to obtain legislation in the interest of their class.

This Congress passed resolutions asking Parliament for the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act ; the abolition of the system of selling by contract the labour of prisoners in the Dominion penitentiaries and provincial prisons to private capitalists ; the enactment of more stringent apprenticeship laws ; a measure for the prevention of the employment of children under ten years of age in factories where machinery is used ; the passing of an equitable lien law, to give the workers a lien upon property on which their labour had been employed, if they had not received their wages; and the creation of a Bureau of Labour and Statistics. The Congress also declared itself in favour of a reduction in the hours of labour from ten to nine hours a day, with a half-holiday weekly, and as opposed to working overtime.

Several of these demands are now on the Statutes of the Dominion or the various provinces. This organisation held four meetings, viz., in Toronto, Ottawa (where it is to be noted it met the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie, in the Parliament Buildings, by permission of the Dominion Premier), St. Catharine’s, and again in Toronto, when owing to the commercial depression which prevailed on the American Continent for seven years following ” Black Friday ” in New York City, in September, 1873, it ceased to exist for want of a quorum.

About the same time that the Canadian Labour Union ceased to exist, the Toronto Trades Assembly, which had always been, and is to-day (under the name of the Toronto District Labour Council), the most active and important local labour body in Canada., discontinued its meetings for lack of support from the local unions, which were all much depressed from the reason mentioned above, and reductions of wages naturally ensued in consequence. But the desire for representative bodies was still uppermost in the minds of the leaders, and when the International Typographical Union held its Annual Convention at Toronto in the year 1881, the labour leaders of Toronto took advantage of the event to make manifest that desire by the calling of a meeting under its auspices for the purpose of establishing an organisation composed of representatives of the labour bodies of that city. This effort proved a great success. As a result of that meeting a Trades and Labour Council was formed, which is at present known as the Toronto District Labour Council, and is the most active local labour organisation in Canada. It was mainly due to the efforts of the Toronto Trades and Labour Council that the Canadian Labour Congress was revived and took its place among the permanent and important representative bodies of the world. On December 26th, 27th and 28th, 1883, the first meeting, which formed the basis of the present Trade and Labour Congress of Canada, was held in Toronto, as a result of a notice to the officers and members of the various trade and labour unions and assemblies of Knights of Labour throughout the Dominion sent out by the Toronto Trades and Labour Council. This notice provided that all unions or assemblies of Knights of Labour of 100 members or fractional part thereof, should be entitled to two delegates ; 200 members and upwards to be entitled to an additional delegate, but in no case was an organisation to be entitled to more than three delegates. No proxies were permitted. In response to this call to arms forty seven labour representatives assembled, and formed the first meeting of the present Trade and Labour Congress of Canada.

The aims of the labour party in Canada are very similar to those of organised workers of the rest of the world, ” Defence not Defiance ” being their motto. They seek to defend themselves against the aggressions of those unscrupulous capitalists, who, they state, regard the labourer as a mere chattel, existing for the sole purpose of enabling them to get rich quickly, even if at the expense of the life, limb, or home comfort of the workers. Fifty years ago there were no Factory Acts, mine regulations, workmen’s compensation acts, or lien laws in Canada. The Federal government and the Ontario government gave assisted passages and bonuses to immigrants, out of public funds which were subscribed to by the mechanics and labourers in common with other classes of the community, which tended to overstock the labour market, increase competition among the workers, and keep down wages. The laws, the labour party urge, were made by capitalists for capitalists, and the workers were often defrauded of their wages, especially in the building trade, for want of a lien law. The franchise was limited and the voting was open. The hours of daily labour were from ten to twelve and the wages were low. All the conditions that usually surround urban labour in the old world obtained in Canada at that time, without the paternal feeling that was often extended by the consider-ate employers in older countries. Consequently it was deemed that there was as much necessity for the labourers to organise in Canada as elsewhere. The chief advantage the Canadian workmen had over his old country confrère was his accessibility to the land, if he was dissatisfied with urban conditions, but of this he seldom took advantage, mainly on account of his natural inaptitude and dislike to rural life. The workers reasonably wished to place themselves on a footing of equality before the law with other classes, and to put themselves in a position to make a fair bargain with their employer, which in their isolated condition they were unable to do. This made it imperative upon them to organise themselves into Trade Unions. Their political power, being rather limited, and unorganised, there was no other way to accomplish their object. Canada could never have made the increase in population, attained the progress, and have occupied the position in the world she does today, if it could not have been shown that the standard of living among the people was higher than in the countries of the old world. The two principal factors in the recent rapid development of Canada, and the great increase of population, are first the opening up of the great Western prairie, and the increase of wages that has taken place during the last thirty years owing largely to the action of the labour organisations. Had they not been in existence the individual workman would have been powerless to bargain with his employer, and enabled to secure his share of the increase of wealth that has taken place from the cultivation of the ” Great West ” ; the system of bonuses to immigrants, and ” assisted” pas-sages, would have continued, and the supply of labour would have been kept so much in excess of the demand that wages could have remained at a rate providing only bare subsistence.

This is manifest from the fact that, at the present moment, wages are lowest and hours the longest in those parts of Canada where the men are the least organised. In these districts wages have not increased in anything like the same proportion to the increased cost of living during the last twelve years. The labour movement in Canada contains all the elements of the same party here, embracing, as it does, every phase of social reformer, from the Conservative Trade Unionist to the irreconcilable Socialist, who believes that nothing will save society but to destroy it. Socialism will never be brought about in Canada by Socialistic theories ; if it ever does come it will be because society deems it the only way to protect itself amongst the ” get rich quick ” class. Signs of this are perhaps manifesting themselves, in the demands of the Western farmers upon their Provincial Governments to establish provincial abattoirs, and cement works, and the demand of the same class upon the Dominion Government for the national ownership and operation of all terminal elevators for the storage of grain.

Radical changes in society are not brought about by theories, but by conditions.

In common with the workers of most other civilised countries the working men of Canada desire to have their aspirations and interests represented in the Provincial and Dominion Parliaments. The labourers in the urban constituencies are numerous enough to accomplish their objects easily were they only as united on political action as they are on questions of wages and the hours of labour. But there are fundamental difficulties in the way that are almost insurmountable in some districts. The labouring class, like all other classes in Canada, are a heterogeneous body, and are not only divided but strongly antagonistic to each other on questions of race and religion. A large number of members of trade unions, while loyal to their unions in trade matters, owe their first allegiance in politics to some national or religious society, such as the Orange Society, the Sons of England, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, etc., etc.

This always has been, and, for some years to come, will be, the great stumbling-block in the path of labour representation in Canada. In parts of Canada where these Societies are not numerous enough to divide the labour party in politics, such as in Montreal, where the working men are largely composed of French Canadians, or in the mining districts of British Columbia, they have succeeded in electing a member to the Dominion Parliament. The city of Winnipeg was also represented at Ottawa by a labour member for several years. The first man to represent labour on the floor of any parliament in Canada, was the late D. J. O’Donoghue, who was elected to represent the city of Ottawa in 1874, to the Ontario Legislature, at a by-election. On that occasion the Conservative party did not put a candidate in the field but supported Mr. O’Donoghue, who was supposed at the time to have Conservative leanings. On taking his seat Mr. O’Donoghue gave the Liberal Government an independent support as the only means of obtaining any legislation in the interest of labour. At the subsequent general election in 1879 there were three candidates in the running for the Ottawa seat, and Mr. O’Donoghue was again elected over his Liberal and Conservative opponents by a good majority. He sat through the four years of the local parliament, but did not enter the legislature again. He accepted a position in the Labour Statistical Department of the Ontario Government, after which he was appointed Fair Wage Officer under the Ottawa Government when that position was created, which he held until his death three years ago. He stands out as the most prominent figure in labour matters in Canada during the more than thirty years that he was actively identified with the movement. Mr. O’Donoghue was the first to introduce a resolution in the Ontario legislature in favour of manhood suffrage, which many years ago became the franchise of that province. He also procured some important amendments to the Mechanics Lien Law, and rendered good service to the cause of labour during his parliamentary career. At the general election of 1887, Mr. Andrew Ingram was nominated for the Dominion House by the Labour Party of the town of St. Thomas, and receiving the support of the Conservative party, was elected. He supported that party during the ensuing parliament, and at the next general election received their nomination, and was again elected, but before the expiration of that parliament he accepted a position on the Ontario Railway Commission. A. T. Lepine was also elected to the Federal Parliament as a Labour man, with Conservative support, for a division of Montreal, and during his term gave that party an independent support. The only men ever elected to the Dominion Parliament as straight Labour men were Ralph Smith for Nanaimo, B.C., who subsequently became a Liberal, A. W. Puttee for Winnipeg, and Alphonse Verville, for a division of Montreal. The first and the last of these are still members of the House. The two former are Englishmen and neither had been in Canada ten years at the time of their election. So much for the alleged prejudice against Englishmen that we hear such a great deal about. At the last election of members to the Ontario Legislature, Allen Studholme was elected to represent labour. About 1890 Mr. Joseph Beland, President of the Montreal Trades and Labour Council, was elected to the Quebec legislature for a part of Montreal. A sketch on this branch of Canadian develop-ment would be incomplete without a detailed statement of the present demands of the Labour party in Canada. At the twenty-sixth Annual Convention of the ” Trade and Labour Congress of Canada,” held at Fort William from the 12th to the 17th September inclusive, this year, at which thirty-two International Unions and 173 local Labour bodies were represented, with a membership of 55,000, the following platform of principles was formulated :-

1. Free compulsory education.

2. Legal working day of eight hours, and six days to a week.

3. Government inspection of all industries.

4. The abolition of the contract system on all public works.

5. A minimum living wage, based on local conditions.

6. Public ownership of all franchises, such as railways, telegraphs, telephones, water works, lighting, etc.

7. Tax reform, by lessening taxation on industry, and increasing it on land values.

8. Abolition of the Dominion Senate.

9. Exclusion of Chinese.

10. The Union Label to be placed on all manufactured goods, where practicable, and all government and municipal supplies.

11. Abolition of child labour by children under fourteen years of age and of female labour in all branches of industrial life, such as mines, workshops, factories, etc.

12. Abolition of property qualification for all public offices.

13. Voluntary arbitration of labour disputes.

14. Proportional representation with grouped constituencies and abolition of municipal wards.

15. Direct legislation through the initiative and referendum.

16. Prohibition of prison labour in competition with free labour.