Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Nine-Hour Movement: How civil disobedience made unions legal

Author's introduction:
Since the Conservatives won a majority government in May 2011, they have passed or threatened to pass back-to-work legislation against postal workers, CP Rail engineers, Air Canada flight attendants, baggage handlers, mechanics and pilots. Provincial legislation in BC and Ontario has seen teachers and education workers stripped of collective bargaining rights through Bill 22 and Bill 115, respectively. Less well-known in the rest of Canada is Quebec's Bill 78 implemented by Liberal Jean Charest. The bill not only revoked freedom of assembly and expression for students, but also for any workers and unions who demonstrated solidarity with the students against the government's austerity agenda and authoritarianism.
With right-to-work looming at the federal level and possibly one election away in Ontario, the legal rights of workers and unions will be narrowed even further. This begs the question as to whether or not workers and organized labour will be up to the task of defying unjust laws in order to assert what we deem are basic, fundamental rights. From today's strike-first strategy of fast food workers in America, to the 1965 postal workers wildcat which ushered in public sector collective bargaining, civil disobedience has long been essential to breaking through legal barriers imposed on workers. In fact, the birth of Canada's labour movement was during a movement of mass civil disobedience to secure the nine hour workday. This goal was not achieved but the unintended consequence of the movement was the legalization of unions. The following tells the story of that movement.