Tuesday, December 4, 7:00 p.m.
Steelworkers’ Hall, 25 Cecil St.
Join us for an evening of fun and building towards TWHP’s 2019.
At 7:00pm, we will hold our Annual General Meeting, featuring reports from the Executive Committee, Treasurer, and Archives Committee. We will also elect the Executive Committee for 2019. All are welcome to the AGM, though only TWHP members in good standing may vote.
At 7:30pm, the general programme will begin, featuring a book launch of Craig Heron’s Working Lives: Essays in Canadian Working-Class History and music by Raspberry Jam, followed by refreshments and conversation.
As co-instructors, we are currently teaching a course on the history of women and work. Our primary concern in this course is to have students think historically about women’s lived experiences under capitalism. We explore how things looked in the past, how they were transformed over time, and, in turn, why they look the way they do today. By teaching in this way – pulling history into the present – we aim to re-center the enduring struggles of women to create a better future. Moreover, we try to dismantle the notion that gains are bestowed on societies through benevolent states or the calm functioning of legislative powers. Whether it be suffrage, equal pay, women’s liberation, gender parity, the right to choose, sexual harassment legislation, or LGBTQ2 rights, all were widely disparaged yet courageously fought for through the direct action of women and their allies.
The struggle for maternity leave by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) serves as a particularly powerful lens through which to analyze these themes. By the 1980s, the union began to push seriously for the inclusion of maternity leave as a core bargaining demand. The Treasury Board of Canada Post, with whom CUPW was negotiating, as well as the government was worried about the spillover effects. If Canada Post agreed to paid maternity leave, then other government departments, and even the private sector, would be forced to follow suit.
With negotiations going nowhere, CUPW went out on strike. Their demands were multifaceted, but maternity leave was singled out by capital, media, government, and the public. In turn, maternity leave was deemed egregious, unnecessary, and even greedy. Risking it all, postal workers and their allies fought for forty-two days and won. Their victory reverberated across Canadian society. Other unions quickly followed suit and, before long, the government institutionalized and expanded maternity leave to equalize the playing field. What started out as a gain for postal workers quickly turned into a gain for all Canadian women.
It’s important to recognize the spirited efforts of CUPW members during the strike to illuminate that progress doesn’t happen without struggle and courage. But it’s even more critical to shed light on how the 1981 strike was demonized. This is in stark contrast to how maternity leave is presented today – a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all Canadians. Indeed, it’s even commonly referred to as a “Canadian value” that differentiates us from our southern neighbours.
In our course, we think about what accounts for these kinds of shifts in societal thinking. How was maternity leave reconceptualized from a “greedy demand” into a core Canadian tenet? We also explore the problems and consequences of these mythologized understandings. What is conveniently forgotten in current conversations about maternity leave? How does this impact the narrative surrounding strikes and the way in which they are understood?
With a postal strike looming, it’s worthwhile to challenge the depoliticized accounts of gains made on the picket line. How many people have enjoyed maternity leave without knowing its history? How about the weekend or the eight-hour day? Pensions? Minimum wage? So many things that we now see as normal, even integral, parts of society were gained in this way. Yet the strike continues to be framed as fruitless, unruly, and inconvenient.
Our speakers, Kim Smith, Elaine Knight, and Jeanie Campbell, addressed each of these themes in their talks. Their reflections on the strike showed students how change looked “on the ground.” It further reminded them that expanding the progressive horizons of society is always met with tremendous opposition. Perhaps more significantly, our speakers breathed new life into our teaching by allowing students to interact with living subjects. This is particularly significant for our class, which is primarily composed of women. By proudly relaying their role in an event of such significance, our speakers challenged preconceived notions of who actually enacts change in society, an aesthetic that is so often elite, male, and white. Moreover, they sundered overly-romanticized, or simply uninformed, ideas of what a striker, activist, or union member looks like. As Jeanie reminds us in her talk, “don’t let this innocent face fool you.”
Mikhail Bjorge earned his PhD in History at Queen’s University. Kassandra Luciuk is PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. They are currently teaching a course in the School of Labour at George Brown College. Together, they would like to thank Kim Smith, Elaine Knight, and Jeanie Campbell for their participation in the course and for their longstanding activism on behalf of all working people.
Jane Pulkingham and Tanya van der Gaag, “Maternity/parental leave provision in Canada: we’ve come a long way, but there’s further to go.” Canadian Woman Studies, vol. 23:3-4, 2004, 116-125.
Julie White, Mail and Female: Women and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (Toronto: TEP, 1990).
Leslie Nichols, “Alliance Building to Create Change: The Women’s Movement and the 1982 CUPW Strike.” Just Labour (2012:19), 59-72.
JC Parrot, My Union, My Life: Jean-Claude Parrot and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (Halifax: Fernwood, 2005).
 Canadian postal workers have a long tradition of militancy. During the Great War, postal workers staged a nation-wide general strike for higher wages and better pay despite a wartime ban on strikes generally, and for public servants specifically. In 1965, they led wildcat strikes against sexual harassment and for better pay. In fact, the wildcats of ’65 were the main reason why the Canadian government institutionalized collective bargaining for public servants in 1967. By the 1970s, the relationship between the union and management (and by extension the government) was especially poor. Not only did CUPW members come under state surveillance, but in 1978 CUPW’s then-President Jean-Claude Parrot was sent to jail for refusing a federal back-to-work order.
 “Well, what’s wrong with that?” responded Parrot.
 Not even the Canadian Labour Congress initially supported the militant democracy exhibited by CUPW.
Toronto has been home to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years,
including the Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and most recently the Mississaugas
of the New Credit First Nation. Today, it remains home to many
Indigenous people from across Turtle Island.
It goes without saying that most of Toronto’s Indigenous inhabitants –
like its other inhabitants – are, for a sizable portion of their lives,
workers. And many are aware that the processes that gave rise to Toronto
as a workers’ city – immigration, capitalist development, liberalization
– went hand in hand with the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. In
spite of this, we seldom bring together these two deeply intertwined
histories of Indigenous people and labour. This forum attempts to bridge
Moderated by David Kidd. Presentations by:
* Zachary Smith (Anishinaabe), PhD Candidate in Indigenous history at
the University of Toronto.
* Margaret Sault, Director of Lands, Research and Membership,
Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.
Tuesday, October 9, 7:00 p.m. Ralph Thornton Community Centre 765 Queen St E. (east of Broadview)
** Note change from our usual location **
The area of Toronto east of the Don River has always had a rich, distinctive history. Its industries, its neighbourhoods, and its community institutions have all sustained a large working-class population. Come out to hear fascinating reports on three projects that explore that history, focusing on industry, health care, and community journalism.
Camille Begin, The Industrial History of the Dundas-Carlaw Neighbourhood
Heritage Toronto conducted research into the rich history of this part of Leslieville. They reached out to thousands of people who lived, worked, and sometimes played in the Dundas and Carlaw area, and heard from couples who met while working at the Carlaw factories and from entire families who were employed in the neighbourhood. Earlier this year Heritage Toronto unveiled a heritage plaque and accompanying self-guided walking tour to honour this history.
Simon Vickers and Ulli Diemer, The Ward 7 News Project
Ward 7 News was a community newspaper that circulated in Ward 7 (roughly the east downtown and Riverdale) between 1970 and 1985. Reporting on the everyday triumphs, struggles and anxieties that concerned residents in a largely working-class area during a period of intense social and economic change, the staff at Ward 7 News captured a version of the 1970s and 1980s that was not visible from city-hall. The project is a digital teaching resource based on this paper. The presenters willl describe how local stories can inspire interest in history by connecting students with the social/built space around them.
Carol Anderson, The South Riverdale Community Health Centre
The South Riverdale Community Health Centre has been providing a wide range of accessible health care services to the area’s working-class residents since 1976. Since its creation, the Centre has played an important role in safeguarding the health of both residents and the community, from “Get the Lead Out” campaigns to the creation of one of the first safe injection sites in Toronto.
Monday, September 17, 7:00 p.m. Steelworkers’ Hall, 25 Cecil St.
Toronto has been home to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, including the Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and most recently the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. Today, it remains home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island.
It goes without saying that most of Toronto’s Indigenous inhabitants – like its other inhabitants – are, for a sizable portion of their lives, workers. And many are aware that the processes that gave rise to Toronto as a workers’ city – immigration, capitalist development, liberalization – went hand in hand with the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. In spite of this, we seldom bring together these two deeply intertwined histories of Indigenous people and labour. Please join us on Monday, September 17 for the TWHP’s initial efforts to bridge this gap. Our speakers for the evening are:
– Margaret Sault, Director of Lands, Research and Membership, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation; and
– Zachary Smith (Anishinaabe), PhD Candidate in Indigenous history at the University of Toronto.
Please save the dates for the fall line-up of TWHP monthly meetings! Make sure to stay tuned to the website and/or mailing list for more information.
Sept. 17: The Toronto Purchase
Oct. 9: Workers in Toronto’s East End (note that we are looking into East End venues, so stay tuned for location)
Nov. 13: Remembering the Days of Action
We also invite you to attend the TWHP co-sponsored book launch for Christo Aivalis’ The Constant Liberal: Pierre Trudeau, Organized Labour, and the Canadian Social Democratic Left on Wed, Sept. 26 at 7pm at Steelworkers Hall. Full details here.
Join us for our next monthly meeting, “Challenging Child Labour.”
Wednesday June 13, 7:00 p.m. Steelworkers’ Hall, 25 Cecil St.
Children in this country once started work for their families or their bosses at a young age. In some parts of the world they still do. June 12 is World Day Against Child Labour, and TWHP is holding a meeting the next day to explore child labour in the past and present.
Craig Heron, labour historian at York University, will discuss how children were used in industry in Canada and what campaigns emerged to eliminate the practice. (Note: the old Toronto Trades and Labour Council was a leader in those battles.)
Derek Blackadder, former CUPE national rep and Canadian correspondent for LabourStart, will discuss the issues of child labour in the global south today and the efforts to combat it.
The Toronto Workers History Theatre Group
The Labours of Little Ones
A short play about the struggle to root out child labour in Toronto in the 1880s and the important role of the Toronto labour movement.