Nine-Hour Movement

 The Nine-Hour Movement was an international workers' attempt to secure shorter working days; in Canada, January-June 1872. Beginning in Hamilton, the demand for the 9-hour day (some workers were expected to labour as long as 12 hours) spread quickly to Toronto and Montréal, gathering support in Ontario towns from Sarnia to Perth. Echoes were heard as far east as Halifax. For the first time Canadian labour organized a unified protest movement, developed tactics of resistance, and cultivated articulate working-class leaders. Nine-Hour leagues united union and non-union workers, and in May labour representatives formed the Canadian Labor Protective and Mutual Improvement Association.

Some newspapers popularized labour's causes. In March-April an unsuccessful Toronto printers' strike reminded labour that employers were strongly antagonistic to workers' initiatives and that trade unions were actually illegal in Canada. On May 15 Hamilton's "nine-hour pioneers" defied opposition with a procession of 1500 workers. Skilled, respectable craftsmen emerged as labour leaders. James Ryan, a Great Western Railway machinist-engineer recently arrived in Canada, was Hamilton's central figure. In Toronto his counterpart was cooper John HEWITT, and in Montréal, James Black.

Although some groups won concessions, the movement was unsuccessful. Employer hostility helped its defeat, as did the waning of post-Confederation prosperity. Equally significant were divisions within the working class. Women and the unskilled figured peripherally at best, ensuring that the struggle touched certain sectors more fully than others. All this, in conjunction with the apparent failure of militant strikes and workplace action to win decisive victories for workers, fed the attempt to secure rights politically through LABOUR LAW.

The Nine-Hour Movement was not an utter failure. Its struggle in 1872 indicated that labour had a public presence and that its interests, institutions and political stance reflected its unique social position and economic needs. It represented a necessary, if ambiguous, beginning in labour's capacity for self-government. The right to associate in trade unions was obtained. Working-class activists won major concessions immediately after 1872: repeal of repressive legislation, passage of laws strengthening workers' hands against employers, and franchise extension. The nine-hour pioneers gave way to the CANADIAN LABOR UNION.