Labour Day is often viewed simply as a turning point on the calendar.
A change of seasons; back to school; a signifier of the home stretch towards the end of a long year (particularly this one); even just a day off.
But Labour Day, a celebration of the achievements of Canadian workers, has its roots in the labour union movement, one of the reasons you likely don’t work more than eight hours in a day and receive some form of additional compensation if you do.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the country’s celebration of Labour Day stems from an 1872 printers’ strike in Toronto.
Strikers from the Toronto Typographical Union were fighting for a 58-hour workweek.
Now, outside of some professions, a week that long is unheard of.
Here are some songs to remind you what your day off represents:
Dolly Parton – 9 to 5
Dolly Parton penned this ultimate workers’ anthem in 1980. “What a way to make a livin’” Parton sings, with absolutely no hint of sarcasm.
Bruce Springsteen – Factory
“The Boss” never took too kindly to his bandmate-given nickname. This ode to his factory-working father gives a little bit of insight as to why.
Johnny Paycheck – Take This Job and Shove It
This is about as blunt as it gets. If you need some motivation to give your boss the what-for, this is it.
John Lennon – Working Class Hero
If “Imagine” was John Lennon’s dream, “Working Class Hero” was his view of a harsh reality. “As soon as you’re born they make you feel small. By giving you no time instead of it all.”
Rush – Working Man
“I got no time for living. Yes, I’m workin’ all the time,” Geddy Lee sings in this 1974 hit off of Rush’s self-titled debut album.
Clash – Career Opportunities
Joe Strummer was never one to conform to societal standards and his take on job prospects was much the same. “Do you really wanna be a cop?”
Huey Lewis And The News – Workin’ For A Livin’
Lewis really does a good job summing it all up in this 1981 single. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Sam Cooke – Chain Gang
Cooke’s classic 1960 single is a tribute to prisoners, often African American, who had physically laborious tasks forced upon them as a form of punishment. The practice was popular in the southern United States, where infrastructure work was aplenty but funds were not. Chain gangs were never popular in Canada and had been mostly phased out in the States by 1955, but some states began reintroducing them in 1995.
The Simpsons – Union Strike Folk Song
In the 1993 Simpsons episode “Last Exit to Springfield”, Lisa Simpson takes to the guitar to sing about her bumbling father leading a power plant union. “They have the plant, but we have the power,” a chorus of workers sings.
Perhaps the most well-known union song of all time, this song was originally written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915. Since then, been covered by several popular musicians such as Pete Seger, Tom Morello and Leonard Cohen.
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