Our History


One hundred and forty nine years ago a small group of workmen came together to give life to an idea – the creation of a collective voice for working people in Toronto.

On April 12th, 1871 the Toronto Trades and Labour Assembly was founded by representatives of 16 unions representing workers from the emerging economy – barrel-makers, shoemakers, printers, bakers, cigar-makers and metalworkers. They were soon joined by other occupations. It was a time of rising for workers across the world, from the nine-hour day movement to the Paris Commune. Within a year the fledging labour movement in Toronto would be tested. Printers at the Globe newspaper went on strike and were jailed for criminal sedition. Ten thousand people took to the streets demanding the printers’ freedom and labour rights... Click to read a QUICK HISTORY of the LABOUR COUNCIL

The call for justice echoed throughout the country. Within a year, Canada's first Trade Union act recognised unions as a legal entity. By the turn of the 19th Century, Toronto's labour movement had secured the first child labour laws, the first limits on working hours and the first health and safety standards for machinery. 

As the fight by working people expanded beyond economic and social justice, the Toronto Labour Council expanded to include racial justice. 

In 1947, the Labour Council took on racism by forming the Toronto Join Labour Committee to Combat Racial Intolerance based on two core principles; Education within the Labour movement & co-operation with outside agencies seeking to promote better race relations and legislation for civil liberties. The Labour Council realized that this was a ‘long range’ undertaking requiring ‘years of constant effort to accomplish real improvement’. Little did they realize that labour activists will still be at it in the new millennium. Read excerpt from 1949 Labour Day Souvenir.

In 1951, the Labour Council achieved victory after a long and vigorous campaign supported by affiliates, religious groups, women's and youth organisations, professional and service bodies, when Ontario became the first province in Canada to enact a Fair Employment Practices Act that prohibited hob discrimination on racial or religious grounds.
Read the excerpt from the 1951 Official Labour Day Souvenir.

In 1954, the Labour Council noted “.. the fight for human dignity, as well as the battle for a decent standard of living and good working conditions goes on side by side. We, in the labour movement, have the job of educating our own members, especially new ones, as well as the community around us..” Read the excerpt from the 1954 Official Labour Day Souvenir

In 1957, the Labour Council said “We must continue to fight to ensure that all Canadians have equal opportunity in obtaining jobs, promotions, decent houses in which to live. It is the duty of the Labour Movement to spearhead the campaigns to obtaining effective protection for the basic human rights of all citizens in the community". Read the excerpt from the 1957 Official Labour Day Souvenir.

At the turn of the 21st Century, attention then turned to our planet and the climactic changes caused by unsustainable human practices. Toronto's unions responded by adding climate justice as the fourth pillar of our movement. 

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