"We want not more money, but more brains; not
richer serfs, but better men ..."
n 1872, in Hamilton, Ontario, railroad workers and other craft
workers created the first significant cross-occupational organization.
Known as the Nine Hours Movement, workers formed Nine Hour Leagues
across southern Ontario and into Montreal, Sherbrooke, and Quebec City.
The leagues grew out of workers' demands for the nine-hour working day
- a reduction of two to three hours for most wage earners. League
members argued that reduced hours would improve the quality of life
for workers. All society would benefit from the reduced hours, Nine
Hour advocates explained, because shorter hours meant more time for
learning, family, and community.
When employers showed no inclination to grant the shorter working
day, the Nine Hours Movement planned a series of general strikes. When
this strategy was tested in Hamilton in May 1872, it failed. The
strike began on an impressive note when 1,500 workers paraded through
the streets. However, when the employers proved unbending in their
opposition to the union, the workers gradually returned to work and
the strike was lost. The Nine Hours movement never recovered its
former energy, although Nine Hour Leagues did continue in some towns
for several more years. Together, the local leagues founded the
Canadian Labor Union, a precursor of the Trades and Labor Congress of
Canada formed a decade later.
An interesting dimension of the Nine Hours Movement was its interest
in building working-class solidarity at the polls. It sponsored
political education forums and tried to inject labour issues into
elections. Its emphasis, though, was on converting Liberal and
Conservative candidates to its views, not in creating an independent
labour party. In this initiative the Nine Hours Movement recorded some
success. Ottawa printer Daniel J. O'Donoghue was elected as an
independent candidate, but soon joined the Liberals. Prime Minster
J.A. Macdonald's government responded to working-class pressure with
the passage of several minor pieces of labour-related legislation,
including the much heralded, but ultimately ineffectual, Trade Union
The Nine Hours Movement disappeared into the morass of high
unemployment of the depression of the late 1870s. Its legacy for
the Canadian labour movement is an interesting one. Despite its
failures and emphasis on male craft workers, the organization
represented an early episode of emerging worker solidarity. For
example, the movement's founding of the Canadian Labor Union marked
the first attempt to create a labour central, and its forays into
politics put labour issues on the electoral agenda.