"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 Act.

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.

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