Happy Canadian and American Labour Day! Don’t worry, we also recognize and appreciate International Worker’s Day/May Day.
Canadian Labour Day can be traced back to a 1872 parade in support of a strike by the Toronto Typographical Union. Hey, that’s vaguely comics related! The TTU had been striking for a fifty-eight hour work week for nine months. Because union activity was still criminal in Canada, the police were able to arrest twenty-four TTU leaders, over the course of the strike. In support of this noble goal, and in honour of the TTU’s incredible dedication, the Toronto Trades Assembly and its twenty-seven constituent unions, demonstrated in support. The persistence of the TTU inspired seven unions to later march on Ottawa, and demand change. On June 14, 1873, Parliament passed the Trade Union Act, legalizing union activity, and Canada was forever after a paradise! (Ha ha, no).
The early days of the comics and animation industries in the US were marked by exploitative labour practices and strikes, too. Forty hour work week? Creator rights? Tell me another one, buddy. Siegel and Shuster’s decades-long battle with DC, and Alan Moore’s tumultuous relationship with DC are probably the most famous labour/rights talking points in comics. But they’re far from unusual. Check out IDW’s The Comic Book History of Comics, if you haven’t already. It’s an easy read, with a good overview of the legal, financial and ethical considerations, and how business decisions made in the early days, continue to affect the comics industry today. You can find pictures of the 1941 Disney artist’s strike here.
Reacting to the release a documents from the Siegel v DC case, Tom Spurgeon said this,
Comics’ original sin echoes over the course of its history. It rips to the surface in a variety of nasty ways to which old men, widows and children mournfully testify. It spawns a thousand and one grinning doppelgangers carrying a bag of the oldest tricks. It rains abuse on a creative class that at times bristles, at times is grimly accepting, and at times gives birth to one or two poor, depraved souls that will fight for the imagined rightness of someone else, many someone elses, to benefit from an inspired act of creation ahead of that creator. What happened to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster isn’t history, not in the way history is usually defined. It is close, and it is awful, and it can’t help but make you just a little bit sad. One could say we deserve it, only nobody deserves it.
And on that cheerful note, happy labour day! Go read some political comics.