- George Brown and the printers’ union
- Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'études canadiennes
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 10, Number 1, February 1975
- pp. 42-48
- View Citation
- Additional Information
George Brown and the printers' union SALLY ZERKER The story of George Brown as publisher of the Toronto Globe, ardent advocate of responsible government, Grit leader, Tory antagonist and architect of Confederation has been told, most effectively so, in the outstanding work of J. M.S. Careless. 1 But the story of Brown as employer has been neglected, at least from the point of view of the printers who worked for him. It is true that Careless examined and used two volumes of the printers' union minute books for his discussion of Brown's bitter rupture with the union at the time of the famous printers' strike of 1872.2 However, earlier union records are extant, from which one gains valuable insights regarding Brown's longstanding feud with the Toronto Typographical Union which seasoned the climate of hostility in 1872. Moreover, the International Typographical Union's Convention Proceedings prove useful for evaluation of the outcome of that distressing event. In general, an assessment of Brown, the employer, requires a comprehensive survey of all surviving union records. We might begin by acknowledging Careless ' assertion that George Brown had "never taken kindly to unions."3 From the printers' point of view this would be regarded as a charitable understatement. The case has been made that Brown's opposition to labour association was based on his adherence to liberal principles. Accordingly, while admitting to the principle of freedom of association , Brown upheld that such association must in no way infringe upon another basic principle, freedom of contract.4 Yet it was Brown himself, not the union, who was to be the initial violator of that principle in his very first contact with the Toronto printer community . A brief review of the background of the earliest attempts at printer labour organization in Toronto will be useful for our under42 standing of subsequent events. Printers in Toronto first organized a trade association in the fall of 1832. On the twelfth of October of that year, twenty-four journeymen printers met at the York Hotel on King Street East, a meeting initiated by one J. H. Lawrence,5 journeyman printer employed at the Guardian office.6 Inducements to organize at that time were varied, but they were not related to any desire to raise wages. The wage-rate for journeymen printers was one established by custom, $7.00 or £1.15 Halifax currency,7 and printers were for the moment content with the existing scale. More pressing was the disturbing fact that employers were increasingly willing to hire "halfway" journeymen, that is to say, workmen with less than full-term apprenticeship, hired at wages below the customary rate. Also, printers in Toronto were becoming fearful of the long-run implications of technological innovations in the pressing process, which threatened to reduce the demand for fullyskilled tradesmen.8 This first experience with labour organization was of limited success and short duration. The Toronto Typographical Society, as it was then called, ceasec' functioning in 1837. Its collapse was claimed to have been connected with internal upheaval related to the Mackenzie rebellion, although an unsuccessful strike in 1836 may have been at least as instrumental in the union's demise.9 The importance of the organizational experience of the 1830rs is that it laid the foundation and provided personnel, constitution , and by-laws for a revival of the organization when George Brown and his father Peter appeared on the scene in 1843.10 Almost immediately after his arrival, Brown took measures to organize the employers in order to impose an industry-wide wage reduction in Toronto. While not referring to Brown directly by name, the printers insinuated as plainly as they dared who was the author of this disruption of trade relations in the city. In a circular distributed to the public in 1845, they outlined the developRevue d'etudes canadiennes ments subsequent to Brown's migration from New York to Toronto, as follows: For a number of years a certain "Scale of Prices" had prevailed in this city, which was considered perfectly fair and reasonable by all the employers - as evidenced by the fact that not the slightest objection to it was ever offered by any of them...