Banners in the 1872 Nine Hour Movement and Beyond

This video is part of a series made in collaboration with the Workers Arts and Heritage Center as part of the All for 9 and Nine for All project.


On May 15th 1872, when the Nine Hour Parade marched on Stewart Street past the Workers Arts & Heritage Center, each of the craft units that were marching were carrying banners. The banners had slogans like: “Art is long, life is short”, “Relaxation gives dignity to our labor”, and “Nine Hours, No surrender”. Each of the banners demarcated the craft unit as a craft so it identified who those folks were. But also, the banners were the slogans explaining why they were marching and what they wanted out of the Nine Hour Movement. They wanted more time to improve themselves, they wanted dignity in their work, they wanted a shorter working day. Therefore, banners were important during the parade to signify and publicly declare the aspirations of the Nine Hour Movement and they remain a collective symbol of solidarity and identity for working class people and organized labor.

Here are some banners from the Workers Arts & Heritage Center’s permanent collection. We have some beautiful examples like this one from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. It represents a number of locals and shows how banners conveyed solidarity across unions and locals for collective action, for solidarity, and for organizing. This one is from 1916. We also have this one over here from the International Lady Garment Workers Union. It represents woman workers. This one is out of Toronto, local 68. These banners could be carried in parades, like they were back in 1872, or they could be hung in union halls. They were symbols of identity, and they were also collective symbols of solidarity. They showed who the workers were and often times showcased the skills of the workers. Such as the fringe and painting on this banner. They were visible symbols of the struggles for better pay, for decent work, closing the wage gap, and being recognized as workers in the case of women. We have another very interesting example of the legacy of banners in the Workers Arts & Heritage Center’s permanent collection with this banner. It represents a more contemporary iteration of banner-making and how the arts movement has combined and how arts have influenced and benefitted workers even in a contemporary context. This banner was commissioned by the Energy and Chemical workers union, which later became the CAW, and later became UNIFOR. It was commissioned and painted by two of the Workers Arts & Heritage Center’s co-founders, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge. It shows workers in the Energy and Chemical Workers Union educating themselves, thinking about health and safety, some of the key actions that banners, and organized labor were fighting for in the movements like 1872 all the way through to the common and collective actions that we see today.