The accomplishments of British Columbian workers and the role the Carpenters' Union played are impressive. Carpenters helped build the structure of this province from the houses and factories to the bridges, dams and mills.

Not so obvious is the role that the union played in building the social and political structure of British Columbia. Unions have always had a vision of Canada where everyone can work with dignity. Here all can participate in society and enjoy proper health care and a good education. The vision is also about equality among all people, a just share of the wealth that we create and a clean enviroment. Unions have worked hard to make that vision come true.

The desire of the carpenters to organize and improve their lives comes from a long tradition. The Carpenters' Guild, the parent body of today's labour unions, was formed in England in 1333.

In 1863, before British Columbia became a province, carpenters organized their first union in Victoria and Vancouver. The first local of today's United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America was formed in Victoria in 1883, and a Vancouver local followed in 1890. As the province grew over the next century, so did the union. Today there are 27 locals.

In 1899, shortly after the union was formed in BC, there was a successful strike by the building trades for the 9 hour day. Eventually, the unions were able to negotiate the 8 hour day and, in some cases, a 7 1/2 hour day.

Organized workers were the key players in establishing the earlier Canada Pension Plan. After the poverty of the 1930's, unions pushed for the establishment of a national Welfare Plan. The Unemployment Insurance scheme that followed the second World War was also the result of union effort.

Unions continue to provide a balance against the interests of corporations and capital. Today, capital moves quickly and freely around the globe. The corporations and economies of the world are becoming more integrated. It is more important than ever that we organize in unions to build a sustainable society.

Unions are the democratic organizations that represent working people; in fact, the only organizations that represent working people.


In the year 1333, in London England, a group of carpenters founded their own labour organization. They called it the Carpenters' Guild of London and it is now one of the oldest existing social institutions in Great Britain. Part of it's charter reads as follows: "Guild of Carpenters of London. This is the Book of Ordinances of the Brotherhood of Carpenters of London made the first day of September, in the seventh year of the reign of our King Edward III after the Conquest." It continued saying that, "the good men carpenters had arranged a Fraternity to be held in the churches of St. Thomas of Acon and of Saint John the Baptist of Holywell beside London."

The guild required each member to attend mass in midwinter, to pay dues amounting to one penny per man. The ordinances also provided for attendance at funerals of deceased members and made provisions for the guild to pay for the services for poor members. Sick members were to be assisted , as were those who were out of work. The guild was to be governed by four wardens, elected annually, who would assess dues four times a year.

The Carpenters' Guild received a formal charter from the Crown in 1477 - 144 years later. The carpenters made themselves a coat- of- arms which is shown on this page. The full title of the brotherhood was now "The Master Wardens and Commonality of the Mistery of Freemen of the Carpentry of the City of London." It was reorganized to consist of a Master, three Wardens, and a body of Freemen. In order to guard against any attempts to treat this Royal Grant as being void or out of date, the members had the charter reaffirmed by each subsequent ruler. This was customary at the time, for in the reign of Charles III, all city companies were declared illegal, including that of the carpenters. However, the charter was reaffirmed by Queen Mary.

The guilds of London, came, in time, to be called "companies." The duties of the Carpenters' company as defined in its charter were to superintend the construction of wooden buildings and to prevent the use of substandard materials.

Quoted from the Carpenters Union Steward Manual Craftworkers who knew a trade well and had their own shops were called masters. A craftworker who knew a craft, but not as well as a master, was a journeyman. He worked at a daily wage for a master. A boy or young man who was learning a craft was called an apprentice. He usually received housing and meals from the master who was teaching him. It took an apprentice from 2 to 7 years to become a journeyman. A journeyman who wanted to become a master had to show evidence of great skill. He had to pass an examination or make a product in his craft that would be judged a masterpiece by the other masters of his guild.

By the 1300’s masters had become powerful and often did not allow journeymen to become masters. They handed down guild memberships to their sons and kept journeymen as hired workers. In the large crafts, such as the woolen industry, many masters even became wage earners, paid by merchants. This happened because the merchants became so powerful that they took over the production of the goods they sold.

During the 1300’s and 1400’s, the craft guilds of the large industries became associations of hired workers. Their chief purpose was to obtain fair wages and decent working conditions.
Bitter disputes arose between merchants and craft guilds. Strikes were called, and these often grew into civil wars. At that time craft guilds were not strong enough to win many rights. But they were formed for some of the same reasons that modern labor unions were formed. Some labor unions are still called guilds. But guilds as they existed in the Middle Ages are gone.

Source: Bruce Lyon, The World Book Encyclopedia, 1985

The Origin of Labour Day (Source: BC Trade Union Council)

The Canadian labour movement can justly claim the title of originator of Labour Day. Peter J. McGuire, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labour has traditionally been known as the “Father of Labour Day.” Historical evidence indicates that McGuire obtained his idea for the establishment of an annual demonstration and public holiday from Canadian trade unionists.

Earliest records show that the Toronto Trades Assembly, perhaps the original central labour body in Canada, organized the first North American “workingman’s demonstration” of any significance for April 15, 1872. The beribboned parade marched smartly in martial tread accompanied by four bands. About 10,000 Torontonians turned out to see the parade and listen to the speeches calling for abolition of the law which decreed that trade unions were criminal conspiracies in restraint of trade. The freedom of 24 imprisoned leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union, on strike to secure the nine-hour working day, was the immediate purpose of the parade, on what was then Thanksgiving Day. It was still a crime to be a member of a union in Canada although the law of criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade had been repealed by the United Kingdom parliament in 1871.

Toronto was not the only city to witness a labour parade in 1872. On September 3, members of seven unions in Ottawa organized a parade more thank a mile long, headed by the Garrison Artillery band and flanked by city fireman carrying torches. The Ottawa parade wound its way though the home of Prime Minster Sir John A. MacDonald where the marchers hoisted him into a carriage and drew him to Ottawa City Hall by torchlight. “The Old Chieftain,” aware of the discontent of workers with the laws which made unions illegal, in a ringing declaration from the steps of the City Hall, promised the marchers that his party would “Sweep away all such barbarous laws from the statute books.”

The offending conspiracy laws were repealed by the Canadian parliament in 1872. The tradition established by the Toronto Trades Assembly was continued through the seventies and into the early 1880’s. In 1882 the Toronto Trades and Labour Council, successor to the TTA, decided to organize the annual demonstration and picnic for July 22. The Council sent an invitation to Peter J. McGuire of New York requesting his services as a speaker for the occasion. McGuire was the founder and general secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters which had been organized the previous year.

It was in the same year, that McGuire proposed at a meeting of the New York City Central Labour Union that a festive day be set aside for a demonstration and picnic. Labour Day was first celebrated in New York on September 5, 1882. It is apparent, however, that the custom had developed in Canada and the invitation sent to McGuire prompted his suggestion to the New York labour body.

Soon pressure for legislation to declare a national holiday for Labour Day was exerted in both Canada and the United States. In 1894 the government of Sir John Thompson enacted such legislation on July 23, with the Prime Minster piloting the bill through Parliament against the opposition of some of his Conservative followers.

Canadian trade unionists have celebrated this day set aside to honour those who labour from the 1870s on. The first Labour Day parade in Winnipeg, in 1894, was two miles long. There can be little doubt that the annual demonstrations of workers’ solidarity each Labour Day in North America owe their inspiration to a small group of illegal members of the Toronto Trades Assembly.

Peter J. McGuire 1852-1906 http://www.cyberenet.net/~kelta/mcguire.html

How labor won its day http://detnews.com/history/labor/labor.htm

The Story of A Remarkable American and Trade Unionist

EMPIRE IN WOOD - A History of the Carpenters' Union
By ROBERT A. CHRISTIE 1956 (excerpts)

Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Local Union No. 343, Winnepeg.
Carpenters Union 1899 Canadian Labour History

Excerpts from Local 452 Carpenters-Vancouver BC 1890 - 1990 The first hundred years

Carpenters and Joiners Amalgamated Society.
In 1890 members were working a nine-hour day, five and one-half days a week at 36 cents and hour, approximately $18.00 per week. These conditions had resulted from a 1889 strike, before the Vancouver carpenters had joined the United Brotherhood.
These rates increased slowly, until the recession in 1908, at which time the local was forced to accept a wage cut to $3.30 per day. Following strikes in 1911, 1918 and 1926, wages reached $7.50 a day.
The Vancouver Trades and Labour Council was established in 1890, with Carpenter Union Local 452 President Joe Dixon elected as its first President. The following year a Building Trades Council was established, consisting of 19 local unions.
The first BC Federation of Labour was formed in 1910 and when the Vancouver Building Trades Council went on strike in 1911, 4000 tradesmen went out.
During this period the Industrial Workers of the World was active, reaching its peak in 1912 and 1913. The IWW was organizing mainly unskilled workers in the mines and basic industries, as well as unemployed workers. Opposed by many sections of the trade union movement, the IWW received financial and other support from the Carpenters.
Increasing unemployment in 1912 led to protest meetings and demonstrations. A major demonstration at Powell Street grounds was broken up by mounted policemen in what became known as "Bloody Sunday.
Later in the year BC experienced one of the longest and most bitter disputes in the province's history. Originating with a strike of miners in Nanaimo, the strike won support from the wider trade union movement, with a full-scale general strike threatened. A settlement was reached in 1914, but later reneged on by the employer and the miners' union was driven out.
The local supported the creation of the One Big Union in 1919; however the majority of the trade union movement rejected the proposal. Nevertheless when the OBU was involved in bringing about the Winnipeg General Strike later that year, the local supported that historic event.
By the late 1920's, the Federation, Labour Council and Building Trades Council were well established and growing and the future for the BC trade union movement looked bright.
From its earliest years the local was politically active. In 1894 support was given to trade union candidates in the provincial election and three were elected as independents. During the years that followed, other trade unionists were successful in both municipal and provincial elections. In 1924 the local decided to affiliate with the Canadian Labour Party and its delegates attended that party's convention.
Another concern right from the early years was the desire for a Canadian structure for the Brotherhood. In 1904 the local set up a committee to correspond with other locals across the country with a view to pressuring the Brotherhood's international officers to establish a Canadian office.
The first Labour Day was proclaimed on Saturday, September 6, 1890. The following year a celebration was held at Brockton Point and in 1894 Carpenters, proudly wearing new aprons and straw hats, accompanied their wagon float in the Labour Day parade. By 1894, the Federal Government was persuaded to declare the first Monday in September as Labour Day, a holiday (although a holiday without pay until 1964). Labour Day parades were to be a trade union institution in the province until 1943.

In August 1881, thirty-six carpenters from eleven cities met in a Chicago warehouse to form a national union. Four days of heated discussion produced a constitution, a structure, and a new organization with two thousand members -- the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. (Renamed United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America in 1888.)

A Short History of American Labor

Primitive unions, or guilds, of carpenters and cordwainers, cabinet makers and cobblers made their appearance, often temporary, in various cities along the Atlantic seaboard of colonial America. Workers played a significant role in the struggle for independence; carpenters disguised as Mohawk Indians were the "host" group at the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The Continental Congress met in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia, and there the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. In "pursuit of happiness" through shorter hours and higher pay, printers were the first to go on strike, in New York in 1794; cabinet makers struck in 1796; carpenters in Philadelphia in 1797; cordwainers in 1799. In the early years of the 19th century, recorded efforts by unions to improve the workers' conditions, through either negotiation or strike action, became more frequent.
To view full text go to: http://www.unionlabel.org/history.htm


The official emblem of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America was adopted at the Fourth General Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, August, 1884.

new UBCJA History page at NY Local 157 website



"Oh, I don't know," Tom, who had been smoking his pipe gravely, began to counsel. "Organized labor's gettin' stronger every day. Why, I can remember when there wasn't any unions in California, Look at us now--wages, an' hours, an' everything."

"You talk like an organizer," Bert sneered, "shovin' the bull con on the boneheads. But we know different. Organized wages won't buy as much now as unorganized wages used to buy. They've got us whipsawed. Look at Frisco, the labor leaders doin' dirtier polities than the old parties, pawin' an' squabblin' over graft, an' goin' to San Quentin, while--what are the Frisco carpenters doin'? Let me tell you one thing, Tom Brown, if you listen to all you hear you'll hear that every Frisco carpenter is union an' gettin' full union wages. Do you believe it? It's a damn lie. There ain't a carpenter that don't rebate his wages Saturday night to the contractor. An' that's your buildin' trades in San Francisco, while the leaders are makin' trips to Europe on the earnings of the tenderloin--when they ain't coughing it up to the lawyers to get out of wearin' stripes."

"That's all right," Tom concurred. "Nobody's denyin' it. The trouble is labor ain't quite got its eyes open. It ought to play politics, but the politics ought to be the right kind."

Center for Archival Collections;Carpenters Local 1138, Toledo, Ohio MS 147
Local 1138 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America was organized in 1885. Earlier attempts (1860s) to organize carpenters in Toledo had been unsuccessful until local 25 was chartered in 1882. The early objectives of the Carpenters' Union were to:

Discourage piece work, to encourage an apprentice system and a higher standard of skill, to cultivate a feeling of friendship among the craft, to assist each other to secure employment, to reduce the hours of daily labor, to secure adequate pay for our work, to furnish aid in cases of death and sickness, and by legal and proper means to elevate the moral, intellectual, and social conditions of its members and improve the trade.
(The Toledo Union, November 1897.)

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