Shun­ning Ge­orge Brown

Re: Hon­our Canada’s in­vis­i­ble ar­chi­tect: Why do we shun Ge­orge Brown, An­drew Coyne, April 13

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS -

Mr. Coyne is un­doubt­edly cor­rect in point­ing out the i mpor­tant con­tri­bu­tions Ge­orge Brown made t oward Cana­dian con­fed­er­a­tion. And it is also true, as he wrote, that Brown’s role in our na­tional con­fed­er­a­tion his­tory is al­most to­tally ig­nored. But I’m go­ing to sug­gest that there may be a good rea­son for this ne­glect, which re­lates to the fact that he was among the most hated fig­ures in Canada at that time.

I wrote about Ge­orge Brown’s odi­ous prac­tices in a book I pub­lished in 1982 called “The Rise and Fall of the Toronto Ty­po­graph­i­cal Union.” Brown mi­grated to Toronto in 1843 from the United States, and no sooner had he es­tab­lished him­self in the print­ing busi­ness when he be­gan ag­i­tat­ing to lower the then long- es­tab­lished rate of pay for print­ers at $7 for a 60-hour week. Sig­nif­i­cantly, he did not have the sup­port of the other pub­lish­ers in the town, but was rather a sole ag­i­ta­tor with an ob­nox­ious ob­jec­tive to beat down com­pe­ti­tion through lowering wages.

His zeal­ous anti- union tac­tics re­mained con­sis­tent through­out his life, which was ter­mi­nated in 1880, as a re­sult of an as­sas­si­na­tion by a de­ranged prin­ter. Al­though my book is about the eco­nomic his­tory of the old­est union in Canada, and in no sense a bi­og­ra­phy of Ge­orge Brown, in­di­rectly I tell part of Brown’s story. That was in­evitable be­cause his hos­til­ity of­ten was in­stru­men­tal in stim­u­lat­ing de­fence ac­tiv­ity on the part of the union, and thus iron­i­cally, ac­cel­er­at­ing the growth and po­tency of the print­ers’ or­ga­ni­za­tion. Dr. Sally F. Zerker, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus, York Univer­sity, Toronto

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