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Workers’ Rights Focus of New Exhibit at Human Rights Museum

November 16, 2019 8:52 AM | News

Uranium Miners

Elliot Lake uranium miners, 1973. (DOUG GRIFFIN / TORONTO STAR)

WINNIPEG — The labour-rights struggles of Canadian workers are front and centre in a new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Rights on the Job opened Friday and uses a miner’s helmet, a nurse’s uniform, and a railway conductor’s cap to help tell the story of three important struggles that led to positive changes for Canadian workers.

The exhibit was created in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.

Union members representing uranium miners in Elliot Lake, Ontario found out in 1974 that evidence had been suppressed about linkages between their jobs and high incidences of lung cancer and silicosis – which workers had long suspected. They went on a three-week wildcat strike that led to a royal commission inquiry. The resulting legal changes became a turning point for workplace health and safety regulations in Canada, including the right to know about hazards in the workplace and the right to refuse dangerous work.

The other two stories tell of a group of Indigenous nurses who organized in 1975 to form what is known today as the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association (CINA), which now supports thousands of nurses in the medical profession.

Black men working for Canadian railways as car porters in the early 1900s joined the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1942. They negotiated their first collective agreement for improvements in pay, benefits and working conditions — including the time to sleep.

The exhibit is running in the Level 2 “What Are Human Rights?” gallery until October 2020.