The Toronto Trades and Labor Council and District Assembly 125 of the Knights of Labor endorsed The Labor Advocate: A Weekly Labor Reform Newspaper. Grip Printing and Publishing Co. published 44 issues in Toronto from 5 December 1890 to 2 October 1891. The initial cost was one dollar and 50 cents in advance for a yearly subscription, and five cents for single copies (later reduced to $1.00 and 2 cents). The editor was Phillips Thompson, a prominent labour reformer in Canada from the 1860s until the 1920s. The subtitle of the Advocate reads “We Demand all the Reform that Justice can ask for, and all the Justice that Reform can give.” The Advocate supported direct opposition to and open critique of the capitalist basis of economic and social organization in Canada; all efforts at short-term reforms to enhance the lives of working-class people; the overthrow of capitalism; and socialist organization of the forces of production. Like many papers of the period, the mixed format of the Advocate communicated to readers in a variety of forms, including poetry, short stories, and novels as well as reviews, reports, letters, essays, and images.
Phillips Thompson was integral to local and national reform efforts from the 1860s to the 1920s. He was involved in the Single Tax Association, the Nationalist Clubs (as an executive member of both of these organizations), the Anti-Poverty Society, the Trades and Labour Congress, the Knights of Labor, the Patrons of Industry, the Toronto Suffrage Association, and the Toronto Conference on Social Problems. He gave speeches, organized meetings, and published both a book (The Politics of Labor ) and a collection of songs (The Labor Reform Songster ), besides working for various newspapers in Canada and the United States.
By 1890, Thompson had established himself as a leading voice among reformers in Canada, a position solidified by the publication of the Advocate. Development of the labour movement in late-nineteenth-century Canada depended in part on newspapers that could communicate effectively and attract new readers, thus contributing to working-class organization, consciousness, and action. Like other labour papers, the Advocate aimed to speak of and for people experiencing the often harsh and quickly changing realities of urban industrialization. It addressed issues of hours and wages as well as popular notions of political economy and individual progress.
The Advocate supported direct opposition to and open critique of the capitalist basis of economic and social organization in Canada; all efforts at short-term reforms to enhance the lives of working-class people; the overthrow of capitalism; and socialist organization of the forces of production. Although any change that would improve the lives of working-class people was acceptable in the short term, the ultimate aims of the Advocate were radical. Twenty years before the better-known American socialist magazine The Masses, the Advocate went well beyond the limited reform efforts of previous labour papers in Canada (e.g., The Ontario Workman). It was, accordingly, also a critical forerunner to later radical efforts in Canada (e.g. The Western Clarion, Communist Party of Canada). The Advocate, then, contributed to a political turning point in Canadian labour history, from primary emphasis on contemporary conditions to the exploration of radical possibilities more commonly associated with the heyday of proletarian literature and arts from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Like many papers of the period, the mixed format of the Advocate communicated to readers in a variety of forms, including poetry, short stories, and novels as well as reviews, reports, letters, essays, and images. Heightened awareness and increased knowledge were considered essential to a process of practical, on-the-ground action that made a difference in the lives of working-class people. Accordingly, the Advocate attempted to effectively communicate a radical politics in part by using popular literary forms to engage and to attract potential readers.
The Advocate was also unrelenting in its attack on the status quo to facilitate a collective response to the effects of capitalism and industrialization in Canada. Besides the use of a mixed format to attract and engage readers, it did so by critiquing the working class and fostering education, encouraging immediate steps towards socialism, setting forth a popular understanding of social history, challenging media practices, linking democracy and accountability, and making use of more participatory forms of communication. It was, in short, a multifaceted attempt to provide the basis for a popular and radical shift in Canadian politics at the time when industrialization was taking hold and the labour press in Canada remained relatively moderate.
Full Text (samples)
Source: The Labor Advocate: A Labor Reform Newspaper. Toronto: Grip Printing and Publishing Co., 1890-91. Microfilm. Find it.
Source: The Labor Advocate: A Labor Reform Newspaper. Toronto: Grip Print. and Publ. Co., 1890-91. Microfilm. Find it.