Historians and labour leaders alike say we should take time this Labour Day weekend to remember those who have fought to improve labour standards in Canada over the past century and a half.
"We have a moment of silence on Remembrance Day to remember the fallen," said SFU historian Mark Leier.
"[Labour day is] a good day to give a toast for the people who have fought for this country for workers."
The first labour day, held in Pittsburgh, Pa. in June 1882, was organized to protest against what was called at the time "organized capital."
"Workers of the 1870s and 1880s felt that their republic was slipping away," said UBC historian Paul Krause.
"They were worried that there were no curbs in place against rich industrialists like Andrew Carnegie. There was a sense of concern, almost panic, about the direction of the American republic."
Then, much like today, allowing too much capital in the hands of too few risked grinding the capitalist machine to a halt, said Krause.
"Today economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz echo what the great Canadian economist J.K. Galbraith said, that when the pyramid [of capital] becomes too inverted, the buying power of those at the bottom disappears," he said.
"Gross inequities don't work in a market economy, you have to have demand," he said.
Canada's Labour Day, first officially proclaimed in 1894, was a result of the report by the Royal Commission on the Relations of Capital and Labour.
Despite the vast improvements in labour conditions over the past century, Leier worries that some standards are being eroded away.
"Wages have stayed pretty stagnant for the past 30 years. "While . . . [Labour Day's cousin] May Day was first established to fight for the eight-hour day, many people work longer days than this," said Leier.
"Also, the idea that you need two people to create the standard of living that one person used to be able to provide is a concern."
"We like to say Labour Day is every day because without labour, nothing would go on in this province," said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
"Organized capital has never been stronger; we need to work to make sure we are not victims of globalization," he said.
"We need an industrial strategy that looks at what we do well and maximize it."
"We need to have a high wage, high skill economy, the same way the Europeans have done," he said. "We've not been producing the skilled labour we need."
Sinclair hopes British Columbians will take a moment on Labour Day to remember that many of the benefits people have today, like the eight-hour day or having weekends off, are because of organized labour.
"Even people who aren't in unions benefit," he said. For Krause, it's also a time to remember how influential unions have been in guiding Western democracies.
"Much of our memory of the communitarianism of past labour efforts has been lost," he said. "[Former American president] Franklin Roosevelt knew he needed the support of labour to put in his reforms. Without their support the New Deal would never have happened."
But Canadians are still in a position where they can raise concerns about inequality, Krause said.
"In Canada, you can be a critic of the established order and not be insane; in America a critic of capital is a communist," he said.