SZALATNAY, MÁRK, trade unionist and revolutionary socialist; b. in Hungary; d. in Los Angeles, U.S.A., 1875.
The son of a Protestant school-teacher, Márk Szalatnay was expelled from the University of Budapest in 1836 for propagating doctrines of the American and French revolutions. Imprisoned for four years, after agitating over grievances of the 1838 Danube River flood victims, he wrote Traditiones communes Hungarorum et populorum Balcanicorum, subsequently published. Szalatnay then studied in the Netherlands at Leiden and Dordrecht but returned to Hungary to support Lajos Kossuth on the outbreak of the 1848 revolution, taking part as a combatant in the defence of Komárom, held by Magyar nationalists. Following the defeat of the revolution he went to England, became associated with the Chartists, and for six years worked as secretary of the South Wales Miners’ Union. He took part in numerous strikes, suffered repeated arrests, and campaigned to have the trade union movement endorse the Manifesto of the Communist Party of Marx and Engels. Deported to the United States as an “undesirable alien” in 1855, he worked as a cigar-maker in Baltimore and was active in trade union organization.
An ardent abolitionist, Szalatnay was seriously wounded during a protest action against a proslavery demonstration. Disabled, he moved with a group of fellow Hungarian workers to Montreal, where he organized a local of the International Union of Cigar Makers of America in 1865. He organized another local in Toronto in 1869 and here, in 1872, the year of the historic printers’ strike and the upsurge of the nine hour day movement, Szalatnay led a strike of the cigar-makers. Arrested, imprisoned for four months, then deported to the United States, he became an organizer for the National Labor Union. During a bitterly fought strike of bakery workers in Los Angeles, in 1875, he was shot and killed by police. The hardships and hazards of his 20 years’ stormy sojourn in North America he had shared with Mary Fergusson, a leader of the early feminist movement in the United States.
One of the founders of the Canadian trade union movement, an early proponent of the ideas of revolutionary socialism and international labour solidarity, Márk Szalatnay embodied in his life’s work a remarkable combination of militant traditions: those of the Hungarian revolutionary democrats of 1848, of British Chartism, of the American anti-slavery movement, trade unionism, and (through his association with Mary Fergusson) the movement for women’s rights. He was the first Marxist of whom there is record in the history of Canadian labour; it has been surmised that Szalatnay may have been instrumental in the publication of an excerpt from Das Kapital (a passage from the chapter on “The working day”) in the first issue of the Ontario Workman, 18 April 1872, 14 years before the full work appeared in English.
Ontario Workman (Toronto), 18 April, 10, 31 Oct. 1872. Charles Lipton, The trade union movement of Canada, 1827–1959 (Montreal, 1966). H. A. Logan, Trade unions in Canada, their development and functioning (Toronto, 1948). S. B. Ryerson, Unequal union; confederation and the roots of conflict in the Canadas, 1815–1873 (Toronto, 1968). István Szöke, We are Canadians; the national group of the Hungarian-Canadians (Toronto, 1954).