John Mackasey (1840-1919), an Irish Catholic, lived in Halifax during a difficult time. Irish Catholics were placed in the lowest-paid, least-skilled, and most dangerous and insecure employment. They found many social and economic doors closed to them. During this time, work was not easy to find and one could soon find advertisements for jobs which specified : "No Irish Need Apply", later shortened to NINA.# Irish-Americans generally began at the 'bottom of the pile'. There was work to be done, labour that most people refused to do, and the unskilled Irish were ready to do it. They worked as longshoremen, as ditch-diggers, as construction workers, as builders of the nation's roads, canals and railroads. Even middle class Irish Catholics experienced barriers to success and respect, such as religion. Most native Americans believed laziness, immorality and ignorance were inseparable from Irishness and Catholicism.
Although an Irish Catholic, fortunately John Mackasey was not a poor, unappreciated man.
He was many great things; a commission merchant, a lieutenant in the 63rd Battalion of Rifles, a liquor licence inspector, a member of the Charitable Irish Society, a highly respected man. In the early 1880s, Mackasey's concerns for his fellow Irish Catholics, and despise towards the "great merchants" of Halifax, inspired him to become the leader of the unskilled dock labourers of Halifax in their great strike in 1884; his most significant contribution to Canadian history. Mackasey lead a well organized union for males aged 16 to 60. The Long Shore Laborers' Union "'provided that [longshoremen] be in good health and of moral character,' the union established a fund from which its members could receive assistance ."#
Mackasey proved to be an effective leader. He took control of his fellow longshoremen's predicaments, telling them "the whole labouring class of the...