Thursday, May 12, 2005

Review: On Strike

(On Strike: Six Key Labour Struggles in Canada, 1919-1949 edited by Irving Abella. Toronto: James Lewis & Samuel, Publishers, 1974.)

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one, though it is well worth reading.

The Canadian self-image as a country at peace throughout its history does not stand up to even a cursory glance at our labour history. A study published before this book concluded that, in the first half of the 20th century, labour disputes in Canada were more likely to result in violence than those in Europe. This book focuses on six examples of acute labour conflict in central Canada, all important to the development of the Canadian labour movement. These include the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 (the longest lasting and most complete general strike in North American history), the Estevan coal strike of 1931, the Stratford Strike of 1933, the strike against General Motors in Oshawa in 1937 (which first brought industrial unionism to Canada), the strike against Ford in Windsor in 1945 (which won the "Rand Formula," the soon-to-be standard way in which automatic dues checkoffs happen), and the Asbestos strike of 1949 (one of the immediate precursors of Quebec's Quiet Revolution).

All of the accounts are interesting, and all are important. I was particularly interested in the account of the strike in Stratford, Ontario, in 1933, because I had family living there at the time. My grandfather would have been 22, and I think he may have been going to university in Waterloo at that time, but certainly his parents would have been in Stratford. I'm not sure what they would have thought of this strike. My grandfather was a staunch Tory through most of his life, and I'm not sure if that was firmly fixed at that age or not. I'm not sure what his parents' politics would have been -- his father was a carpenter, and I know that many skilled tradespeople were historically Tories, because of the Tory support for high tariffs in that era. And the strike was lead by a union affiliated with the Workers' Unity League, the Communist trade union central in Canada at that time. In any case, the actual gains by workers from that strike were minimal, but it marked the last time militia were called out in response to a labour dispute in Canada, and it also played a role in Stratford turfing most of their city council and electing a pro-labour mayor and council in the next local election.

Anyway...there's some important history in this book.

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1 comment:

Scott said...

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