Term Paper: Working Class Militancy in Canadian Labour History

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History of Canadian Labour- the 2 significant periods of working-Class militancy in Canadian History

The history of the Canadian state has been marked by a lot of important events which came to shape its present. In particular concerning the current social and economic situation, in can be said that one of the most important periods in its history was the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th as the events which took place at the time constituted some of the most dramatic changes in the Canadian society. However the strive for development and emancipation could not have been achieved without sacrifices and without the background of general events that in the end shaped the way in which the Canadian society emerged in the 20th century.

The present paper will address the issues that marked this period which started with the Knights of Labor and ended with one of the most important strikes in the history of Canada in 1919. Aside from the specificities of the country itself, it must be pointed out the fact that in the end, Canada benefited from a certain context which would prove determinant for the eventual result. In this sense, several aspects will be taken into consideration such as the role of external factors, as well as the characteristics of the working class in Canada from the perspective of religion, gender, race, skill, labor, and growth of the private sector. These are all important elements for the development of the working class in Canada as well as for the way in which the society evolved and became a prosperous working environment.

There are several events which marked the development of Canadian working force. More precisely, while one of them marks the actual beginning of the revolutionary attempts concerning labor, the other one marks the culminating point and its eventual results. These are the Knights of Labor in the 1880s and the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 respectively.

The Knights of Labor were according to Marks, "a major working class organization" in a period when the industrialization process was blooming. However, a more detailed account of the organization in itself is given by Craig Phelan who argues that in fact the Knights were an organization of people who held that "periodic depressions and mass unemployment on a scale unknown before the Civil War, the relentless efforts to assume unilateral control over the labor process, and the increasing concentration of economic power in the hands of monopolists- all undermined the artisans' independent status by reducing them to 'wage slaves'. Unless checked, capital concentration would soon undermine the promise of the republic itself." (2000, 2) the origin of this organization however was American and it manifested its initial beliefs in regard to the American system. However, in time, these beliefs came to be associated with Canada as well, especially taking into account that the Canadian state, despite the fact that "industrialization first emerged in Ontario after mid century" it soon came to be current state of affairs as "in tiny villages and in small towns across the province, as well as in larger centers, industrial wage work had become a way of life for many Ontarians." (Marks, 156)

The activity of the Knights of labor is important for the study of the Canadian history of labor because it offers a perspective on the way in which the first ideas about organized labor and the way in which capitalism worked are visible. More importantly however, it marks the first steps against what came to be known as fight against capitalism. Moreover, another significant point is made by their association with the Salvation Army which gave more leverage to their activities and a more important role in the Canadian society.

The Salvation Army brought the discussions and the struggles of the poor but through the consideration of religious aspects. According to Marks, they were of British origin and fought for the rights of the poor and for their empowerment. However, it is pointed out that in the 1880s "the Canadian Salvation Army was very different from the present day "Sally Ann in that it remained almost exclusively a revivalist movement and focused on saving souls through preaching rather than through social service" (Marks, 158). Therefore the main contribution of the Salvation Army was based on religion thus on the soul rather than on practical aspects such as work and money. Still, they are important because they appealed to an issue which was important at the time, religion.

The presence of these two organizations pointed out several key aspects facing the Canadian society at the end of the 19th century. These proved to be essential for the way in which the society would later be characterized as being both united and divided on key matters.

First, one of the most important elements that caught the attention of analysts was the issue of gender in the Canadian society and especially concerning the workforce. In general it can be said that in the 1880s women were often excluded from the life of the society. For instance, in terms of political rights, they had almost no access to the process of decision making. In this sense, "in spite of early efforts to obtain female suffrage and even some early successes in terms of the municipal franchise, women really had very little to do with politics in the 1800s and even less so, it would seem, with labor politics" (Trofimenkoff,145). In this sense, it can be argued that the situation in Canada was similar to other regions in the world where women had often little to say on the political scene.

Women in Canada during this period had hardly any voice especially taking into account that they were often left outside discussion areas. Even if their opinion was asked it was most often disregarded. Moreover, their employment rate was small by comparison to that of men in different areas of work. In this sense, for instance, "in the category 'manufacturers and mechanical industries' working women made up almost one fifth of the labor force in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick and slightly more than one fifth in Nova Scotia" (Trofimenkoff,145). From this point-of-view it can be said that in general women were seldom employed and when this thing actually happened, they were often referred to as "hands" of labor, without any specific nomination. This comes to show that indeed their presence was more or less ignored. This attitude however was the cause of great discontent.

Another important element which precisely describes the situation of women at that time and in particular the discriminatory treatment in comparison to men was their activities and their treatment by their employers. Thus, women mostly worked in factories in the manufacturing sector. Nonetheless, their working hours were not established in a universal manner but rather they differed from region to region (Trofimenkoff,147). Moreover, in terms of payment, this was done according to their production and their age and experience, and not by the quality of their work. In this sense, their wages which were far lower than those of men were fluctuant according to the material they possessed and the orders they had. This comes to point out the facts that not only were they discriminated, but also that they were fully controlled by the owner of the factory. Therefore, the employer had full access to their work and control over their wages.

Considering the treatment of women and their clear discrimination, it can be said that indeed the society was united in front of the industrialization as more and more people were engaged in the industry sector, but at the same time it was divided along gender lines. Moreover, given the fact that employers treated in negative aspect workers regardless of their gender or qualification further strengthened the cohesion of the masses against a global employer viewed as the main exploiter.

Second, anther significant aspect of the labor situation in Canada at the turn of the century was the issue of race. It can be generally stated that workers at the turn of the century in Canada faced somewhat a similar problem that the world is facing nowadays concerning the immigration flux from China and other Asian countries which are considered to be flooding western labor markets. At that time though the prosperity of the Canadian and American society as well as the need for cheap labor were the elements which lured Chinese workers. However, they soon encountered a rather hostile society which rejected and excluded them from the community. In this sense, "the white labor movement followed a strategy of excluding rather than including Asian workers in attempts to collectively improve their lives in British Columbia." (Creese, 1988, 294)

Race played a rather significant part in the exclusion of Chinese workers but it can be said that it was not the only factor which is considered to be essential for explaining the treatment of Chinese workers by the Canadian society. In particular, it has… [END OF PREVIEW]

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