Canadian Geographic
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Organized Labour

By international standards the Canadian labour movement was highly fragmented. In part this was a consequence of the sheer geographical scale of the nation; the extraordinarily diverse history of miners’ unionism, for example, derived as much from regional and provincial settings as from ideological disputes.

Data on union membership suggest periods of particularly rapid growth at the beginning of the 20th century and towards the end of and immediately after the First World War. The movement enjoyed its greatest successes in British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia, and in the nation’s transportation and construction industries. Despite the efforts of a new industrial unionism, which peaked in 1919, Canada’s manufacturers battled to maintain or to create union-free environments.

1946 was a year of victory and consolidation. There was a rise in the number of workers covered by collective agreements, some standardization of conditions across Canadian industry, and increased union security. Newfoundland joined British Columbia as the most unionized province, and public service workers joined metal manufacturing and transportation workers as the most unionized sectors of the economy.

In 1956 the Canadian Congress of Labour and the Trades and Labor Congress followed their parent Congress of Industrial Organizations and American Federation of Labor into a new merger. The new Canadian Labour Congress succeeded in recruiting most Canadian unions.

The pattern of strike activity in the years 1891 to 1930 varied dramatically. Nationally the size of strikes grew over the years, as did their frequency, until the aftermath of the labour revolt of 1919. Contrasts existed across industries and provinces. Strikes in the mining industry were by far the largest and most frequent although shorter in duration than strikes in manufacturing.

The labour revolt of 1919 was the most dramatic episode of overt class conflict in the years 1891 to 1930. State repression of strike activity played a major role in the defeat of the labour revolt. Such intervention was not unique to Winnipeg in 1919. In the first decade of the century especially the Canadian military often found itself facing striking workers. The presence of troops, allegedly called in to maintain order, more often than not led to increased turbulence. Street-railway workers and coal miners were the workers most likely to face troops, and the most frequent confrontations were in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

A wave of strikes in 1943 and a surge in the political fortunes of the left finally forced the government in 1944 to pass a Privy Council Order (PC 1003) whereby employers had to bargain collectively with organized workers. Massive strikes in 1946 (including tumultuous struggles at the Ford plant in Windsor and the Stelco plant in Hamilton) compelled the government to entrench the wartime legislation. The 1948 Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act set the pattern for similar provincial legislation, leading to provincial labour-relations boards and compulsory conciliation services.


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Timber Trade to 1850

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Quiz :

What resulted from Ontario's and Quebec's export prohibition of pulpwood?

Defeat of the government
Rise of pulp and paper mills
Mass unemployment