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Labour Before the Law

Labour Before the Law: The Regulation of Workers' Collective Action in Canada, 1900-1948

Judy Fudge
Eric Tucker
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 414
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  • Book Info
    Labour Before the Law
    Book Description:

    The book is simultaneously a history of law, aspects of the state, trade unions and labouring people, and their interaction within the broad and shifting terrain of political economy. The authors are attentive to regional differences and sectoral divergences, and they attempt to address the fragmentation of class experience.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5727-4
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. v-vi)
    R. Roy McMurtry and Peter N. Oliver

    In their preface, the authors rightly note that Canadian labour history has flourished greatly over the last thirty years. Indeed the field has been an exciting one and both traditional scholars who have focussed on trade union activity itself and neo-Marxist writers who approach the subject from the broader perspective of working-class culture have made indispensable contributions. There is also a valuable periodical literature and scholars writing since the late 1970’s in the journalLabour/Le Travailhave made particularly noteworthy contributions.

    In this literature, there has been no lack of attention paid to numerous issues involving the legal rights of...

  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Today, when a strike is reported in the various media one of the first things we are told is whether or not it is legal, as if legality were the distinctive emblem of legitimacy. The legal status of the workers’ collective action is regarded as more newsworthy than the issues involved or the history of the dispute. Rarely are we told precisely why a particular strike is illegal, just that it is. How did this focus on the legality of workers’ collective action come to be? This book addresses this question. In doing so, it focuses on a particular period...


    • 2 Courts and Conciliation: The Norms of Responsible Unionism, 1900–1906
      (pp. 16-50)

      By the turn of the century, the transition from competitive to monopoly capitalism had profoundly altered class relations. The economy was expanding dramatically, but prosperity was not enjoyed equally. Between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I, productivity and prices soared, but wages lagged behind. Workers both wanted to share in the economic prosperity and struggled for more control over their working lives. Class conflict increased dramatically at the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution; between 1899 and 1903 there were 745 strikes involving just over 120,000 workers.¹

      At the same time, the working class became more deeply fragmented...

    • 3 Accommodation and Coercion: The Rise of Industrial Voluntarism, 1907–1914
      (pp. 51-88)

      The violent uprisings that led to the militia’s deployment in Buckingham, Kingston, Hamilton, and Winnipeg in 1906, together with the strike in Lethbridge, where Mackenzie King’s intervention forestalled the use of troops, convinced the federal government that coercion was not the best way of dealing with the rising tide of militancy by the industrial unions. Rudolph Lemieux, the Minister of Justice, identified the dilemma:

      True, a few strikes here and there in a large territory may be of little consequence for the time being, but as the country grows, as the area covered by these strikes increases, then the danger...

    • 4 Industrial Voluntarism Suspended, 1914–1918
      (pp. 89-103)

      The outbreak of World War I during the summer of 1914 set in motion a chain of events that transformed the context of collective action by workers and interventions by the state for the next decade. While trench warfare along the battlefront limited troop movement for long periods, change on the homefront was much more rapid. The labour market experienced dramatic fluctuations as war mobilization initially exacerbated unemployment and then created labour shortages. State power grew dramatically as well. The passage of the War Measures Act conferred enormous power on the federal cabinet to rule by Order-in-Council, bypassing normal democratic...

    • 5 The Postwar Confrontation and the Restoration of Industrial Voluntarism, 1919–1925
      (pp. 104-138)

      The end of the war brought no relief from the growing class conflict at home as workers were poised to redeem the pledge that the war had been fought to build a better world. A resolution passed by the Toronto District Council of the International Association of Machinists in support of striking police captured this sentiment. ‘[W]e, the workers of this country, have been engaged in a war for freedom and democracy. . . and now it is finished we intend to get some of the freedom and democracy for which millions of our class have sacrificed their lives.’¹ For...

    • 6 Industrial Voluntarism in a Prosperous Interregnum, 1925–1929
      (pp. 139-152)

      Business prosperity returned to much of Canada late in 1924 and lasted until the Great Depression in 1929. Rapid economic growth in this period was based on the exploitation of primary resources and expansion in manufacturing, much of it led by large corporations. The conjuncture of economic growth in settings that brought large numbers of workers together might have been favourable for union growth, but remarkably little progress was made. Although union membership increased nearly 18 per cent between 1925 and 1929 and the success rate of strikes improved, union density remained stagnant and the number of strikes was low.¹...


    • 7 Industrial Voluntarism in Distress: The Early Depression Years, 1929–1935
      (pp. 153-191)

      The Great Depression radically altered the terrain of class relations and, in the process, brought about labour unrest on a scale unseen since the end of World War I. Millions of Canadians were left destitute as a result of spectacularly high unemployment and inadequate government relief. Prime Minister King badly miscalculated both the extent of the problem and the temper of the times when, in the midst of a debate in the House over unemployment in 1930, he declared that he would not give the Tory provincial governments ‘a five-cent piece’ for unemployment relief. In the election called that summer...

    • 8 Canada’s New Deals for Labour, 1936–1939
      (pp. 192-227)

      By the mid-1930s a limited accord had been reached between some sectors of labour and capital in some regions of the country, but with few exceptions the industrial workforce remained unorganized. The kind of regulatory unionism promoted by the industrial standards regime took root in only a few sectors and the older IDIA scheme, still the centrepiece of national labour relations policy, simply did not apply to most of the industrial workforce. Moreover, neither scheme was effective in the face of anti-union employers able to invoke the substratum of legal coercion to limit trade union activity in the name of...

    • 9 The Exhaustion of Industrial Voluntarism, 1939–1942
      (pp. 228-262)

      The war precipitated a profound change in the level, quality, and quantity of state activity from that which prevailed during the 1920s and 1930s. In many ways, the situation in the autumn of 1939 resembled the beginning of World War I; the Canadian economy had not fully emerged from the decade-long Depression, unemployment was high, and productive capacity was underutilized. The labour movement was as weak as it had been in 1914 and even more divided. Bora Laskin, who would become one of the most esteemed practitioners and proponents of industrial pluralism, claimed:

      it is hardly open to dispute that...

    • 10 Recognition and Responsibility: The Achievement of Industrial Pluralism, 1943–1948
      (pp. 263-301)

      In 1943, Mackenzie King identified the challenge to his government as the ‘combination of the industrial CIO with the political CCF’. On the labour front, the Liberals faced a new form of union militancy. Instead of trying to contain rank-and-file unrest, national union leaders channelled it against the narrow confines of federal labour policy. The illegal strike by 13,000 steelworkers in Ontario and Nova Scotia in January 1943, which was authorized by the union’s national leadership, brought Canada’s steel industry to a halt and marked the beginning of a series of strikes in the western coalfields, the shipyards of Vancouver...

    • 11 The Hegemony of Industrial Pluralism
      (pp. 302-315)

      In 1947, Bora Laskin remarked that ‘ “Labour relations” as a matter for legal study has outgrown any confinement to a section of the law of torts or to a corner of the criminal law. Similarly, and from another standpoint, it has burst the narrow bounds of the law of master and servant.’ That standpoint was industrial pluralism, and its regime of industrial legality had, according to Laskin, superseded the ‘traditional legal categories’. The essential components of that regime comprised collective bargaining legislation administered by independent labour boards and a system of grievance arbitration to enforce collective agreements. By 1950,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 316-381)
  10. Index
    (pp. 382-398)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 399-402)