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On the Job

On the Job: Confronting the Labour Process in Canada

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    On the Job
    Book Description:

    The essays in this volume enhance our understanding of Canadians on the job. Focusing on specific industries and kinds of work, from logging and longshoring to restaurant work and the needle trades, the contributors consider such issues as job skill, mass production, and the transformation of resource industries. They raise questions about how particular jobs are structured and changed over time, the role of workers' resistance and trade unions in shaping the lives of workers, and the impact of technology. Together these essays clarify a fundamental characteristic shared by all labour processes: they are shaped and conditioned by the social, economic, and political struggles of labour and capital both inside and outside the workplace. They argue that technological change, as well as all the transformations in the workplace, must become a social process that we all control.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6134-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    C.H. and R.S.
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. On the Job in Canada
    (pp. 3-46)

    On any given day, Canadian workers arrive on the job in such a huge variety of workplaces that we might well ask whether all these jobs have anything in common. Is it possible to generalize about such a diversity of human experience? We believe it is. The kaleidoscope of specific occupations should not blind us to some consistent patterns in the world of work in Canada. In the following pages we outline the main themes in the evolution of labour processes in Canada and highlight the central dynamics in the changing nature of work.

    At the core of this analysis...

  6. Dimensions of Paternalism: Discipline and Culture in Canadian Railway Operations in the 1850s
    (pp. 47-74)

    Canada’s economic historians have said a good deal about the rapid expansion of the colony’s railway system in the 1850s – the mere 66 miles of track at the beginning of the decade grew to more than 2,000 by its close – but they have virtually ignored the corresponding growth of the railway workforce.¹ Yet this was the decade in which the railways became the country’s first large-scale integrated industry and the giants among them became the country’s greatest employers of labour. By the middle of the decade, the Grand Trunk, with its 2,600 workers on trains, in yards, shops,...

  7. Work Control, the Labour Process, and Nineteenth-Century Canadian Printers
    (pp. 75-101)

    In the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Canadian labour and socialist movement, printers held pride of place. From D.J. O’Donoghue, “father of the Canadian labour movement,” through stalwart Canadian presidents of the International Typographical Union (itu), John Armstrong and W.B. Prescott, to socialist leaders such as Toronto’s Jimmy Simpson, Winnipeg’s Arthur Puttee, and Vancouver’s R.P. Pettipiece, printers played prominent roles in the Canadian working-class world.¹ And for every printer who became a labour leader, there were probably ten others who became successful in some other walk of life – journalism, publishing, and politics representing only three of the most popular paths....

  8. Contested Terrain: Workers’ Control in the Cape Breton Coal Mines in the 1920s
    (pp. 102-123)

    The strikes of coal miners have a prominent place in modern labour history. “Eclatantes, massives, spectaculaires,” Michelle Perrot has written, “les grèves minières attirent tous les regards.”¹ Work stoppages, however, are exceptional events in labour history, for strikes represent only one type of episode in the continuum of events at the workplace. And although it is often noted that the coal miners have gone on strike more frequently and more effectively than other workers, historians have devoted relatively little attention to the importance of the workplace in explaining the shape of conflict in the coal industry.²

    The coal miners’ workplace...

  9. Keeping House in God’s Country: Canadian Women at Work in the Home
    (pp. 124-151)

    Women in the home make up the largest single group of Canadian workers. Over the years, Canadian women have both concentrated their efforts in this setting as full-time housewives and, at the same time, have assumed its responsibilities as a double shift alongside employment in field, shop, office, and elsewhere. To be sure, cottage industry or domestic production has often involved male participation, and in the pre-industrial world many artisans worked at home. Nevertheless, opportunities for men have always been better in the primary-resource sector, trade, industry, and the professions, and over time, fewer and fewer families were able or...

  10. Skill and Gender in the Canadian Clothing Industry, 1890–1940
    (pp. 152-176)

    Today to produce one garment you need fifty machines, because you don’t have a pool of skilled help. You have what you call sectionalized production where you take girls, mostly women, housewives, and you teach them to sew one operation so to produce one coat, you have to have fifty or sixty machines. It’s not just the machines, you have to have the managerial know-how to break garments down, how to do time-motion study and besides, you need many, many other technical equipments.¹

    Louis Poslun’s years of experience in Tip Top Tailors gave him a clear sense of how to...

  11. Mechanization, Feminization, and Managerial Control in the Early Twentieth-Century Canadian Office
    (pp. 177-209)

    The focal point of the electronics revolution now overtaking industrial societies is the automated office. Through the application of silicon-chip technology, it has been possible to fuse two powerful mediums: computers and telecommunications. This hybrid technology will undoubtedly have a far-reaching impact on all forms of information-processing work. Changes will be most dramatic in the clerical sector, and much speculation revolves around the office of the future.¹ As we look ahead, however, we can benefit from a glance over our shoulder in order to draw lessons from the past. While the electronic office appears to be a radical departure from...

  12. Work and Struggle in the Canadian Steel Industry, 1900–1950
    (pp. 210-244)

    Until quite recently, a steel plant was a vast, terrifying inferno. The heat was scorching, the air thick and choking, and the noise overpowering. Blinding flashes and showers of sparks would explode in the gloom of smoke and dust beneath towering hulks of machinery. Deafening roars, wailing sirens, and clattering bells heightened the atmosphere of tension and danger. Out of this eerie world of fire-breathing machines and toiling men flowed a vital commodity for modern industrial society – primary steel.

    Canadian steelworkers participate in a labour process that we have come to know as mass production – a large-scale, high-speed,...

  13. Logging Pulpwood in Northern Ontario
    (pp. 245-280)

    Few jobs in Canada have a more secure place in our national folklore than that of the woodsworker. For many years the “Roistering Lumberjack” of the snowy northern woods was one of Hollywood’s favourite characters in movies with a Canadian setting. School children today still learn about the heroic exploits of Paul Bunyan and his Ottawa Valley counterpart, Joe Montferrand.¹ Yet few jobs in Canada have moved further away from these popular stereotypes over the past three decades. A visit to the northern Ontario woods in the 1980s would reveal few axes wielded by brawny men. Today’s loggers fell trees...

  14. On the Waterfront: Longshoring in Canada
    (pp. 281-308)

    The words, “On the Waterfront,” for most people carry an air of mystery and suspense, vaguely evoking images of Marlon Brando and the New York harbour of the early 1950s.¹ But the sense of otherworldliness that clings to the longshore labour process goes far beyond its history of exploitation and violence, and arises instead out of the very nature of work relations. As one authority has put it, “the conditions of ‘boom and bust’ that determine the daily life of the world’s ports have produced a labour jungle that few laymen have ever penetrated.”² To a greater extent than in...

  15. Life in a Fast-Food Factory
    (pp. 309-326)

    The growth of large multinational corporations in the service industries in the post-World War II years has transformed our lives. The needs and tastes of the public are shaped by the huge advertising budgets of a few large corporations. The development of new industries has transformed work, as well as social life. This paper focuses on the technology and the labour process in the fast-food sector of the restaurant industry. Using Marx’s description of the transitions from craft to manufacture to large-scale industry, it considers the changes in the restaurant industry brought about by the development of fast-food chains. The...

  16. Autoworkers on the Firing Line
    (pp. 327-352)

    The shift had already started. Work in the Ford plant seemed compulsive and frenetic, full of clanging and screaming and unceasing movement in a thousand directions. Sweat dripped off my face as I hurried to my new job on the assembly line, stepping over snakepits of twisting air hoses and through a tight choreography of crowded machines, workers, and steel posts. Then I came upon an area of curious calm: about a hundred workers had left the line and were standing around talking quietly. I stopped for a moment before rushing on, anxious not to be late for my first...

  17. Index
    (pp. 353-360)