The Limits of Labour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883-1929

By David Bright | Go to book overview

4
Unions and Strikes

Contemporary observers were quick to recognize and praise the importance of trade unions in prewar Calgary. ' Calgary is a labor union city,' proclaimed the Albertan in June 1909. 'Practically every trade is unionized. The unions are strong and responsible, and in all cases the unions have been exceedingly reasonable ... The laboring man who is not a labor unionist is both unwise and ungrateful.' 1 Such declarations acknowledged the extent to which, in just a few short years, Calgary's craftsmen had successfully organized themselves in response to the conditions of rapid industrial growth. Notwithstanding praise for the 'responsible' and 'reasonable' behaviour of unions, the city's boom years were also a time of unprecedented -- and, as it turned out, unrepeated -- strike activity, as workers tested the strength and tolerance of their employers. The Albertan's praise for what it saw as the essential moderation of the local labour movement, for example, was prompted by a month-long strike by some 270 bricklayers and stonemasons. In the years before the First World War, collective action in the field of industrial relations provided workers with the opportunity both to improve their material conditions of life and to secure recognition of their role in society.

A certain tension characterized the evolution of Calgary's early trade union movement, as the desire for social respectability and the demands of overt industrial confrontation competed for the loyalty of members. As a result, the struggle between labour and capital spilled over the boundaries of its immediate location -- the workplace -- and into the arena of public discourse and debate. By the same token, while industrial conflicts were generally economic in origin they also reflected workers' demands for social equality. Through such conflict the response of organized labour to the conditions of industrial capitalism was also linked to the formation of class relations more generally.

The conditions, attitudes, and behaviours characteristic of a capitalist labour market -- defined by H. Clare Pentland as 'one in which the actions

-76-

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The Limits of Labour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883-1929
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Part 1 - Class Formation, 1883-1913 15
  • 1 - From Cow Town to Hub of Industry 17
  • 2 - Social Divisions and Class Disposition 31
  • 3 - Class, Culture, and Politics 51
  • 4 - Unions and Strikes 76
  • Part 2 - The Labour Movement, 1913-29 97
  • 5 - Depression and War, 1913-7 99
  • 6 - Economic Recession and Restructuring, 1918-24 120
  • 7 - 1919: Revolt Reconsidered 145
  • 8 - Dissent and Descent: Labour Politics in Calgary, 1918-24 162
  • 9 - The Limits of Labour, 1925-9 179
  • Epilogue 206
  • Notes 215
  • Bibliography 249
  • Index 269
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