Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Short History of the Labour Movement in Canada and Quebec: Part Four

Meanwhile in the United States, frustration with the conservative AFL model incited internal reform movements such as the Committee for Industrial Organizing (CIO) which was led by John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers. Lewis and other industrial unionists established the CIO within the AFL in 1935 as a challenge to the Federation’s strict craft-based approach to organizing. The CIO was promptly expelled from the AFL in 1937 and renamed itself the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).[1] The CIO was active in both the United States and Canada and scored one of its most important victories in Oshawa Ontario in 1937 where workers engaged in a sit-down strike to win a list of demands from General Motors. Despite fierce opposition from Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn, the CIO led sit-down strike helped pave the way for industrial unionism in Ontario and Canada.

While labour militancy increased in Ontario during this period, the same was not true for Quebec. In 1938, the TLC created the Quebec Provincial Federation of Labour (QPFL). The QPFL’s founding constitution declared, “La Fédération du travail de la province de Québec est organisée dans le but de promouvoir de la législation sociale tendant à protéger et à améliorer le sort de la classe ouvrière de cette province.”[2] However, the QPFL had a difficult time fulfilling its mandate given its lack of financial resources. This was aggravated further by the fact that affiliation to the Federation was voluntary. The QPFL only ever succeeded in having between 25% and 35% of the TLC affiliated unions in Quebec join the Federation.[3] As such, the QPFL was never able to develop an ideological orientation. Instead, it simply served as a transmission belt, delivering political and economic messages from its international affiliates to the provincial government. The QPFL, like the TLC, shunned electoral politics and even required its staff members and leadership to resign their positions before seeking elected office.[4]

The Great Depression had taken its toll on the ACCL. Its reduced membership and dwindling resources pushed the Congress closer to the industrially based CIO during this period. In 1940, the ACCL, which was facing serious economic difficulties, merged with the CIO to create the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL). It would seem that Mosher’s fierce nationalism was tempered by the CIO’s impressive organizing victories. The new CCL allied itself officially with the CCF in 1945.

Although the CCF’s initial electoral performance was underwhelming, its political clout grew tremendously during WWII. In February 1942, the CCF’s candidate in the York South by-election defeated former Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, thus preventing him from re-entering Parliament as leader of the Official Opposition. The CCF also shocked the political establishment by topping the other parties in a September 1943 Gallup poll. The party’s Ontario section achieved a major breakthrough in the 1943 provincial election by forming the Official Opposition, capturing 32% of the popular vote and well over one third of the seats at Queen’s Park. The next year, in Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas became the country’s first ever CCF Premier when his party took 50% of the votes and over 90% of the seats in the Saskatchewan legislature. The CCF’s fortunes improved considerably at the federal level as well where the party increased its representation in Parliament from 8 MPs to 28 in the 1945 Federal election.

The war years also proved pivotal for the Canadian labour movement with the introduction of order-in-council PC 1003 in 1944. Concerned about the changing political climate, Mackenzie King’s Liberal government enacted PC 1003 to create a framework for collective bargaining in Canada similar to the institutionalized system of labour relations established by the U.S. Wagner Act in 1935. The post-war Keynesian era represented a period of outstanding growth for the labour movement in Canada. While the “post-war compromise” helped consolidate years of labour gains, it also bureaucratized the labour movement by creating a strict legal process to resolve disputes. This post-war compromise thus represented a double-edged sword for unions. Union leaders in particular now occupied a dual role in labour relations: first as the main rival of management; and second, as formal managers of discontent within their unions.[5]

[1] Heron (1996), 65.
[2] FPTQ Déclaration de principes, (1938).
[3] Louis-Marie Tremblay, Idéologies de la CSN et de la FTQ 1940-1970, (Montréal: Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1972), 127.
[4] Eric Leroux, “Les projets de société de la FPTQ et de la FUIQ, 1938-1957: ressemblances et differences,” La FTQ, ses syndicats et la société québécoise, Yves Bélanger, Robert Comeau et Céline Métivier, eds., (Québec: Comeau & Nadeau, 2001), 47.
[5] Heron (1996), 76-80.