From Niagara This Week:
New book looks at history of local labour
By Mike Zettel
Sep 07, 2007
ST. CATHARINES -- A new book by two Brock professors aims to shine light on the untold stories of working men and women from the mid-1800s to the present.
Confrontation, Struggle and Transformation: Organized Labour in the St. Catharines Area, was written over a six-month period by Carmela Patrias, associate professor of history, and Larry Savage, assistant professor of labour studies and political science.
Published by the Canadian Committee on Labour History, the book's release is timed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the St. Catharines and District Labour Council.
Savage said the book naturally starts with the workers who built the first Welland Canal, which led to the industrialization of the region.
It "documents the struggles with their employers and fights for wages and working conditions," Savage said. "Working on the canals was a tough job, deplorable working conditions with a largely immigrant work force. Workers fought and workers in some cases died to secure some basic employment standards."
The book, which will be used by first-year labour studies students, examines recurring themes in Niagara that are highlighted in the title.
"What we see in each period are workers resisting concessions that are being promoted by employers," Savage said. "We see workers fighting back. In some cases we see workers winning and moving forward, and in other cases we see workers losing."
Highlighted events include the arrival of the Holy Order of the Knights of Labour to Niagara in the 1880s, the labour movement's leadership in fighting racial discrimination in housing in the late 1950s and the United Auto Workers' strike against General Motors in 1970.
As well, Savage said, it tells of the huge role labour played half a century ago in building Brock itself, including a donation by then-UAW Local 199, which was the largest by a union to a university at the time. Thousands of members of other unions also volunteered additional dues to Brock.
Labour, he said, far exceeded the target the university hoped to raise by them, while other sectors, such as business, underperformed.
"Workers played such a key role in building the university, and they certainly didn't do it for themselves," he said. "They did it for their children and their grandchildren because they wanted them to have access to public post-secondary education."
h/t to the Daily Dissidence who acted as a research assistant on the project.