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Eugene Forsey.

Toronto, University of Toronto Press, c1982.
600pp, paper, $65.00 (cloth), $25.00 (paper).
ISBN 0-8020-5485-4 (cloth), 0-8020-6388-8 (paper).

Reviewed by J. D. Ingram.

Volume 11 Number 1.
1983 January.

In Trade Unions in Canada 1812-1902, well-known author Eugene Forsey attempted to "fill in the factual gaps in our knowledge of early unionism." This book is a very large canvas, made up of a profusion of detail. The research is extensive, and this may well serve for some time as the seminal study in the history of labour in this country.

Forsey identifies five broad periods of union development as follows: 1. to 1859, purely local craft unions of skilled workers; 2. 1859-1880, the appearance of international unions; 3. 1881-1902, the entry of more international unions (all American), the spread of the movement across the country, and the organization of the unskilled.

Although not designed for casual reading, this book does provide accurate and organized information. The depth and price of the volume suggest it is designed for libraries and/or individuals who are preparing to do specific research into aspects of Canadian labour history.

In the course of research and writing, Forsey notes how the problems, attitudes, and arguments of the past sound so familiar in the present. In addition, there are highlights (too few in this reviewer's opinion) that are fascinating and surprising. A final stanza of a song by the printers in a labour procession in the Maritimes in 1853 went as follows:

         Splendid fount of lore and light;
         Bulwark of a people's right;
         Gibbet for the base transgressor
         Scourge of tyrant and oppressor;
         Friend of science, art and knowledge;
         Aid of author, school and college;
         Source of human happiness-
         Hail transcendent, peerless PRESS!

In the Sydney Mines in 1864 the government sent in troops and passed an act which "slammed the door against effective action on the part of workmen to achieve their goals or settle disputes."

Immigration in and for labour is often an issue that appeared in deliberations. One group in the Canadian Labour Union in 1873 thought the immigrant, "especially the assisted immigrant, as a competitor likely to underbid the Canadian worker." In the same vein, political action by the Western Federation of Miners was the prohibition, in the 1890s, of the employment of Chinese or Japanese in the mines, which was "common to the whole North American labour movement of the time and had been for some years."

Even as late as 1895, one Sir George Parkin claimed there were no labour problems in Canada because, "the Canadian winter exercises upon the tramp a silent but well-nigh irresistible persuasion to shift to a warmer latitude."

From the establishment of the CLC and its first convention in 1883, labour backed proposals for such things as an eight-hour day, manhood suffrage, proportional representation, government aid to colleges, monetary reform, and government life insurance, to cite a few.

By the turn of the century, the AFL (American Federation of Labor) under Samuel Gompers had intervened decisively to transform the TLC (Trades and Labor Council). For the author, 1902 is a watershed. "On one side lay the spontaneity, the variety, the eccentric idealism, the haphazard organization and methods, the penury, and the nationalism of the nineteenth century; on the other the system, the discipline,. . .the business-like approach, the big unions, the large funds, and the continentalism of the twentieth."

Included are eight pages in an appendix, fifty-two pages of notes, and an eight-page bibliography. This book has tremendous scope and a wealth of detail. If an overview is needed The Canadian Labour Movement 1812-1902, also by Eugene Forsey, a nineteen-page booklet by the Canadian Historical Association should be consulted.

J. D. Ingram, Gordon Bell H. S., Winnipeg, MB.
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