Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

"The Balance Wheel of the Industrial System": Maximum Hours, Minimum Wage, and Workmen's Compensation Legislation in Ontario, 1900-1939

Document type Thesis
Author Campbell, Jane Elizabeth
Degree Ph.D., Sociology
Publisher McMaster University; Hamilton, Ont.
Date 1980
Pages xv, 598 pages


Recent attempts to extend Marx's analysis of capitalism by developing a class-based theory of the role and functions of the capitalist state have turned on the debate between the "instrumentalist" and "structuralist" perspectives. Subsequent critiques and extensions of these two conceptions of the relations between the state and the major classes within capitalist society have raised the issues of the role of class struggle in the development of state structure and policy as well as the impact of the capitalists state itself on the nature of class relations. Although theorists have pointed to the mutually conditioning effects characterizing the relationship between the state and social classes, there has bee little empirical examination of this relationship. The precise nature of the kinds of mechanisms linking various social classes and the state together with the concrete effects of these links on state and class relations required further specification. In response to this significant gap in the development of the theory of the capitalist state, the present research was formulated to address the issue of specifying the forms of mediation between the state, industrial capitalists and labour through an analysis of the history of maximum hours, minimum wage, and workmen's compensation legislation in Ontario between 1900 and 1939. These areas of legislation were chosen because of their significance, for both capitalists and workers; they represent a potential drain on accumulated surplus for owners of capital and a potential improvement in subsistence and working conditions for labour. The development of legislation in each of these areas thus provided a focus for examining relations between owners of industrial capital, wage labour, and the state. The major sources of data for the primary analysis covering the period from 1900 to 1939 consisted of private papers, published and unpublished government documents located in the Public Archives of Ontario and the Public Archives of Canada, labour newspapers, and the journal of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association. The analysis of relations between workers, employers, and the state around limitations on working hours, minimum wage regulation, and the establishment of a workmen's compensation program identifies a number of modes by which capitalist domination in the workplace is mediated to the level of political relations. These modes of mediation function through mutually reinforcing economic, political and ideological forms and have as their primary effect the frustration of the political organization of labour as a class. Capitalist modes of mediation are parallelled and supported by the modes of mediation adopted by the state in its role of managing class relations. In the process of the development of the areas of legislation which are the focus of this study, the state functioned to maintain the hegemony of capitalist social relations of production by transforming the economic class struggle and processing labour demands in such a way that subsequent state policy and structure were guided in the direction of comparability with prevailing class relations of domination and subordination.