Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

The Making and Reproduction of Male Working-Class Identity in a Mining Town

Document type Thesis
Author King, Adam Donald Kenneth
Degree Ph.D., Sociology
Publisher York University; Toronto
Date 2019
Pages 331 pages


This dissertation is a study of working-class identity and subjectivity among a sample of male nickel miners in Sudbury, Ontario. Recent foreign takeovers of mining firms and a protracted strike at Vale-Inco in 2009-2010 motivate this dissertation's new look at class relations and subjectivity in one of Canadas most historically significant regions of working-class organization. This study understands these recent events as part of a set of decades long economic processes that have transformed workers lives in and outside work. It explores how the form that trade unionism took in the post-WWII period has shaped class relations and class identity among male nickel miners in Sudbury. The dissertation asks: how have class subjectivity and socioeconomic change interacted over this history? After first analyzing the political economy of mining in the Sudbury Basin, the dissertation traces the formation of historically situated class subjectivities. In it, I examine how the postwar compromise between capital and labour influenced unionization and class identity among male workers at the mines. I then inquire into how industrial restructuring and job loss, the rise of new managerial strategies and neoliberal governance, and the growth of precarious, contract labour have transformed both the material contexts of workers lives and their practices of reproducing their identities as members of a working class. To form the central arguments of the dissertation, I draw on 26 oral history interviews with current and retired workers, and organize their narratives into three thematic areas of class identity: first, issues of work and the labour process; second, themes of place, space, and belonging in the formation of class identities; and third, how historical memory and generational conflict influence class. Within and across these thematic areas I show how material conditions and workers own practices of identity formation interact, adjust, and at times, contradict. I argue that the postwar class compromise between labour and capital contributed to a resilient form of working-class subjectivity among workers that is reproduced by local processes of social remembering and class reproduction. Yet, industrial restructuring, the growth of precarious employment, and the internationalization of ownership and management at the mines challenge the efficacy of this historical subjectivity. By studying unionized workers who are confronting profound industrial change, this dissertation raises questions about how the making of male working-class identity limited broader processes of class formation, as well as how we understand class and class formation in the global economy at a time when labour movements face growing structural challenges.