Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2020-03-01

"The War for the Common Man": The CIO’s Narrative of a Fulfilled Democracy

Document type Book chapter
Author Cuthbertson, Wendy
Book Labour Goes to War: the CIO and the Construction of a New Social Order, 1939-45
Publisher UBC Press; Vancouver
Date 2012
ISBN 9780774823425


During the Second World War, the Congress of Industrial Organizations in Canada grew from a handful of members to more than a quarter-million and from political insignificance to a position of influence in the emergence of the welfare state. What was it about the "good war" that brought about this phenomenal growth? And how did this coming of age during the war affect the emerging CIO? Labour Goes to War analyzes the organizing strategies of the CIO during the war to show that both economic and cultural forces were behind its explosive growth. Labour shortages gave workers greater power in the workplace and increased their militancy. But workers’ patriotism, their ties to those on active service, memories of the First World War, and allegiance to the "people’s war" also contributed to the CIO’s growth -- and to what it claimed for workers. At the same time, union organizers and workers influenced one another as the war changed lives, opinions, expectations -- and notions of women’s rights. Drawing on an impressive array of archival material, Wendy Cuthbertson illuminates this complex wartime context. Her analysis shows how the war changed lives, opinions, and expectations. She also shows how the complex, often contradictory, motives of workers during this period left the Canadian labour movement with an ambivalent progressive/conservative legacy. --Publisher's description