Labour Studies Index

The international unions and the workers' revolt in Quebec, 1914-1925

Document type Thesis
Author Ewen, Geoffrey
Degree Ph.D., History
Publisher York University; Toronto
Date 1998
Pages 502
URL www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk2/tape17/PQDD_0021/NQ27291.pdf

Abstract

This thesis contributes to our understanding of both international unionism and of the labour revolt in Quebec, two neglected areas in Quebec labour history. It examines the industrial conflict of the war years and the post-war revolt in 1919 and 1920, a period of militancy characterized by rapid trade union growth and aggressive strike action by international unions. During the same period workers renewed their interest in independent political action and briefly attained a small measure of success. A major focus of this study is the ethnic, religious, political and gender divisions within the international unions and the labour party in Quebec. The labour revolt was, however, ultimately unsuccessful. While this was because employers were generally stronger than organized workers, especially in the depression of the 1920s, it also faltered on profound divisions within the Quebec working class. The emergence of a Catholic labour movement as a serious rival to secular international unions created one of the most important divisions within the Quebec working class. This thesis constitutes a significant revision to our understanding of the formative years of this confessional movement. While there is a large body of work on Catholic organizations, few studies have examined either their role in the 1919 labour revolt, or the specific nature of the rivalry with the international unions. Inter-union rivalry in the years from 1916 to 1925 is an important theme of this study. Catholic union promoters conducted an experiment in the industrial relations of social harmony which involved attempting to replace class conflict with harmonious relations with employers. While eschewing strike action, Catholic unions and their supporters often helped employers undermine international union strikes in the hope of destroying and supplanting the more aggressive secular organizations. The result was that the Catholic labour movement impeded the growth of the American-based unions and contributed to the defeat of the workers' revolt.