Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Green Gold, Red Threats: Organization and Resistance in Depression-Era Ontario Tobacco

Document type Article
Author Dunsworth, Edward
Journal Labour / Le Travail
Volume 79
Date 2017 Spring
ISSN 1911-4842
Pages 105-142


Contrary to conceptions of the rural workforce as inherently conservative, tobacco workers and small farmers in Depression-era Ontario frequently organized to protest their socioeconomic conditions and to demand a fairer deal from employers and tobacco companies. Led by Hungarian immigrants, but with significant involvement from other groups, working people in the Tobacco Belt built an "infrastructure of dissent," a constellation of formal organizations and informal networks that allowed for the development of radical ideas and provided a platform from which to launch oppositional efforts, both coordinated and spontaneous. Two key moments of 1930s protest are focused on in this article. In 1937, a dramatic growers' movement saw over 1,000 small farmers, with the support of workers, band together to demand higher prices from the tobacco companies for their crops. In 1939, the local forces of working-class opposition were joined by a massive influx of job-seeking "transients," who brought with them the politics of the Depression-era unemployed, establishing the conditions for what would become the greatest moment of tobacco worker resistance in the decade. In both campaigns, efforts were made to unite workers and small growers, but the evidence suggests that growers benefitted more from these collaborations than did workers.