Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Towards Synthesis in Canadian Working-Class History: Reflections on Bryan Palmer's Rethinking

Document type Article
Author Heron, Craig
Journal Left History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Historical Inquiry and Debate
Volume 1
Date 1993
Pages 109-121


"What ever happened to the great Canadian labour-history debates of the early 1980s?" a well-informed Argentinian labour historian asked me recently. The gist of my rambling, uncertain response was "Things have become a lot more complex." Bryan Palmer must have had similar thoughts when he sat down to revise and update his nearly ten-year-old history of the Canadian working-class.' The publication of his self-styled "rethinking" of the field gives us all an opportunity to reflect on how the writing of working-class history has evolved and changed since those heady days and what a synthesis of the huge volume of new work ought to look like. It seems appropriate to place Palmer at the centre of such a historiographical review since the 1983 version of his Working-Class Experience was widely seen as the first synthesis of the new working-class history and, indeed, in his long series of books and articles, and through his penchant for confrontation and debate, Palmer has played a major role in defining what the rest of the historical profession (and many others) thought Canadian labour historians were up to. With this new book, he has returned to centre stage. --Author's introduction