Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Authenticity on the Line: Women Workers, Native "Scabs," and the Multi-Ethnic Politics of Identity in a Left-Led Strike in Cold War Canada

Document type Article
Author Guard, Julie
Journal Journal of Women's History
Volume 15
Date 2004
ISSN 1527-2036
Pages 117-140


A 1964 strike by women workers in Dunnville, Ontario provides an exceptional perspective on the complex ways in which class, gender, and ethnicity unite in the construction of identity. The women strikers drew on left-wing traditions of feisty femininity to claim an identity as real workers and authentic unionists while also embracing multi-ethnic identities that distinguished them from the Anglo-Celtic middle class. Their claims to authenticity challenged pervasive assumptions, including those of their union brothers, who defined labor militancy as implicitly male and distorted memories of the strike. Yet the limits on the women's own constructions of these identities are evident in their inability to perceive the Native women who scabbed during the strike as workers. By contrasting the ways in which identity was claimed, assigned, and contested by different groups of workers, this story problematizes categories of identity that are often used uncritically in labor history.