Thursday, September 23, 2010

Class Conflict in a Prairie City

The Saskatoon Working-Class Response to Prairie Capitalism, 1906-1919

By Glen Makahonuk
Labour/Le Travail

"... I wish to distinctly stale that as long as the present system of production for profit instead of for use lasts, so long will we have an accutc labor problem. We realize that the transformation to that ultimate aim will take time and therefore must be brought about by a gradual process."

WALTER MILLS, PRESIDENT of the Saskatoon Trades and Labour Council, was trying to convince the Royal Commission on Industrial Relations, which held a hearing in Saskatoon on 7 May 1919 as part of its nationwide investigation of industrial unrest, that as long as capitalism continued there would be "friction between the union men and bosses" not only in the city, "but throughout the Dominion of Canada."

It is interesting to note that such an argument would come from a craft unionist in a small prairie city whose provincial economy was predominantly agricultural. Other workers, whether they were coal miners labouring in a Cape Breton mine or factory workers toiling under appalling conditions in a Toronto sweat shop, had made similar statements to the commission in its tour of 28 cities across Canada. In articulating their grievances about unemployment, low wages, high prices, long hours, appalling conditions, non-recognition of unions, and the refusal of collective bargaining, the Saskatoon labour representatives to the commission were demonstrating that they shared similar class experiences with other workers.

Although W.J.C. Cherwmski has completed a major study ol the organized labour movement in Saskatchewan in which he has emphasized its weakness, smallness, and conservatism, there is still a need to examine the nature of the labour-capital relations in a city like Saskatoon. The Saskatoon working class was far from being weak and conservative in its relationship with the ruling class, especially in the period from 1912 to 1919.

In fact, the Saskatoon working class issued both an economic and political response to prairie capitalism which culminated in a sympathy strike for the Winnipeg workers in 1919. Thus the purpose of this paper is to address the class experience in terms of the workers' material conditions' and their means of carrying out class struggle, using methodologies developed in studies of the larger urban centres of eastern and western Canada.'

Read this article HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment