Friday, April 1, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Labour Party in Alberta, 1917-42

By Alvin Finkel
Labour/Le Travail
Fall, 1985

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FOR HALF A CENTURY Alberta workers have been in the anomalous position among western Canadian workers of displaying limited enthusiasm for political parties of the left. While left-wing parties have scored some political successes — for example, in the provincial election of 1944' — these parties have failed to maintain the solid core of working-class votes which left-of-centre parties in the other western provinces enjoy. The working-class impact on Alberta political life at mid-century was so unimpressive that C.B. Macpherson, in his classic analysis of Alberta politics in 1952, virtually ignored organized labour. And a poll in 1956 demonstrated that the governing right-wing Social Credit Party enjoyed overwhelming support from both skilled and unskilled workers in the province.

But for two decades before Social Credit achieved office, Alberta workers had embarked upon a political course which suggested they felt a strong sense of autonomous class feeling. They created committees, leagues, and finally parties which were under the control of the unions of skilled workers in the cities, and were dedicated to the election of working people and to a lesser extent middle-class allies of the union movement to public office. While the ideology of these labour-based political organizations oscillated uneasily between "labourism" and ethical socialism, these organizations proved capable of attracting impressive electoral support and created the contemporary view that Calgary and Edmonton were "workers' towns." This essay attempts to explain why large numbers of working people cast an unambiguous '"class vote" for two decades in Alberta and why their voting patterns began to change in the mid-1930s. It also attempts to explain the success of the Canadian Labour Party in Alberta despite its fractious history elsewhere in the country.

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