Raising The Workers' Flag

Raising The Workers' Flag shines a brilliant light

on an exciting, little-known war in Canadian history

'As Raising the Workers’ Flag reveals, these tough, brilliant, outraged young men and women were nobody’s stooges. They transformed apathy and cruelty into one of the most interesting and successful events in Canadian history.'

Raising The Workers’ Flag is a thoroughly researched academic work that reads with the pace of an exciting novel. An excellent Christmas present.

It was tough so it didn’t come easy

By Carl Dow
Editor and Publisher
True North Perspective
True North Humanist Perspective
Image: Cover of Raising the Workers' Flag, by Stephen L. Endicott  
Sept. 7 2012
University of Toronto Press
ISBN-10: 1442612266
ISBN-13: 978-1442612266
 

Nicole peu Profond, (not her real name) looked out the window of her government office and said to her supervisor, ‘I’ll be damned if I’ll go out there with those idiots.’

Her supervisor, who was packing her purse and taking her coat, said quietly, ‘Do you like your work?’       

‘Why … yes,’ Nicole said, startled and suddenly uneasy.

‘Do like your pay?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you like your benefits — sick days off, hours of the week, five day weeks, holidays?’

‘Yes. Of course.’

‘Do you think the government gave them to us because of our pretty faces? We have all of these and more because we fought very hard for them.’

Space does not permit reporting her whole talk as brief as it was, but by the time she was through, Nicole walked out with her to the picket line.

That was 1991. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) held the largest national strike by a single union in Canada, gaining major improvements in job security while the union’s case before the Supreme Court confirmed the right of PSAC members to engage in political activity.

Too many of us today have no sense of the courage and sacrifice made by those who came before to create the positive working conditions we have today. It’s certainly not taught in schools, nor is much said about it in our history books through to university.

Men and women were murdered in cold blood and beaten to hospitalization by private company agents, by government police, and by the military simply because they wanted a 12-hour day and .10 cents per hour.

J.C. McRuer, was lead counsel of a Royal Commission to investigate these brutal exploiters of men, women and children, who were also engaged in scandalous stock market frauds and tax evasions, becoming multi-millionaires in the process. It was for the latter reasons that the commission was established.

J.C. McRuer, in a Brief to the Royal Commission on the Textile Industry, Ottawa, 2 February 1937, said:

‘A shameful, sickening, story of heartless, exploitation and wholesale robbery by men prominent in the public life of Canada. Inordinate greed, barefaced lying and criminal fraud, characterize the careers of these high-class crooks.’

These were the leaders in the cotton manufacturing industry and simultaneously presidents of Canada’s largest banks. The same could be said of the owners of the forestry, mining, steel mills, and automobile manufacturing industry.

When the Great Depression struck at the end of 1929, the Canadian labour movement was ill prepared to defend workers against drastic attacks on their living standards. Wage cuts and layoffs, factory closings and line-ups for relief, defaulted mortgage payments and evictions were the order of day, crying out for protests and acts of resistance.

But the only potential source of leadership was the shrinking and increasingly conservative and complacent labour movement led by the international craft unions of the American Federation of Labour/Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (AFL-TLC). A Conservative government felt so comfortable in the passivity of organized labour that it named Gideon Robertson, one of their leaders, to the Senate and Robertson then became minister of labour.

Into this void jumped a small band of about 20 men and women who identified with the Communist Third International. Within five years they had 40,000 members, conducted successful (and unsuccessful) strikes throughout Canada, and played a key role in dumping the federal Conservative government of R.B. Bennett.

Thirty years later in 1962 the media parroted the doctors and the insurance companies in attacking Tommy Douglas and his Medicare plan for Saskatchewan by saying that Medicare was a Communist plot that would undermine the moral fibre of Canada. The media in the 1930s well represented the class of ‘high-class crooks’ by a continuous barrage that the leaders of the Workers’ Unity League were a bunch of Moscow stooges.

As Raising the Workers’ Flag reveals these tough, brilliant, outraged young men and women were nobody’s stooges. They transformed apathy and cruelty into one of the most interesting and successful events of Canadian history.

Raising The Workers’ Flag is a thoroughly researched academic work that reads with the pace of an exciting novel. An excellent Christmas present.

______

Raising The Workers' Flag - The Workes' Unity League of Canada, 1930 — 1936. By Stephen Lyon Endicott,  University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-1-4426-4373-4 (cloth)  ISBN 978-1-4426-1226-6 (paper)

Add new comment