Working-Class Anguish and Revolutionary Indignation: The Making of Radical and Socialist Unemployment Movements in Canada, 1875-1928
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Taking a telescopic view of the multifaceted struggles of the workless prior to Black Tuesday challenges the myopic picture of the Great Depression as the sudden, unexpected eruption of unemployment protest. Out of all proportion to their size and political strength, radical unemployment agitators between 1875-1928 proved to be vital protagonists in forcing relief measures, thrusting socialist values into public discourse and inspiring working-class resistance during economic crises and at times when the labour movement was at its weakest. This dissertation examines hundreds of unemployment protests in urban centres across Canada during the 1872-1896 long depression, and the economic slumps of 1907-1909, 1912-1915 and 1921-1926. These protests and the organizations of the workless challenged three distinct but overlapping stages in the evolution of the liberal-capitalist state: producer, progressive, and authoritarian. Although always vulnerable and contingent, the mobilized workless responded with innovation to the evolution of liberal capitalism and, by gravitating towards the developing socialist alternative, gained greater coherence and uniformity as they moved from the local and spontaneous “les Misérables” (1875-1896) to an ad hoc “Organized Mob” (1907-1915) to a militant and sporadically nationally-organized “Unemployed Army” (1919-1935). This study contends that the persistence of a moral economy, the strategies of disruption, and working-class anguish and indignation were key resources for the radical and socialist organizers of the unemployed. Sensitive to the ways in which a culture of whiteness and masculinity often precluded greater solidarity amongst the workless, this dissertation also traces the ways unemployed diaspora socialists, socialist feminists and their allies encouraged a more diverse and inclusive movement. Far from reactionary or apathetic, the mobilized unemployed were every bit as important to the vitality of the left as unions or political parties – their struggles were crucial elements in the development of Canada’s earliest socialist experiments. Similarly, Canadian social policy history is unintelligible without an acknowledgment of the fundamental role that unemployment movements played in wresting concessions from the liberal order and as disruptive agents in the shaping of the welfare state.