The Workers’ War: The Character of Class Struggle in World War II
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This dissertation explores the nature of workers’ self-activity during World War II and the ensuing responses to these actions by the state and capital. A close examination of wartime strikes demonstrates that top-down efforts by unions to operate within normative industrial relations were generally failures. Far more likely to be effective were democratic strikes, generally illegal, called from the shopfloor. The Workers’ War further illustrates that while the government passed incredibly coercive legislation to control labour, such legislation failed to have a significant impact. Even where it was most influential and targeted it was eventually beaten through direct action. Even Japanese Canadian forced labour in work camps with armed guards, undertook effective strikes. Largely interested in institutional and legislative changes, the unions, far from being a militant force, spent much of their energy trying to stop or curtail strikes. This thesis contends that the concretion of industrial legality in Canada was imposed to control effective action. Rather than breaking unions of their militancy, the dearth of a state terror apparatus necessitated the creation of compulsory bargaining legislation. First, it argues that the creation of the modern industrial relations regime that forms the foundation for modern labour law was the result of effective workers’ action rather than militant unions. It further shows that the repressive apparatus of the state was unable to control workers, necessitating a structural adjustment. In a larger sense, this thesis argues that this story is at the centre of the history of capitalism in Canada. The imposition of capitalist social relations on the geographies that become Canada had the transformation of land into capital via labour at the very core of its project. Controlling labour was a central concern, and the manner in which labour relations were consolidated was a reflection of a negotiation between labour, capital, and state- a manifestly unequal negotiation that largely failed to reflect the interests of workers.