Labour Goes to War
240 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Jan 2013
Release Date:12 Jun 2012
Release Date:15 Jun 2012

Labour Goes to War

The CIO and the Construction of a New Social Order, 1939-45

UBC Press

During the Second World War, the Congress of Industrial Organizations in Canada grew from a handful of members to more than a quarter-million and from political insignificance to a position of influence in the emergence of the welfare state. What was it about the “good war” that brought about this phenomenal growth? And how did this coming of age during the war affect the emerging CIO?

Labour Goes to War analyzes the organizing strategies of the CIO during the war to show that both economic and cultural forces were behind its explosive growth. Labour shortages gave workers greater power in the workplace and increased their militancy. But workers’ patriotism, their ties to those on active service, memories of the First World War, and allegiance to the “people’s war” also contributed to the CIO’s growth – and to what it claimed for workers. At the same time, union organizers and workers influenced one another as the war changed lives, opinions, expectations -- and notions of women’s rights.

Drawing on an impressive array of archival material, Wendy Cuthbertson illuminates this complex wartime context. Her analysis shows how the war changed lives, opinions, and expectations. She also shows how the complex, often contradictory, motives of workers during this period left the Canadian labour movement with an ambivalent progressive/conservative legacy.

This book will appeal to a wide range of students and scholars interested in labour, women’s, and Second World War history in Canada and the United States.

Although the CIO began the Second World War on precarious ground, by 1945 it had become a powerhouse. Labour Goes to War explains how this transformation took place, offering original insight into the making of the Canadian labour movement during the war years. Drawing on the reconstruction rhetoric of the peoples’ war for democracy, the CIO expanded its own commitment to equality rights for women and minorities and promoted a new language of social entitlement for working people. Joan Sangster, author of Transforming Labour: Women and Work in Postwar Canada
An original and incisive analysis of the campaigns for industrial unionism in Canada’s labour heartland. Showing that patriotism and loyalty to comrades fighting overseas made many workers reluctant to embrace labour radicalism, Cuthbertson not only highlights the obstacles union organizers faced but also explains how a culture was created that contributed to the moderation of trade unions after the war. Those interested in the history of workers, war, and union power will profit from this engaging and compellingly argued book. Carmela Patrias, author of Jobs and Justice: Fighting Discrimination in Wartime Canada, 1939-1945
Wendy Cuthbertson has worked for the Canadian Auto Workers Union, the Ontario Pay Equity Commission, and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.


1 “A Trifle Depressing”: The CIO on the Eve of War

2 Organizing the Unorganized in Wartime

3 Wartime Organizing: Getting to a Majority

4 “Becoming Unionized as Well as Organized”: Union Sociability, the Transmission of Ideas, and the Creed of Equality

5 “The War for the Common Man”: The CIO’s Narrative of a Fulfilled Democracy

6 “Equal Partners in This World Crusade”: Women, Equal Pay, and the CIO





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