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Red Rebels and Red Baiters – A history essay

May 19, 2011

The legacy of the labour purges in Cold War Canada’s trade unions

Communist Harvey Murphy speaks at May Day rally - Natal, B.C. - 1930s.

From the middle of the Great Depression through to the mid-1950s Cold War period and beyond, Canada’s labour movement fought a war with itself. The conflict cost workers dearly in the form of lost militancy, increasingly isolated forums for dissent and arguably its future as an effective opponent of rampant capitalism in the wake of the consumer product buying frenzy that characterized the post-war period. It was marked by what became known as the ‘post-war compromise.’[1] It was a low point in trade union internal relations as established labour leaders followed the anti-communist dictates of the McCarthy era encouraged by right-wing governments and employers. To some it was less a compromise and more a post-war capitulation that shaped the direction of the movement to the present day.

Red rebels and Red baiters – review essay – March 21, 2010

[1] Peter S. McInnis, Harnessing Labour Confrontation: Shaping the Postwar Settlement in Canada, 1943-1950 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002) 4, writes that “This arrangement offered organized labour conditions of limited institutional permanency while confining unionists to a particular model of behaviour premised upon productivity bargaining and material consumption that formed the basis for the postwar compromise in Canada.”

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