On the Side of the People: A History of Labour in Saskatchewan
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Norma Hall is a historian who specializes in colonial era settlements in
Newfoundland and Manitoba at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Jim Warren and Kathleen Carlisle, alumni of the University of Regina who
live and work in Saskatchewan, have collaborated with an extensive list
of others to compile a remarkable history of wage labourers of the
province and their patterns of organization.
Their text provides a comprehensive overview that is neither bogged
down by detail, nor overly general. The narrative describes what people,
past and present, did and do while working. It underscores that
consciously and consistently through time, ordinary people gauge the
worth of their labour to society, and readily respond to instances of
undervaluation. The people considered are many and various. Aboriginal
endeavours, the aspirations of women, and the concerns of youth are
discussed. This history provides insight, into not only the perceptions
and actions of members of collectives, but leaders as well—sympathetic
and adversarial, in the private and public sector.
The survey extends from the fur trade and illegal combinations through
the legitimization of craft unions, to subsequent shifts toward
industrial unions, to mergers of increasing scale, into the present.
Struggles for livable conditions, adequate wages, solutions to seasonal
unemployment, care for families, and adaptation to technological change
are detailed. Victories and worker solidarity are celebrated, but as the
authors state, “things didn’t always come off without a hitch.”
The seemingly indomitable could falter. Gains were lost. Unity
dissolved. Through it all, a leavening of humour occurred on all sides.
The mix makes for riveting reading.
Sixteen chapters, with a preface and an epilogue, organize the
information. Explanatory sidebars, photographs, and illustrations
effectively supplement the primary text in an attractive layout. There
are appendixes, including a helpful list of union acronyms, and a
glossary of formal labour terms. A bibliography and index adequately
round out the endnotes.
In demonstrating that “history is on the side of the people,”
Warren and Carlisle have contributed more than a collection of
inspirational stories. Their intelligent commentary ensures the book has
merit as a popular history, an educational resource, and a worthy
complement to academic history writing.