The Character of Class Struggle: Essays in Canadian Working Class History, 1850-1985


239 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-7710-6946-4




Edited by Bryan D. Palmer
Reviewed by Eric P. Mintz

Eric P. Mintz is an associate professor of political science and
environmental studies at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


This collection of eight articles, two of which have not been previously published, examines the changing nature of working class struggles in Canada. The 19th century experience is analyzed in articles dealing with the division between craftsmen and labourers that inhibited collective action in Halifax (McKay) and the mobilization of workers by the Knights of Labour in Ontario (Kealey and Palmer) . The effects of the development of modern industry (“monopoly capitalism”) in the first half of the 20th century are examined in articles dealing with Hamilton steel-workers (Heron), the national “labor revolt” of 1919 (Kealey), and the sexual division of labor in the Quebec cotton industry (Brandt). Finally, the “advanced capitalism” of recent decades that has generally tried to accommodate the labor movement is examined in articles dealing with the national government’s role in trying to prevent strikes during World War II (Webber), the development of feminism among the rapidly growing female work force (Maroney), and the response of the Solidarity movement to the B.C. government’s departure from accommodationist policies (Palmer).

Despite the variety of specific topics, coherence is provided by the editor’s introductions and the common perspective shared by the individual authors. The sympathies of the authors towards working class struggles are obvious, but the focus of most of the studies is scholarly analysis rather than polemic exhortation. However, although the articles are generally well-written and contain considerable detail, several do not fully explain crucial aspects of the situation being examined. Overall, this collection should be useful in stimulating thought about the nature of class conflict in Canada even though the articles do not really provide definitive studies of particular conflicts.


“The Character of Class Struggle: Essays in Canadian Working Class History, 1850-1985,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,