One Union in Wood


229 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920080-43-X





Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


Most Canadians are familiar with Jack Munro, regional president of the 50,000-member International Woodworkers of America, the largest and most powerful private sector union in British Columbia. It was Munro who, in November 1983, met with Premier Bennett over coffee at the Premier’s Kelowna home and worked out a deal that effectively terminated the strike of public service workers in the province. Later, while Munro himself did not run for the presidency of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, his colleagues from the IWA who did were roundly trounced by more militant forces led by President Art Kube.

Twas not always so. One Union in Wood traces the origins of the IWA, suggesting that in its early years it was led by radical communists who, through a combination of factors, fell victim to more conservative forces, symbolized today by Mr. Munro. It is the authors’ thesis that these forces included not only members of the IWA itself, but, of course, employers and the state. In the United States, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 effectively shut out from union office anyone identified as a communist.

One Union in Wood represents a substantial challenge to two popular explanations of why radicalism failed in the IWA. The first, propounded by Vernon Jensen, argued that communists were routed democratically by rank-and-file members (Lumber and Labour; New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1945). More recently, Irving Abella placed major responsibility for the communists’ defeat on themselves (Nationalism, Communism and Canadian Labour, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973). The authors reject both theses on both empirical and analytic grounds.

Not everyone will agree that the communists deserved anything other than what befell them (in the book, the CCF-NDP are portrayed as bad guys), but, feelings aside, Lembeke and Tattam have given us a story that is both well conceived and well documented. The book is based on Lembeke’s PhD. thesis in sociology at the University, as well as scholarly articles on which both have collaborated, the former as a faculty member at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, the latter as a high school teacher in Portland, Oregon.

The IWA is an international union that officially began in Portland in 1937, although its origins extend much earlier. In the book, there is a considerable emphasis on its history in the United States, but readers interested in following Canadian developments will find full coverage of the IWA in British Columbia and, more recently, in Newfoundland.


Lembeke, Jerry, and William M. Tattam, “One Union in Wood,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,