Workers and Canadian History


458 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1355-8
DDC 331'.0971'09




Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


Canadian labor history has polarized into two schools: the empiricists
and the historical materialists—or, in more political terms, the
social democrats and the Marxists. The former school claims to have no
theoretical preconceptions and to look only at “the facts,” which
reveal few sociopolitical movements and very little self-conscious
political activism among Canadian workers. The latter has an explicit
theoretical outlook and sees labor history in terms of an evolving class
consciousness. The worst that can be said about both schools is that
their work can degenerate into an arid theoretical debate that clouds
historical practice—the social democrats failing to recognize
political consciousness among workers when it stares them in the face,
the Marxists discerning historical movements when the record suggests no
such thing.

The theoretical framework of historical enquiry is best expressed in
two long books by the late E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English
Working Class and The Poverty of Theory. Greg Kealey is the leading
exponent of the Marxist–materialist school. This collection of 12
previously published essays (some historical, some theoretical, others
biographical) touches the pulsing nerve of workers’ lives but may
contain too much detail to appeal to the general reader.


Kealey, Gregory S., “Workers and Canadian History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 29, 2024,