Red Flags and Red Tape: The Making of a Labour Bureaucracy


245 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-0661-2
DDC 331.88'09711'33





Reviewed by W.J.C. Cherwinski

W.J.C. Cherwinski is a professor of history at the Memorial University
of Newfoundland and the co-author of Lectures in Canadian Labour and
Working-Class History.


This book examines the trade-union movement in Vancouver during the late
19th and early 20th centuries. Leier argues that unionists’ support
for socialist prescriptions became more problematic as the movement
expanded. To manage finances and property, the movement’s leaders had
to resort to using capitalist methods. Furthermore, they used their
power over the purse to control the labour press, through which they
promoted a bureaucratic viewpoint that was not necessarily that of the
rank-and-file members.

Believing that it was in the interests of the Vancouver Trades and
Labour Council to show that its member unions were responsible and
nonthreatening, labour’s bureaucrats became preoccupied with seeking
order and collaboration instead of confrontation and opposition, a
strategy that ultimately undermined the true nature of working-class
culture. The bureaucrats not only discouraged dissidents but also turned
their backs on women and ethnic groups in their efforts to show that the
movement was simply part of the mainstream of WASP male society. Racist
humour in the labour papers was one of the means by which these
bureaucrats used their “political agenda, the[ir] money, and the[ir]
press” to imprint their conservative stamp on the city’s movement.

Whether the process of labour bureaucratization Leier describes (and
bemoans throughout) was detrimental to labour’s larger interests is
difficult to say. However, Red Flags and Red Tape does provide some
insights into divisions within the trade-union movement throughout


Leier, Mark., “Red Flags and Red Tape: The Making of a Labour Bureaucracy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 22, 2024,