Working People: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Labour Movement. 4th ed.


412 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1801-0
DDC 331.88'0971




Reviewed by W.J.C. Cherwinski

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


Morton, the current director for the McGill Institute for the Study of
Canada, attributes the publication of the 4th edition of Working People
to the greatly changed circumstances affecting Canadian workers during
the 1990s. He points particularly to the battering that unionists took
from governments and employers obsessed with improving the bottom line
at the expense of their employees, as well as to the attempt by the
well-meaning but naive NDP under Bob Rae to govern Ontario. This edition
differs from the 3rd edition in that one chapter has been dropped, with
parts of it incorporated into two new chapters that take labour’s
story to the present.

The introductory chapter presents an overview of the plight of workers
in 19th-century Canada. The subsequent focus of the book is on workers
within unions, while little attention is paid to those with jobs in such
industries as agriculture. Accordingly, outside of a nod to the
contribution of Western Canadian radicalism in and around World War I,
the emphasis is decidedly central Canadian. (The Atlantic region does
not get much attention either, despite its lengthy working past.)

Another emphasis is on labour’s preoccupation with the political
process (Morton concedes that political action did not serve labour well
and implies that the principal victories were won on the picket line).

Despite its shortcomings, Working People remains the best comprehensive
survey of this subject around. Concentrating on a factual framework
unfettered by mantras about worker control, it is a good source of
information for shop steward and undergraduate student alike.


Morton, Desmond., “Working People: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Labour Movement. 4th ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,