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Canadian Labor Party in BC 1924-28

“Elusive Unity: The Canadian Labor Party in British Columbia, 1924-1928.” BC Studies 163 (Fall 2009): 33-64. Read Here (0.3MB PDF)

Canadian Labor Party
In the 1920s, British Columbia workers experimented with a form of political organization that was distinct in the twentieth century: a united front of Communist and non-Communist workers in the BC section of the Canadian Labor Party (CLP). Disheartened with militant job action and facing “Open Shop” conditions in most industries, workers intensified political action to challenge employers’ power. From 1924 to 1928, the vehicle for this working-class challenge was the CLP. Situated in the political economy of the 1920s and BC’s working-class history, the BC CLP challenged working-class liberalism and conservatism and shaped the contours of labour politics for the remainder of the twentieth century.

A chasm of strategy and ideology separated Communist and non-Communist workers, divisions aggravated by enduring racism among Anglo-Saxon workers. CLP support peaked at 11 percent of the vote and 3 legislative seats in its inaugural election in 1924; the party was eclipsed by the upstart Provincial Party, an unlikely alliance of farmers and businessmen that captured a quarter of the popular vote. Prior to the 1928 election, the CLP split over Asian enfranchisement, with Communists favouring an extension of the vote to British Columbians of Asian descent while non-communist workers and unions disagreed; already angered over “Communist tactics,” the latter severed affiliation from the CLP, leading to the party’s demise. The CLP’s collapse ensured the exclusion of Communists from future attempts at labour political unity, including the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.

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