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Tug-of-War: PhD dissertation

“Tug-of-War: The Working Class and Political Change in British Columbia, 1948-1972″ PhD dissertation: University of New Brunswick, 2008 Read Here (18MB PDF)

Strike vote at Rivers Inlet 1959In the decades following the Second World War, the working class of British Columbia challenged employers in a tug-of-war over the benefits of the province’s vast resource wealth and the limits of labour’s social wage. The form of this working-class challenge changed in the 1950s and 1960s, in response to Cold War crises in established Old Left parties and structural changes in BC’s economy and its working class. Both the Labor-Progressive Party (LPP) and Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) were weakened by the Cold War, which produced hostility to all segments of progressive opinion; realignment of BC’s party system in 1952 brought to power a populist party of the right, Social Credit, rather than the social democratic CCF. However, structural changes were laying the groundwork for a reinvigorated labour movement, as a militant minority in the Old Left parties sustained an oppositional political culture in the labour, peace, and women’s movements. Rising prices eroded wage gains, and the Cold War intruded on the freedom of workers to choose unions and leaders to defend their interests.

The ambiguous postwar victory of BC’s working class laid the foundation for the rank-and-file revolt of the 1960s. Growing participation of women in the paid labour force and BC’s unions signaled a broader shift from blue-collar, male-dominated, resource extraction work to a more urbanized, educated, public-sector, and white-collar workforce. This new working class was more diverse than earlier forms and rejected many of the assumptions of the Cold War and Fordist accommodation, fueling a resurgence of working-class politics and rank-and-file labour militancy. In 1972, one-third of BC’s union members walked picket lines, and BC’s public-sector workers, particularly teachers, helped break employers’ monopoly on political power. The New Democratic Party (NDP), led by David Barrett, succeeded in harnessing the sentiments of the new working class and diverse social protest movements, capturing the reigns of legislative power from a politically fragmented provincial bourgeoisie. This marked the culmination of decades of struggle and a new chapter in BC’s working-class history.

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