Conference : Worker Resistance and Revolutionary Unionism

The Montreal IWW invites one and all to the Conference on Worker Resistance and Revolutionary Unionism : The IWW and the One Big Union in Quebec (1919-1929), on Thursday the 27th of November, 19h00 at Café Atomic, 3606 Ontario E.

Born amidst the “worker revolt” of 1919, the One Big Union (OBU) has had a lasting impact on the history of labor organization in Canada. Largely influenced by revolutionary industrial unionism, the OBU has offered an organizational and political model for workers that stands in stark contrast to that of the American Federation of Labor. As of 1919, the OBU was able to implant itself in several sectors in Montreal, though not without its share of difficulties. The OBU also organized unionization campaigns for miners and loggers in the Laurentides and Abitibi-Témiscamingue.

The OBU would hold many public assemblies, organize demonstrations, and publish newspapers, pamphlets, and brochures to reach workers with its message. These activities inevitably worried the police forces. In Quebec, as elsewhere, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Winnipeg General Strike had fanned the flames of the “red scare”, and double agents would constantly spy on the actions of the OBU’s primary militants.

This repression, coupled with a counter-offensive by other unions, as well as the divisions provoked by the establishment of the Communist Party of Canada, would eventually weaken the One Big Union. Despite great efforts to maintain its presence in the province, the Union ultimately would not be able to withstand the economic crisis of 1929.

Far from being a relic of the past, the establishment and subsequent development of the OBU in Quebec can be analyzed as the expression of a section of the working class that was becoming conscious of its own power and its own interests, at a particular moment in its history. In this conference, we will present the debates that agitated the political left following the First World War, with an emphasis on their relation to the union movement.

Mathieu Houle-Courcelles is currently completing a doctorate in History at the University Laval. He is more specifically interested in the path taken by libertarian socialist militants in Montreal during the inter-war years. Mathieu is the author of the book Sur les traces de l’anarchisme au Québec (1860-1960), published in 2008 (Lux Editeur). He has also been involved for more than 15 years in the movement for housing rights, and is active in the Comité populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste as well as the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU).

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