CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Edited by Michael S. Cross and Gregory and S. Kealey.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1983.
211pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-7710-2465-7.
(Readings in Canadian Social History, Volume 4).

Reviewed by Paul E. Blower.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

The Consolidation of Capitalism is a collection of six scholarly essays originally printed in such journals as the Canadian Historical Review and Labour/Le Travailleur. The book deals largely with labour history and may fairly be described as sympathetic to the working-class point of view. Though Canada became "a nation transformed" during this period, many of the old problems remained, e.g., exploitation of immigrant and female labour.

The essays examine such topics as government support of big business and the growing concentration of capital in a smaller number of firms (Tom Traves); the decline of craft unionism in Hamilton metal working factories (Craig Heron); the business impetus behind municipal reform (John C. Weaver); the condition of working women in the 1920s (Veronica Strong-Boag); the exploitation of foreign navvies building railways in Western Canada (Donald Avery); and, state intervention and the use of troops in strikes among Cape Breton miners and steel-workers in the 1920s (Don Macgillivrary). Interestingly, no single article specifically focuses on the Winnipeg General Strike, surely the most significant labour event of the period.

The editors provide a general introduction to the book as well as individual introductions, accompanied by suggestions for further reading, to each of the articles. However, the book's arrangement by themes makes it difficult for the reader to develop any on-going sense of chronological development, though some points are raised more than once: "factory welfare" or "welfare capitalism" (represented by such things as co-operative works councils and improved working conditions) is seen as a capitalist trick to co-opt labour and prevent more fundamental structural changes from taking place in the capitalist system that would benefit working people more. A less jaundiced eye might view management more charitably.

Sometimes, however, the facts refute interpretations of workers as radical. Many workers remained very conservative in outlook, e.g., the reluctance of skilled metal workers to throw in their lot with unskilled labourers in the same trade. Sometimes editors and writers veer very close to bias in their attempt to establish radical interpretations. For instance, it would be misleading to deduce that labour relations in the country as a whole were as violent as those that existed among Cape Breton mineworkers in the 1920s; the history of mineworkers generally is fraught with violence. Similarly, according to Veronica Strong-Boag, in a "male-controlled capitalist system," marriage offered women little "escape from bad jobs and bad bosses" and might even be "painful and disillusioning." Marriage appears to be reduced strictly to a question of economics without any indication that many women undoubtedly got married through free choice and for reasons unconnected to either jobs or bosses.

Nevertheless, despite these cavils (many examples of exploitation and unfairness on the part of management are certainly well documented), the collection is an interesting and provocative supplement to general and labour histories of the period, particularly for undergraduates; senior high school students might find parts of the book useful, especially the articles on immigrants and women.

Paul E. Blower, Sault Ste. Marie P. L., Sault Ste. Marie, ON.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works