y the 1880s, signs of Canada's advancing industrial revolution were unmistakably clear. Factory production increased rapidly and the mining, forestry, and other resource industries expanded quickly across much of Canada. Some of these businesses were already large and complex, employing hundreds of workers.

These new times were not necessarily happy for many of Canada's first generation of industrial workers. Conditions in many of our factories and mines were harsh. Workers complained of long hours, poor wages, and irregular employment. Often their lives away from the factory were equally difficult. Many workers returned home each evening to crowded neighbourhoods with few services, such as running water and sewage disposal. Reports of widespread disease in working neighbourhoods in Montreal, Toronto, and numerous other towns ignited calls for urban reform.

Workers fed up with intolerable conditions sometimes organized shop committees to put their demands before employers. Occasionally, they carried this action as far as a strike. Women who had little previous union experience proved surprisingly militant in these situations. For example, textile, boot and shoe, and tobacco workers struck in several Canadian and Maritime centres in the 1880s. However, such tactics rarely proved successful in the long term against the growing power and organization of the manufacturers.

In these circumstances, workers experimented with different types of organizations. Some tried craft unions with little success. Others searched for totally new alternatives. In Nova Scotia, coal miners organized the Provincial Workmen's Association (PWA). It gradually expanded to include several lodges of glass, foundry, and boot and shoe workers. The PWA managed to win some important concessions on safety concerns from mine operators. The union also nominated candidates for local and provincial elections, a practice rare in Canada before this time. The PWA's workplace organizing and prominence in provincial politics did secure important adjustments to mine regulations from the government.

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