he world was again changing rapidly
for workers as Canada entered the twentieth century. Canada was
experiencing what many historians refer to as the Second Industrial
Revolution. Work became more standardized and regulated. Factories
were becoming ever larger, some now employing thousands of workers.
The assembly line became the symbol of this new era of mass production.
Henry Ford's huge automobile plants in Windsor and Detroit showed the
way to the future for many industrialists. These changes in the way
work was organized brought profound changes in the lives of thousands
of Canadian working people over the next century.
The increasing use of machines that accompanied the Second Industrial
Revolution created demands for workers with new types of skills. Semi-skilled
machine operatives were in great demand. Growing corporate
offices and service companies created thousands of clerical and
retail jobs. Women filled many of these positions. And the number of
labouring jobs available continued to rise to help build two new
continental railways, expand the resource industries, and construct
private and commercial buildings in the booming cities. Many people
wondered where all the needed workers were to be found. Canada's
answer was to search for immigrants across the Atlantic Ocean in
In the first decade of the century, hundreds of thousands of
immigrants made their way to Canada. In these few short years, they
changed the face of the Canadian working class. Semi-skilled workers
and labourers flooded into Canada from Central, Eastern, and Southern
Europe. Ukrainians, Poles, and Italians migrated to Canada to take up
many of the labour-intensive and difficult jobs in construction and
industry. The huge railway and other infrastructure projects of the
time employed large numbers of immigrants. On these sites in Western
Canada, Europeans were joined by thousands more workers from Asia,
especially from China.
Immigrants from the more industrial countries of Northern and Western
Europe also joined the wave of immigration to Canada. Many Germans
and Scandinavians, for example, were skilled and semi-skilled workers
who found employment beside the thousands of English and Scottish
workers taking up most of the newly created jobs in industry for
machine operatives. While the lives of these workers were difficult,
their factory positions tended to bring a little more stability to
their lives than to those of other immigrants forced to tramp across
the country in search of short-term employment as labourers.
As Canada entered the twentieth century, the rise of mass production
and the waves of new immigrants did not bode well for the union
movement. Employers and government openly displayed their antagonism
to labour. The wave of immigration meant that ethnic and racial
differences had to be tackled before a solid union organizational
base could be established.