abour's involvement in politics coincided closely with the ups and downs of the union movement in the pre-World War I years. Action in the political realm was divided broadly between two perspectives. Independent labour parties, associated closely with craft unionism and often created by local labour councils, were scattered across the country. These parties professed the ideals of labourism, an ideology that emphasized the gradual reform of capitalism. Labourists argued for legislative changes to better protect workers and to enhance their rights, public ownership of basic utilities, and the eight-hour day. Greater government regulation, they believed, would bring an end to what they saw as unfettered capitalism.

On the other hand, socialist parties emerging in these years called for a more fundamental transformation of capitalism. Some socialists were Marxists who emphasized social class analysis in their practice. Other socialists, often Christians, considered themselves ethical socialists. The Socialist Party of Canada and the Social Democratic Party of Canada were the two main socialist parties of the time.

Neither the socialist nor the independent labour parties represented a serious threat to the established political parties across the country. Nevertheless, in civic politics labour did begin to establish its political presence and occasionally elected a member to provincial legislatures. Three labour candidates won seats in the House of Commons: Arthur Puttee, Winnipeg; Ralph Smith, Vancouver; and Alphonse Verville, Montreal. These men came from the most moderate ranks of the independent labour party supporters, a fact demonstrated after their elections by their move into the Liberal Party caucus.

Perhaps the most interesting development in the realm of labour politics occurred just before the beginning of the war. Prior to this, socialists and labourists, with their divergent ideologies, had waged battles against one other. Socialists believed that a direct attack on capitalism was needed to create a better world for workers, while the labourists believed in more gradual reform. Now, however, in many towns and cities across the country, they softened their attitudes and began to co-operate on local issues. This pattern of co-operation continued into the early years of the war and had significant implications for labour's political fortunes by 1916.

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