he decision by the federal government to ban progressive organizations was an authoritarian attempt to defuse a growing militancy and solidarity among Canadian workers. Buoyed by full employment and fuelled by growing anger with governments and employers, workers increasingly took strike action to force their demands. In many situations a frustrated labour movement ignored state legislation to do so. But perhaps the most interesting characteristic of this new union movement was not its militancy, but rather who supported it. In the few short years since the decline of the craft union movement in 1913, a major transformation had occurred in the union movement. Many craft unions, but certainly not all of them, cast aside restrictions that narrowed membership to only the highly skilled workers. In effect, unions such as the International Association of Machinists transformed themselves into quasi-industrial unions.

This change proved remarkable in itself, but even bigger changes were already underway. In industries with large numbers of unions such as railways or construction, joint union councils were established to bargain collectively with employers and, if necessary, to co-ordinate strike action. In some towns, workers took these actions one step further by creating a single organization to represent all workers in negotiations with employers and government. In Nova Scotia, workers in Amherst and Pictou County experimented with a single industrial union, as did others in St. John's, Newfoundland, Gananoque, Ontario, Trail, British Columbia, and elsewhere.

Industrial unionism meant that workers long ignored by the craft unions were now welcomed into labour's fold. Female workers took their place in the movement, although this seldom meant leadership positions. Ethnic groups like the Italians and Ukrainians who had previously been excluded from the labour movement, sometimes because of prejudice, but most often because of the fact that few held skilled jobs, responded enthusiastically to union overtures for support.

Several other features of this surging movement disturbed government and business elites. The movement's leadership was much more radical than that of the pre-war unions. Many were socialists or militant labourists who permeated their calls for union organization with demands for the redistribution of wealth and power in Canadian society. Industrial unionism, the socialists argued, must be combined with political action to be effective. Together with other labour activists they fought with growing success to secure labour's voice in all levels of government. At the same time, they also increasingly advocated the general strike as a method to bring economic and political change. If all of these changes were not enough to worry government leaders, they also had to concern themselves with the fact that their own workers enthusiastically embraced the union movement. Police, fire fighters, teachers, postal workers, and many others joined the wave of organizing sweeping across the country at the end of World War.

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