he "dirty thirties" proved to be a desperate time for many Canadians. Mass unemployment left thousands of Canadians struggling to survive in a world without unemployment insurance, health care, and with very little social assistance. Many young men "tramped" back and forth across the country, riding the rails in search of work. It was the decade of the hobo jungles about which so much is written. It is easy to imagine that this was a trying time for labour. Craft unions continued to retreat into themselves, leaving all but a small group of workers without any union support. Before the decade was over, however, the craft unions and their central body, the Trades and Labor Congress (TLC) found themselves challenged and ultimately surpassed by several new grass-roots labour organizations.

In Quebec, the Catholic union movement grew in membership and militancy. It organized all workers in a factory or on a job site, much like an industrial union. Lay leaders such as Alfred Charpentier began to replace the clergy in the movement. They also began to inject a new militancy into the union. In 1937, a Catholic union led a strike of 10,000 workers against Dominion Textile, one of Quebec's largest companies. The provincial government responded by enacting the most repressive labour legislation in Canada.

Elsewhere in Canada, there was little union activity in the 1930s. The one significant exception was the Workers' Unity League (WUL) formed in 1928 by the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). The WUL was the most active labour organization in Canada in the early 1930s. It tried with some success to organize industrial unions among semi-skilled and unskilled workers. It was most attractive to miners and industrial workers in the West and Northern Ontario. Spirited attempts to organize in Stratford and several other towns in southern Ontario brought the wrath of business and government down upon the union. The militancy and communist ideas of WUL activists did not sit well with the country's elites. However, the CPC itself, not government or business, brought an end to the WUL. In 1935, CPC disbanded the WUL on a call from the Communist International to rejoin the established organizations such as the TLC. Although the WUL's total membership probably never exceeded 40,000, it was an important organization. WUL communists were seasoned labour organizers who soon would play a pivotal role in a new and powerful wave of organization beginning to sweep across the country.

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