n the midst of the Depression, a social movement emerged in the United States that in a few short years altered dramatically labour relations in North America. It began at the 1935 Annual American Federation of Labor (AFL) Convention. J.L. Lewis, the influential president of the militant United Mine Workers' of America, challenged the AFL to open its ranks to industrial unions. Before the convention ended, Lewis had won enough support to force upon the AFL's reluctant leadership the creation of the Committee for Industrial Organizing (CIO). The committee's mandate was to spread the gospel of industrial unionism.

CIO organizers across the United States began preaching the philosophy of industrial unionism to an enthusiastic reception from American working men and women. Union drives quickly reached into the heart of mass production in the auto, steel, rubber, meatpacking, and electrical parts plants of American industry. The workers' frustration with their situations exploded into a militancy of mass picketing and factory occupations. Soon CIO workers celebrated victories that many could not have imagined possible only a few short years before. The CIO's success in the workplace forced political changes as well. New Deal legislation and the Wagner Act, partly brought about as a result of labour pressure, solidified unions' legal rights in the United States. It did not, however, come without a cost to labour.


In Canada, union sympathizers watched events south of the border with growing anticipation. By 1937, Canadians were approaching the CIO for help. Already overwhelmed by events in the United States, CIO leaders had few resources to share with Canadian organizers. They offered moral support, a small amount of money, and one organizer. It was obvious that the success of the CIO in Canada would depend on Canadian union activists. Interest in the CIO spread quickly. Loggers in British Columbia, women clothing workers in Montreal and steelworkers in Sydney were among the first to sign CIO cards. But it was the mass- production industries of Southern Ontario that represented the heart of the movement. Here the organizational skill of the largely communist leadership of the early CIO years faced its greatest test.

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