Canadian Labour in The Honest Term Paper

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For the aboriginal population of British Columbia, industrialization and capitalism threatened and later undermined traditional ways of life. Trading was soon replaced by wage labour systems. Shifting from barter to a labour market unraveled the essential social institutions of traditional aboriginal society. Potlatches once served as a "bulwark which enabled the aboriginal people to resist acculturation," (p. 252). Lutz, unlike Kealey or DeLottinville, examines the effects of colonialism on industrialization. Colonial power structures legitimized the social hierarchies that form the backbone of capitalist infrastructure.

The ways capitalism transformed traditional aboriginal society from being barter-based to being wage labour-based closely resemble the ways capitalism transformed traditional European skilled labour culture. As Kealey points out, the European artisan model of labour persisted until the Industrial Revolution. Skilled labourers like coopers and smiths once apprenticed their work, entering into careers that offered a high degree of control over the means of production and the fruits of labour. Industrialization and capitalism changed the essential features of the artisan model. Just as aboriginal skilled labour became integrated into the capitalist labour market, so too was European skilled labour. Marketable skills like pelting or molding derived wage value instead of direct product value. The wage labour model, integral to capitalism, created or exacerbated class conflicts.

DeLottinville is concerned less with the ways capitalism transformed skilled labor than either Kealey or Lutz. What DeLottinville focuses on is the way capitalism transformed social and cultural norms among the working class dock labourers in Montreal. The "daily routines of casual labourers on the docks" grew into a subculture that became politically active because of their ability to socialize together (DeLottinville, p. 208). DeLottinville illustrates the shift from a fragmented working class to a highly publicized and politicized one. In this sense, all three authors show how labourers use common concerns about capitalism to organize into unions. Lutz does not include aboriginal labor unions into the central argument about the British Columbian fur trade. The author does, however, show how colonial politics or the politics of the dominant culture influenced the economic and social development of the province and later, the nation. Clinging to Potlatch and other traditional economic and social institutions assisted aboriginal solidarity against the colonial capitalists. Understanding the threat that an organized aboriginal labor forced posed, the European colonial government banned potlatch. Lutz therefore demonstrates with remarkable clarity the ways wage labourers are systematically oppressed in a capitalist society.

Organization and unity remain central to Canadian labour history and current labour politics. In his article about skilled labour in Toronto, Kealey also notes that upper management and capitalist bosses combated labour unions among skilled workers by unraveling traditional labour models. In particular, factories depersonalized labour. Coopers who took great pride in their work or typesetters in theirs became mere cogs in a large capitalist machine. Through labour unions craftsmen continued to bond, enhanced by a social code embracing "manliness" and elite artisan skills (Kealey p. 117). Skilled labourers in Toronto distinguished themselves from the unskilled, creating social solidarity in the same way the Montreal dock workers established theirs and the aboriginal peoples of British Columbia maintained theirs.

Even though skilled labourers were and are viewed as a qualitatively different class from unskilled workers, their concerns about working conditions are largely mutual. Interestingly, Kealy states that skilled labourers like coopers took for granted control over wages just as First Nations skilled workers took for granted the perpetuation of the potlatch tradition. As a distinct class of labourers, craftsmen enjoyed a level of security not experienced by the unskilled dock workers DeLottinville describes. Similarly, the false sense of security the artisans in Toronto felt was mirrored by that of the aboriginal skilled labourers in British Columbia.

All three of the working class groups described in the articles were losing control over the means of production and losing social solidarity in the midst of industrialization. Fragmentation of subcultures, whether craftsmen, dock workers, or First Nations, inhibits the potential for political enfranchisement. On the other hand, worker solidarity threatens the capitalist institutions.


DeLottinville, P. "Joe Beef of Montreal: Working-Class Culture and the Tavern, 1869-1889." In Canadian Working Class History: Selected Readings, pp. 190-214.

Kealey, G.S. "The Honest Workingman and Workers' Control: The experience of Toronto Skilled Workers, 1860-1892." In Canadian Working Class History: Selected Readings, pp. 112-142.

Lutz, J. "After the Fur Trade: The Aboriginal Labouring Class of British Columbia 1849-1890" in Canadian Working…

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