Nationalism, Communism and Canadian Labour
The CIO, The Communist Party, and the Canadian Congress of Labour 1935-1956

Abella, Irving
Publisher:  U of T Press, Toronto, Canada
Year Published:  1973
Pages:  256pp   ISBN:  0-8020-1893-9
  Dewey:  331.88
Resource Type:  Book
Cx Number:  CX6445

A history of the Canadian Congress of Labour and of the CIO in Canada from the 1930s to the 1950s. The author raises many significant questions concerning the presence of American unions in Canada and the crucial role played by the Communist party in the history of the Canadian labour movement.


1. The CIO Comes North
2. Expulsion 1937-39
3. The Merger 1939-40
4. The Steelworkers' Organizing Committee
5. The CCL, the CCF and the Communist Party 1940-46
6. The International Union of Mill and Smelter Workers 1936-48
7. The International Woodworkers of America 1940-48
8. The United Electrical Workers and the United Automobile Workers 1940-50
9. The CIO versus the CCL 1940-50
10. National versus International Unionism 1946-52
11. Conclusion

Irving Abella's Nationalism Communism, and Canadian Labour, U of T Press, $4.50, just released, is an indispensable study of the politics of Canadian unionism from 1935 to 1956. Abella traces the two themes which he says dominated the interaction of the Canadian Congress of Labour and the CIO in Canada: "the internal threat from the Communists and the external threat from the Americans".

Much of the book deals with these struggles being fought out among the leadership of the unions. Abella justifies this by saying that the themes he deals with were "irrelevant" to rank and file unionists. "Only at times when his own well-being is at stake - during strikes and collective bargaining negotiations - does he take more than a passing interest in the activities of his union."

It is unclear whether Abella thinks this is necessarily true, or whether he thinks it was the case because of the structure (or other conditions) of the unions he describes. Indeed, on the evidence available, it is questionable whether his point is true at all. Some of the facts that he gives of rank-and-file political activity certainly seem to point to other conclusions.

The study makes it clear that the CIO did not come to Canada to unionize the backward Canadians. Rather, Canadian workers themselves were responsible for most organizing activity, and had to drag a reluctant CIO
across the border.

Abella shows that Canadian Communists did much of organizing work for the Canadian union movement, thus debunking the myth that Communists specialized in taking over unions created by someone else.

The purge of the Communists was largely due to the fanatically anti-communist pro-CCF forces in the CCL, he shows.

The blame for the domination of Canadian unionism by the U.S-dominated "internationals however can be laid at the doorsteps of both the Communists and the CCFers. The Communists adhered to a rigid "internationalism" that amounted to suicide on their part, given the hawkish anti-red nature of the American labour bureaucrats to whom they were subjecting Canadian unions. The CCFers, meanwhile, found valuable allies in these hacks in their rivalry with the CP and cultivated ties with them, no matter how unequal,

[review by Ulli Diemer]

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