Union Centrals, District and Regional

Union Centrals, District and Regional, organizations which unite trade unions from different industries and occupations in the same city, province or region; usually formed in periods of intensifying industrial conflict, notably 1870-90, 1910-20 and 1935-50.

Union Centrals, District and Regional

Union Centrals, District and Regional, organizations which unite trade unions from different industries and occupations in the same city, province or region; usually formed in periods of intensifying industrial conflict, notably 1870-90, 1910-20 and 1935-50. The first and most persistent form of inter-union co-operation was the city-based labour council. In 1863 Hamilton's craft unions launched Canada's first trades assembly. The Toronto Trades Assembly followed in 1871, and eventually most large municipalities had such organizations, usually known as Trades and Labour Councils. Before WWII these were important, since they met frequently and could act promptly on workers' concerns. They were usually responsible for initiatives to create larger, regional labour federations or labour parties. By 1900 another form of city-based organization was appearing: councils of skilled workers in allied trades in the same industry, especially printing, construction and metalwork.

Regional labour organizations were generally of 2 types. The first were provincial federations of unions in the same industry. Coal miners formed the Miners' Mutual Protective Society in BC in 1877 and the Provincial Workmen's Association in NS 2 years later. Beginning in the 1880s, other groups of workers created similar regional bodies within the structure of their international unions, in an effort to establish common terms of employment. These declined or disappeared after WWI.

The other common form of regional labour organization was the provincial federation, which united various local and district bodies within one province. Administered by an executive board and typically with few or no full-time staff, it would meet annually to discuss wage earners' concerns and to plan common programs of action, including independent electoral campaigns. It would also make regular representations to provincial governments for labour legislation.

The first labour organization claiming national jurisdiction, the Canadian Labor Union, was actually regional, having no affiliates outside central Canada. Similarly the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada, which first met 1883, had no representation from outside Ontario and Québec until 1890, and it continued to be dominated by central Canada. At each TLC convention, provincial executives were elected to present the concerns of organized labour to their respective provincial governments.

The first distinct provincial federations were outside the TLC, and occasionally in opposition to its policies. BC's first provincial organizations were short-lived - the Workingmen's Protective Association, 1878-82, and the Federated Labor Congress, 1890-91. The Nova Scotia Provincial Workmen's Association (PWA) first expanded beyond the coalfields in 1881, reaching its broadest representation of workers 1899-1904. During the late 19th century the PWA published the Trades Journal, edited by Secretary Robert Drummond. After 1904 the association once again became purely a miners' union and later merged with the United Mine Workers of America.

The Labour Educational Association of Ontario, formed in 1903 outside the TLC structure, was a loosely knit body which promoted labour interests in southern Ontario, especially through the Industrial Banner edited by Secretary Joseph T. Marks. The association's fervent commitment to reform sometimes upset more narrow-minded Ontario trade unionists, and the TLC's provincial executive committee continued to assert its right to represent labour interests before the provincial government. The association had nonetheless assumed most of the functions of a provincial federation by WWI, and it organized the founding convention of the Independent Labor Party of Ontario in 1917.

Provincial federations chartered by the TLC were formed in BC in 1910, Alberta in 1911, New Brunswick in 1913 and Nova Scotia for the period 1919-21. The 2 western organizations quickly became focal points of opposition to the TLC's dominant policies, particularly in their open support of radical socialism and industrial unionism. The BC labour paper, the BC Federationist, edited by R.P. Pettipiece, led this radical sentiment. After WWI the 2 bodies supported the One Big Union, which dissolved the BC federation in 1920.

No new provincial federations appeared until 1935, when the TLC's rival, the All-Canadian Congress of Labour, chartered the NB Council of Labour. During the next 15 years, as the labour movement expanded dramatically and industrial unions were consolidated, provincial federations emerged in most provinces. Until 1956, however, there were separate provincial affiliates of the craft-unionist TLC and the industrial-unionist Canadian Congres of Labour : the TLC's Alberta and New Brunswick organizations were joined by parallel bodies in Québec in 1938, Ontario in 1946, Newfoundland in 1949, BC and Saskatchewan in 1953 and Nova Scotia and Manitoba in 1954; the CCL affiliates appeared in Nova Scotia in 1942, Ontario in 1943, BC in 1944, Saskatchewan in 1945, Alberta in 1948 and Québec in 1953. After the 1956 merger of the 2 national organizations, the separate provincial federations in each province amalgamated into a single labour body. The role of district and regional union centrals is now primarily political, representing workers' common interests to provincial governments, which hold most constitutional authority for labour relations.