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Our Union

Athabasca University Press | Fabriks: Studies in the Working Class


The post-war period witnessed dramatic changes in the lives of working-class families. Wages rose, working hours were reduced, pension plans and state social security measures offered greater protection against unemployment, illness, and old age, the standard of living improved, and women and members of immigrant communities entered the labour market in growing numbers. Existing studies of the post-war period have focused above all on unions at the national and international levels, on the "post-war settlement," including the impact of Fordism, and on the chiefly economic issues surrounding collective bargaining, while relatively scant attention has been paid to the role of the union local in daily working-class experience.

In Our Union, Jason Russell argues that the union local, as an institution of working-class organization, was a key agent for the Canadian working class as it sought to create a new place for itself in the decades following World War II. Using UAW/CAW Local 27, a broad-based union in London, Ontario, as a case study, he offers a ground-level look at union membership, including some of the social and political agendas that informed union activities. As he writes in the introduction, "This book is as much an outgrowth of years of rank-and-file union activism as it is the result of academic curiosity." Drawing on interviews with former members of UAW/CAW Local 27 as well as on archival sources, Russell offers a narrative that will speak not only to labour historians but to the people about whom they write.

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“This book is a great history of our local! I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about local unions and what they do."

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“The vast majority of workers who have participated in the working-class movements in Canada in some way during the second half of the 20th century have done so through the activities of their locals. The bulk of union activity, whether directly connected to the paid workplace or not, has taken place at the local level. For these reasons, anyone who wishes to understand unions as working-class organizations should put local unions at the centre of their thinking. There are few detailed, thoroughly-researched studies of locals, and for this reason Our Union is valuable.”

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“Drawing on interviews with former union activists as well as archival sources, Russell explores and interrogates the role of UAW/CAW Local 27 in the lives of the men and women who were its members and thus contributes to a better understanding of the way being in a union shaped their lives, and of how they, in turn, influenced the union. He uncovers the broad social agendas as well as the narrow workplace concerns that determined local union members’ organizing and negotiating priorities and over which they struggled among themselves and with the national and international union. In the process, he nuances, and sometimes challenges, the overarching narratives of labour history by using evidence from the local and particular to interrogate what has long been taken for granted.”

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Jason Russell is assistant professor of labour studies at Empire State College, State University of New York.

 
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