World War II, or the Second World War, was a military conflict that happened globally starting from 1939 and lasting all the way to 1945, which involved most of the world’s nations. According to Laurel Sefton McDowell, “the war years were a period of antagonistic labour-government relations and serious industrial unrest, which labour attributed to wage controls (McDowell, pg 175, 1978). In this paper, I am going to explain how World War II shaped the post-war compromise between labour and capital and opened up possibilities for workers to gain more economic security.
As WWII went on, as stated by Craig Heron, “[the war] brought back the jobs and higher wages that workers had been yearning for. It also brought long-term changes that helped to set in motion the longest period of continued prosperity in the history of capitalism”(Heron, pg 58, 1996). While the war going on in the world was very tragic, the individuals back home were prospering from it because the war gave many people jobs with higher wages than previous times.
The economy was booming while the country continued to fight and Heron explains, “military recruitment and munitions production provided steady employment. The working class expanded and took on new hues, as labour shortages brought in large numbers of new workers from farms and women from their house-holds” (Heron, pg 69, 1996). So now, women were allowed to work, which not only made the man in house the breadwinner, but the women now being the secondary contributor to the household.
This brought upon more economic security, because now instead of one paycheck per household, some families brought in two. Even through all the chaos happening outside of the country, Canada was not in peace back home. Throughout the war, trade unions were striking in Canada and eventually they became involved in direct political activity. McDowell states, “at the centre of this conflict was the demand for collective bargaining. Collective bargaining was not just a means of raising wages and improving working conditions.
It was a demand by organized workers for a new status, and the right to participate in decision making both in industry and government” (McDowell, pg 175, 1978). This was the first step to get collective bargaining into the post- war compromise, while people were demanding for it and it was increasing, the government had to start thinking about it. But, as McDowell demonstrates, “ the government sought to maintain a position on collective bargaining which it alleged to be “neutral”” (McDowell, pg 180, 1978).
The government had to remain neutral so they wouldn’t create a rise out of people, but as a result, union membership starting increasing so that workers could have some benefits and rights. In fact, “union membership more than doubled, so that by 1946 there were 832, 000 organized employees engaged in collective bargaining” (McDowell, pg 176, 1978). This proves that many more people joined unions in order to get the benefits and rights they deserved and needed.
But workers were not just happy with being in a union; they still wanted the government to support their need for collective bargaining. Workers began striking and there was a continuous increase in strikes until the government passed the legislation supporting collective bargaining in 1944. Unions were not only in companies but, according to Heron, “several CCF members elected to provincial legislatures were local unions leaders” (Heron, pg 72, 1996).
As a result to this, “the political consensus which King was always seeking to preserve had crumbled during the war, as organized workers sought a new status in industry and government” (McDowell, pg 194,1978). Meaning that, union leaders weren’t only concentrated in companies, but they got into politics as well which would make it even easier for workers to get their rights and this ties into the post- war compromise, because the government had to compromise with the union leaders and unions were progressively gaining power.
As stated by Donald Well, “consequently, World War II was a critical juncture in the development of Canada’s political economy” (Well, pg 221, 1995). Furthermore, “P. C. 1003 was enacted in February 1944. It has been viewed as a turning point in the development of our industrial relations systems since it became a model for post-war legislation” (McDowell, pg 194, 1978) which “incorporated the principle of compulsory collective bargaining” (Heron, pg 72, 1996). P. C. 003 guaranteed the right to organize and bargain collectively in which trade unions were recognized and it defined unfair labour practices. So now, workers had finally gotten what they had wanted all along, and they would have a safe work environment in which they could work efficiently Strikes were no longer necessary and the law finally authorized the goals of the employees.
These determined wage- earners stood their ground for what they believed in so they could ensure a better life for themselves and their families in the post-war society. After the war, by 1948, the federal government recognized that the wartime shift in the balance of power between capital and labour had not been rolled back as it had at the end of World War I and therefore passed the Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act, to establish P. C. 1003 as a permanent framework for industrial relations in Canada” (Heron, pg 76, 1996). This is exactly what workers had wanted and had strived for and as a result to P. C. 1003, strikes were more controlled and workers could continue working and making money instead of fighting.