IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Hope against Hope: Persistent Canadian Unions in the Interwar Years


  • Michael Huberman
  • Denise Young


Current forecasts paint a dismal future for unions; observers in the 1920s and 1930s also projected bleak prospects for organized labor. Analysts in the interwar years were off the mark. This paper seeks to investigate whether the revival of the labor movement before WWII was the result of institutional change, in particular the coming of the CIO, or the outcome of an internal dynamic that gave rise to rapid declines and spurts in growth. We test these two views in a war-of-attrition context, using a newly constructed data set on Canadian strikes between 1920 and 1939. Estimation is undertaken in a competing-risks framework. We find that workers did not cave in when employers sought to break their unions, and under certain conditions workers could outlast employers. The increasing proportion of worker wins in the early to mid 1930s led to the rise in union membership observed before the arrival of the CIO in Canada in 1937. We conclude that current predictions regarding the end of unions in the twenty-first century may prove to be premature. Tout comme les analystes contemporains, certains observateurs des années 1920 et 1930 prédisaient un avenir sombre à la syndicalisation. Leurs prévisions étaient fausses. Cet article vise à vérifier si la renaissance des syndicats avant la Deuxième Guerre mondiale est associée à un changement organisationnel, soit l'arrivée du CIO, ou le résultat d'une dynamique interne qui produit des périodes de croissance et de décroissance rapide. En utilisant une nouvelle banque de données sur les grèves au Canada entre 1920 et 1939, dans un modèle de guerre d'usure, cet article teste ces deux propositions. Nous trouvons que les travailleurs n'ont pas reculé face aux menaces des employeurs et dans certains cas ils ont remporté des conflits. Grâce à ces grèves gagnantes, le nombre de travailleurs syndiqués s'est accru même avant le CIO. On conclut que les prévisions courantes vouant les syndicats à la disparition au vingt-et-unième siècle sont prématurées.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Huberman & Denise Young, 2000. "Hope against Hope: Persistent Canadian Unions in the Interwar Years," CIRANO Working Papers 2000s-28, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2000s-28

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Peter Cramton & Morley Gunderson & Joseph Tracy, 1999. "The Effect Of Collective Bargaining Legislation On Strikes And Wages," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(3), pages 475-487, August.
    2. Michael D. Bordo & Claudia Goldin & Eugene N. White, 1998. "The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bord98-1.
    3. Card, David & Olson, Craig A, 1995. "Bargaining Power, Strike Durations, and Wage Outcomes: An Analysis of Strikes in the 1880s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 32-61, January.
    4. Richard B. Freeman, 1998. "Spurts in Union Growth: Defining Moments and Social Processes," NBER Chapters,in: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, pages 265-296 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1998. "Strikebreaking and the Labor Market in the United States, 1881–1894," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(01), pages 183-205, March.
    6. Harrison, Alan & Stewart, Mark, 1989. "Cyclical Fluctuations in Strike Durations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 827-841, September.
    7. Kennan, John, 1985. "The duration of contract strikes in U.S. manufacturing," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 5-28, April.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Labor unions; strikes; Canadian economic history; Syndicats; grèves; histoire économique canadienne;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2000s-28. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Webmaster). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.