Preface


This book is not a history of the CAW, but an essay on that history. My goal is not to be comprehensive in the sense of documenting every strike and struggle, but to address and develop questions and themes that are relevant to the union in the present, and are likely to continue to be relevant in the future.

The Canadian section of the UAW emerged in the 1930s. The breakthrough came after the twenties, a decade when trade unionism seemed to have lost its dynamism, and during a period when capitalism itself seemed to have exhausted its potential. The birth of the union in Canada was very much inspired by the struggles of American workers, and the Americans generally continued to play a leading role in our relationship with them over the next forty-five years.

Yet in the mid-eighties, the Canadians suddenly decided to break from the Americans and establish their own union. What accounted for that Canadian change of heart and mind? Was it as sudden as it seemed? How did the Canadians develop the confidence to go off on their own, especially at a time when the economic and political èlite were pushing the Canadian economy towards greater integration with the U.S.? What further changes did the creation of a new Canadian union demand? These questions cannot be addressed without considering the history of the union and its changing culture: how the union operated, how it saw itself, how it addressed its limits and goals.

This focus on the breakaway in 1985 meant a concentration on the traditional section of the union: heavy manufacturing in central Canada. But just as the Canadian UAW was transformed over time into the CAW, the union was transformed again by the mergers, new organizing, and changes it faced in the decade after 1985. I have not dealt in detail with the wide range of histories and rich experiences that came with the new groups for the obvious reason that doing them justice would have required a level of research and familiarization that wasn't possible within the time limits this book faced.

I hope that CAW members and others who open this book will find it informative and interesting, but above all that it will stimulate them to develop their own local and union histories and challenge them to think more self-consciously about their individual responsibilities in building the union and shaping history. History helps us to understand how things happened and why. But that understanding is only a base for addressing how we can participate in determining what happens next.

Like all books, this one was completed only because of the support and help of others who considered the project worth doing. Buzz Hargrove and Jimmy O'Neil not only encouraged me to start it, but kept it going by refusing to accept any arguments I made for postponing it. My friends and co-workers in research services picked up, with no complaints, the slack while I was gone. Nick Saul assisted with some of the research and was a ready sounding board. Nancy Kearnan, who works with me as a secretary, passed decisive judgement - as she's been doing on my writing for fifteen years - on the book's relevance and readability. Kathy Bennett, the CAW librarian, was always ready with useful archival advice and found things, it often seemed, before I had finished asking for them. And Ron Dickson, who just by being there shared his quiet dignity with us, also agreed to share some of his poetry in the pages of the book. The Centre for Work and Society at York University provided me with an office I could hide in, away from distractions.

A number of people read through sections of the manuscript and offered, sometimes quite detailed, suggestions: Charlotte Yates, who also generously loaned me her index file on fifty years of UAW/CAW-related articles in the Globe and Mail; David Sobel, who also helped with photographs and whose passion for history is infectious; Craig Heron, whose own work is a model of both working class sympathies and historical integrity; Herman Rosenfeld, whose energy and intellectual curiosity, while sometimes exhausting, is something we need more of; and Leo Panitch, with whom I long lost the ability to distinguish which ideas were mine and which were his. Eileen Koyama suffered through the often tedious work of copy-editing, and was extremely helpful.

Jonah, my older son, gave me another troubling perspective on history by surpassing me in height while I wrote this book. Lucas, my younger son, is already working on a CD-ROM of the book with animation and an original musical score. if I said that Schuster - my friend, partner, and the real writer in the family - was "admirably patient," anyone who ever called me at home would raise an eyebrow; my credibility would be gone before they got to the book itself. Schus and the kids harassed me enough to keep me in touch with the immediate world, but also understood that what I was doing was important enough to complete. They maintained my sanity and have, for so many years now, kept me going.

Royalties from the book will go to a CAW scholarship fund established in memory of former activists Larry Bauer and Jim Ashton.

Cover / Introduction