One Big Union

On 13 March 1919 delegates from most union locals in western Canada met at the Western Labour Conference in Calgary and proclaimed support for the Bolshevik and other left-wing revolutions. They decided to conduct a referendum among Canadian union members on whether to secede from the American Federation of Labor and the TRADES AND LABOR CONGRESS OF CANADA, and form a REVOLUTIONARY INDUSTRIAL UNION to be called the One Big Union. The vote, held almost entirely in the West - and during the WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE - showed overwhelming support, and the OBU was launched in early June.

Thousands of workers joined it, including large parts of the mine, transportation and logging labour force. At its peak in 1920, the OBU had close to 50 000 members from northern Ontario to the Pacific, with other locals in eastern and central Canada and the US. The international CRAFT UNION movement fought back, aided by governments (especially federal) and employers. The counterattack was particularly effective when splits appeared among OBU leaders over policy and tactics. Although by 1923 the union was reduced to approximately 5000 members, it had set an example for later, successful INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM. In 1956 it was absorbed into the CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS.