Smelter Wars: A Rebellious Red Trade Union Fights for Its Life in Wartime Western Canada
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Published: January 2022© 2022
372 Pages, 5.75 x 8.75 x 1.00 in, 16 b&w illustrations, 1 b&w map
In 1938, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) sent communist union organizer Arthur "Slim" Evans to the smelter city of Trail, British Columbia, to establish Local 480 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. Six years later the local was recognized as the legal representative of more than 5,000 workers at a smelter owned by the powerful Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada. But the union’s fight for survival had only just begun.
Smelter Wars unfolds that historic struggle, offering glimpses into the political, social, and cultural life of the semi-rural, single-industry community. Hindered by economic depression, two World Wars, and Cold War intolerance, Local 480 faced fierce corporate, media, and religious opposition at home. Ron Verzuh draws upon archival and periodical sources, including the mainstream and labour press, secret police records, and oral histories, to explore the CIO’s complicated legacy in Trail as it battled a wide range of antagonists: a powerful employer, a company union, local conservative citizens, and Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) leadership.
More than the history of a union, Smelter Wars is a cultural study of a community shaped by the dominance of a world-leading industrial juggernaut set on keeping the union drive at bay.
List of Acronyms
Introduction: A Smelter City is Born
1. A Red Union Comes to Town
2. Battling Blaylock’s Company Union
3. Women War Workers and Ladies Auxiliary Politics
4. Mine-Mill Courts Trail’s Immigrant Enclave
5. A Clash of Ideologies in the Kootenays
6. Steel Cold Warriors Raid Trail’s Red Union
7. Resisting Canadian McCarthyism in British Columbia
Conclusion: The Complicated History of Local 480
Epilogue: The Smelter City Today
"Smelter Wars offers an important new contribution to a fascinating period in Canadian labour history. Trail smelter workers faced a tough employer, bent upon installing a company union; governments reacting to the so-called Red Scare; and a reactionary Canadian labour movement, which supported numerous failed raiding attempts. The workers saw through the ‘fake news’ of their day and stuck with their union leadership. An inspiring message for today’s workers."Paul Moist, President Emeritus, Canadian Union of Public Employees
"Smelter Wars is the best kind of labour history: rooted in deep connections to place and politics, shaped by direct experience ‘on the line,’ and the product of intellectual curiosity and attentiveness to the lessons the past holds for contemporary labour movements. Ron Verzuh has the ability to make connections between the struggles and personalities of a radical union in BC’s Southern Interior and the broader contours of extractive capitalism and its social relations in the postwar period in a way that is both highly readable and deeply insightful."Kendra Strauss, Professor and Director, Labour Studies Program and The Morgan Centre for Labour Research, Simon Fraser University