One Big Union

In mid-March 1919, trade unionists from many parts of western Canada met in Calgary at the Western Labour Conference to discuss alternatives to the international craft union model of organizing workers which was promoted by the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC). The delegates, including representatives from Saskatchewan, supported a much more radical political posture for the labour movement. The western labour activists wanted to provide union representation to workers beyond the skilled trades. They rejected the craft union model of organizing workers trade by trade, and championed the idea of industrial unionism, which enrolls all employees in a workplace in one union, regardless of their occupation or skill level. The Western Labour Conference decided to hold a referendum on establishing One Big Union (OBU), and when the votes were taken there was widespread support in the four western provinces, including Saskatchewan. This was occurring immediately after the Winnipeg General Strike, and working-class solidarity was widespread and intense.

Thousands of workers in the four western provinces joined the OBU, particularly railway, forestry, and mining employees. In 1920, when the OBU was at its peak, it had at least 50,000 members between Thunder Bay and Vancouver Island. The TLC unions, with the help of employers and governments, went on a very effective counteroffensive to recover the craft unions' members, and the OBU membership slumped to about 5,000. The One Big Union remained a small labour central organization until 1956, when it joined the other national federations that were merging to form the Canadian Labour Congress.

Garnet Dishaw