Industrial Unionism

United Steelworkers (USW)

Workers on the picket line

The United Steelworkers of America (now USW) were part of a new wave of unionism that washed over Hamilton in the 20th century. Traditional craft unions remained powerful in many local plants until World War II. But many workers realized that craft organizing was ill-suited to the city’s huge new industrial plants. Here, skilled workers from many different crafts worked alongside many semi- and unskilled workers. Industrial unionism, in which all workers in a plant were organized into a single union, became a more popular alternative.

This new form of unionism made only limited headway in the first part of the century. Real change came during World War II. Full employment, good wages and job security gave workers confidence. New labour legislation paved the way for union recognition at many major East End plants. When the war ended, workers were determined to maintain wartime gains. In 1946, a huge strike pit local steel, rubber, and electrical workers against their employers. The settlements that followed established industrial unionism in the city, and set important precedents that benefited workers nationwide.

Industrial unions have played a major role in shaping the city. By the turn of the 21st century, Hamilton had some 150 union locals representing more than 50,000 workers.