A tradition in jeopardy : building trades workers' responses to industrial capitalism in Winnipeg, 1880-1914

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Berkowski, Gerry E.
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Between 1880 and 1914, when Winnipeg experienced its first era of urban and industrial growth, the building industry shaped the contours of the city's economic, social, and political environments. Architects designed, contractors supervised, and workers built the infrastructure that was necessary for commercial and industrial expansion. Residential neighbourhoods, warehouses, office buildings, and factories provided the housing and workplaces for thousands of immigrants who settled in the city in the late nineteenth century. The various trades of the building industry were essential to the conversion of Winnipeg from a pioneer town in the 1870s to the west's major transportation and distribution center in 1914. Skilled building trades workers were vital to this dynamic transformation. In particular, the carpenters, bricklayers, painters, and plumbers who came to Winnipeg in the 1880s were the first of thousands employed in the mass production of buildings for modern commercial and residential use. Together with typographers and railway employees, who also possessed a great deal of craft skill, these were among the most important workers involved in the emergence of Winnipeg's early labour movement. Industrial capitalism transformed the building industry after 1880, and the lives of thousands of skilled workers. The entrepreneurs who came into the city from eastern Canada, the United States, and Britain brought the logic of general contracting to the local industry. Soon it was the dominant form of business, characterized by ferocious competition and mass production. To survive and prosper in such an environment employers adopted new methods of production and corporate organization which had a severe impact on the workplace and the skilled worker. As industrial capitalism matured in the 1890s and took hold with greater intensity in the 1900s, the workplace became more important as the object of change. Despite extensive business re-organization and the use of machines, the entire transformation from 1880 to 1914 was possible because of employers' manipulation of the labour market, the cheapest and most accessible of all resources...