Weekend Video: Where You Goin’ Company Town?

This documentary film captures Canada’s labour movement at the cusp of major change. In 1975, the Cominco lead-zinc smelter dominates the local economy of Trail, BC. But changes in the global economy were on the horizon meaning that one-industry towns were no longer a sure thing for jobs.

Meanwhile, the Steelworkers union at Cominco is being transformed into a more combative organization after a wildcat strike and a challenge from the independent union CAIMAW. The union was also changed by a new generation of young workers, almost all men, who had much higher expectations of workplace safety and regulations and less commitment to living in Trail. This militancy had its origins in the mid-60s wildcat wave that gave birth, most spectacularly, to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Although 1800 jobs still remain at Cominco in Trail, Canada’s company towns since 1975 have been decimated by corporate restructuring and free trade. Towns build by mines, mills, fisheries and auto parts plants have been hit hard.

Meanwhile, Canada’s unions have been battered into submission through recession, legislation and aggressive employers. The battle against Trudeau’s Wage and Price controls is lost in 1976. It is a turning point for the labour movement and puts an end to a decade increasing militancy.

Today, young workers are no longer forcing unions to become more militant. Young workers, when they find their way into traditional unionized workplaces, are facing two-tier contracts. In the minimum wage economy, young workers have little experience or contact with unions who have given up systematic, long-term organizing.

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