My Life in a Trade Union: the Shop-floor Fight for a Fair Workplace Deal

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Vincent Joseph Barnes was 13 years old when he began his working life in 1934 in a bowling alley in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario. He was still in school in Grade 7 and earned $2.50 a week working evenings and weekends. The family didn't have enough money to allow him to go to high school and so, he took a job at 14 cents an hour at a carpet mill, working 55 hours a week. Things began to look up when he landed a job at the General Electric plant in Peterborough, but even at that, there was no such thing as an annual vacation or a day off for Christmas or any other holiday.

Vincent Joseph Barnes was 13 years old when he began his working life in 1934 in a bowling alley in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario. He was still in school in Grade 7 and earned $2.50 a week working evenings and weekends. The family didn't have enough money to allow him to go to high school and so, he took a job at 14 cents an hour at a carpet mill, working 55 hours a week. Things began to look up when he landed a job at the General Electric plant in Peterborough, but even at that, there was no such thing as an annual vacation or a day off for Christmas or any other holiday.

Such was life during the days during and coming out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Literally, with jobs and money scarce, with families scrambling to simply survive, it was every man for himself. The money was poor, the working conditions were abominable, and workplaces protections for men and women were practically non-existent.

And then, the Second World War came and went, leaving in its wake an unprecedented global economic boom as the world was forced to re-build and re-structure to overcome the destruction that war had wrought. And, eventually, out of this boom came the drama and success of the labour movement, which saw ordinary workers and ordinary families unite in search of a new, common good and their fair share of the economic pie. Unions were formed, job protections grew, workplace wages were gradually increased as factory workers, particularly, began to enjoy the benefits of economic growth and economic success.

Vincent Joseph Barnes remembers those days well. He hasn't forgotten where he came from because even now, as he approaches his 90th birthday, his memories of the Dirty '30s and his early days as an activist within the fledgling Canadian labour movement are crystal-clear, as though it all happened just yesterday.

That's the basis for Barnes' newly released book, entitled My Life in a Trade Union: a Struggle for Working Class Justice. Developed in collaboration with his wife Dianne, My Life in a Trade Union takes readers back to a time that many Canadian workers may not even remember today. Now, on a typical shop floor, there is guaranteed premium pay for overtime work; there are guaranteed health benefits; there is a guaranteed vacation allotment and structure; and even when the hard times hit, as they inevitably do, there is a pre-negotiated process to handle the prospect of layoffs and job loss.

That's a far cry from the '30s – and it's a very far cry from the life that Barnes himself knew in his early years at the General Electric plant in Peterborough. But Barnes can take considerable comfort from the knowledge that he was among the men and women who spent their working lives trying to make things better, to improve the lot of their fellow workers.

And it is this very thing that makes My Life in a Trade Union so readable and valuable, for the simple fact is that the Canadian labour and union movements are under assault once more as economic trade globalization takes its toll on the workers of the world's industrially developed nations. Vincent Joseph Barnes has been there and done that – and, now, many decades later, his perspective is one that needs to be heard.

Other books by Vincent and Dianne Barnes include: The River Otonabee of My Boyhood; What Was That War All About, Anyway?; Our Long Road to Happiness; Adventure on a Frozen Island; A Mosaic of Short Stories and Poems; Global Warming and Corporate Power in Collusion; and Cubans and Canadians: Our Two Societies.

My Life in a Trade Union: a Struggle for Working Class Justice
by Vincent Joseph Barnes
ISBN: 9780981067919
$32.95

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