CHA Prizes

The Canadian Committee on Labour History is proud to award a prize for the best thesis on labour history.

The 2021 prize competition is now closed. The prize will be attributed at the CHA Annual Meeting in June 2021.

2020 – Winner

  • Edward Dunsworth

    Edward Dunsworth. “The Transnational Making of Ontario Tobacco Labour, 1925-1990” (PhD, University of Toronto, 2019).

    Dunsworth situates tobacco workers’ labour within a transnational context while analyzing the changing nature of the labour force and work processes over time. Prior to WWII, thousands of workers from within Canada would swell the population of the tobacco towns during the short harvest season, many of them new immigrants to Canada. By the 1960s, government programs recruited seasonal workers from Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico.  As the labour process evolved, so too did working conditions: earlier geographical mobility gave way to a more restrictive system where social mobility and social protest became more difficult.  Yet, Dunsworth finds many instances in which tobacco workers organized for better working and living conditions.  To recover the history of this heterogeneous, transnational workforce, Dunsworth conducted research in Canada, the U.S., Jamaica and Barbados and the dissertation combines documentary and oral history source material. Th

2018 – Winner

  • Sean Antaya

    Sean Antaya, “Struggling for a New Left: The New Tendency, Autonomist Marxism, and Rank-and-File Organizing in Windsor, Ontario during the 1970s,” MA Thesis, Trent University, 2018.

    Antaya’s study sheds new light on the trajectory of the New Left in the 1970s. It focuses in particular on a group of activists in Ontario who entered the industrial workforce and organized in a way distinct from and often opposed to traditional unions and political parties.  The New Tendency focused on working-class self activity and were connected to a transnational network of contemporary organizations developing an autonomist Marxist position influenced by theorists such as Martin Glaberman and C.L.R. James. Antaya’s elegantly written thesis seamlessly integrates oral and written sources and handles complex theoretical debates with impressive sophistication.  The thesis is able to combine close attention to local circumstances and the personal lives of activists with broader consideration of the changing international economic and political conditions to which they responded.

2017 – Winner

  • Julia Smith

    Julia Smith, Union Organizing in the Canadian Banking Industry, 1940–1980,” Ph.D. dissertation, Trent University, 2016.

     This lively thesis examines efforts by a mainly female labour force across Canada to exercise a degree of collective influence on the job, evaluating what factors contributed to success for the few and failure for the many. Smith uses feminist and class analyses as well as a close dissection of limitations of established trade union attitudes and practices to explain the overall dismal results of organizing efforts in the banking sector despite considerable militancy and grassroots feminist organizing of poorly paid and often poorly treated bank workers.

2016 – Winner

  • Lachlan MacKinnon

    Lachlan MacKinnon, “Deindustrialization on the Periphery: An Oral History of Sydney Steel, 1945-2001”. PhD Dissertation, Concordia University, 2016.
    Lachlan MacKinnon’s dissertation is an historical examination of the multi-layered processes of deindustrialization in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The history of a steel plant formerly located in the centre of the city is used as a case study through which the mechanisms of deindustrialization are fully explored. In 1967, the provincial government of Nova Scotia nationalized the Sydney Works. This marks a significant divergence from previous studies of deindustrialization, which have traditionally focused on the wave of industrial closures in the North American heartland during the 1970s and 1980s. MacKinnon’s work combines materialist analysis with oral history to get at the relationships that infuse deindustrialization, place and memory.  He also demonstrates familiarity with a wide range of literatures not just on deindustrialization and the Maritimes but also cultural theory/history, masculinity studies, oral history, political economy, labour history, etc.  The scope and depth of the research and the magnitude of the tale told makes for an impressive community study. 

2015 – Winner

  • Jeremy Milloy

    Jeremy Milloy, ""If You Want Blood":  Violence at Work in the North American Auto Industry, 1960-1980". Thèse doctorale, Simon Fraser University. 

    Jeremy Milloy's dissertation is a piece of new and insightful research that examines conflict in automotive manufacturing during the post-World War II period. His analysis is a significant contribution to the literature on the development of post-war workplaces, and sheds considerable light on the sources and meaning of violence at work.


2014 – Winner

  • Martha Attridge Bufton

    Martha Attridge Bufton, "Solidarity by Association: The Unionization of Faculty, Academic Librarians, and Support Staff at Carleton University (1973-1976)" M.A. thesis, Carleton University, 2013.

    Martha Attridge Bufton’s study of unionization at Carleton University in the early to mid-1970s is remarkably comprehensive for an MA thesis. Though examining an understudied subject, her thesis is well situated within the existing literature on unionization at Canadian universities. Attridge Bufton also incorporates an impressive amount of primary source material, including oral histories. Her sophisticated analysis of the dialectical relationship between status and class makes a convincing argument about how status and gender contribute to, rather than impede, collective action. Her use of E.P. Thompson’s “moral economy” is innovative, and her analysis of white collar unionization in the context of a literature that focuses on blue collar workers is nuanced. There is much that still needs to be written about the history of employment in higher education in Canada, and Attridge Bufton’s work is a noteworthy contribution that furthers that cause.


2013 – Winner

  • Bruno-Pierre Guillette

    Bruno-Pierre Guillette. « "Le Jour du Seigneur vendu à l’encan": regard sur la Commission d’enquête sur l’observance du dimanche dans les industries de pâtes et papiers du Québec (1964-1966), »  Mémoire de maîtrise,  2012, Université du Québec à Montréal.
    Bruno-Pierre Guillette's Masters thesis, " 'Le Jour du Seigneur vendu à l’encan': regard sur la Commission d’enquête sur l’observance du dimanche dans les industries de pâtes et papiers du Québec (1964-1966)," shines the spotlight on class and cultural relations in Quebec during the Quiet Revolution through a focused study of conflicts among capital, the state, labour, and the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of work on "the Lord's Day." Combing through the records of a government-appointed commission on Sunday observance in the pulp and paper industry, as well as newspapers and other documents produced by the main actors, Guillette offers a nuanced appraisal of the conflicts of vision and interest among the various players and an assessment of why the forces supporting a status quo of continuous shifts across seven days prevailed. In so doing, he demonstrates that pulp and paper workers of the 1960s, along with other working-class groups, had developed their own views of the balance between productivity and leisure, views that challenged the worldview of capital and Church alike. Though the Church and the workers both demanded that workers have Sunday off, the workers' representatives largely ignored Church notions that the purpose of a day off was to allow workers to attend to their religious duties; rather the purpose of a day of industrial shutdown was to unite both  families and communities and give them a chance to determine their preferred leisures without interference by either companies or the clergy. This thesis illustrates effectively the historical importance of working-class demands for days off not solely for refueling themselves and spending time with family but also for days off in common with all other workers for socializing communally and implicitly demonstrating class solidarity.

2012 – Winner

  • Jacob Aaron Carliner Remes

    Jacob Aaron Carliner Remes. City of Comrades : Urban Disasters and the Formation of the North American Progressive State. Duke University (History Department, 2010).

    Jacob Aaron Carliner Remes' PhD thesis, « City of Comrades : Urban Disasters and the Formation of the North American Progressive State », examines an important moment in the rise of the technocratic state during the Progressive Era. Using a wide array of Canadian and American sources, Remes brilliantly examines the tensions arising between the state and working class survivors’ formal organizations and informal groups. Remes’s transnational work displays great insight and originality, with its stress on how rescue and relief operations are unavoidably political.

2011 – Winner

  • Jessica Johanna Van Horssen

    Jessica Johanna Van Horssen, Asbestos, Quebec: The Town, the Mineral, and the Local-Global Balance between the Two (University of Western Ontario, History Department, 2010).

    From the late 19th to the late 20th century, the cities and industries of the world became increasingly reliant on fireproof materials made from asbestos. As asbestos was used more and more in building materials and household appliances, its harmful effect on human health, such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, became apparent. The dangers surrounding the mineral led to the collapse of the industry in the 1980s. While the market demand and medical rejection of asbestos were international, they were also experienced in the mining and processing communities at the core of the global industry. In the town of Asbestos, Quebec, home of the largest chrysotile asbestos mine in the world, we can see how this process of market boom and bust shaped a fierce sense of place and community. This dissertation examines the global asbestos industry from a local perspective, showing how the people of Asbestos, Quebec had international reach through the work they did and the industry they continue to support today. It explores how the boundaries between humans and the environment were blurred in Asbestos as a strong cultural identity was created through the interaction between people and the natural world. This work advances our understanding of the interdependence of the local-global relationship between resource industries and international trade networks, illustrating the ways it shapes communities and how communities shape it. Bringing bodies of land, human bodies, and the body politic of Asbestos, Quebec into the history of the global asbestos trade highlights how this local cultural identity grew to influence national policy and global debates on commodity flows, occupational health, and environmental justice.

2010 – Winner

  • Julia Maureen Smith

    Julia Maureen Smith, "Organizing the Unorganized: The Service, Office, and Retail Workers' Union of Canada (SORWUC), 1972-1986," Master of Arts, Simon Fraser University, 2009. 

    Julia Smith’s Master’s thesis “Organizing the Unorganized: The Service, Office, and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada (SORWOC), 1972-1986” documents an important moment in Canadian labour history.  Well-versed in scholarly and activist debates about gender and class, Smith explores the successes and challenges of building a union for unorganized workers expressly committed to socialist feminist ideals of community, equality and grassroots democracy.  In doing so, she both reinvigorates debates rooted in experiences of the labour and women’s movements of the 1960s and 1970s and reminds us of the ongoing challenges of imagining a union movement more capable of organizing the unorganized, particularly in service industries.

2009 – Winner

  • Arnaud Bessière

    Arnaud Bessière. ‘La Domesticité Dans La Colonie Laurentienne Au XVII Siècle Et Au Début Du XVIII Siècle, 1640-1710’Université Paris IV – Sorbonne École Doctorale 2: Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine et Université du Québec à Montréal.

    This thesis examines servants in Canada from 1640 to 1710. Recruited in France or in the colony, this generally masculine labour force worked mostly for peasant landowners and religious communities. Its function was primarily related to agricultural tasks: clearing land, cultivating crops and tending livestock. Other work, such as caring for the sick and housekeeping, might also be included among the duties servants performed for religious communities and better off urban employers. Over the period, the composition of this labour force changed: indentured workers increasingly came from the colony itself and entered service at a younger age. This trend helped to offset the decline in the number of migrants to Canada, many of whom were servants. In addition to analyzing hiring practices, this thesis addresses the relations between masters and servants and examines the social fortunes of the latter group in the colony.

    Other laureates since 1996

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