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Reviewed by:
  • Guarding the Gates: The Canadian Labour Movement and Immigration, 1872-1934
  • Susan P. Miranda (bio)
David Goutor . Guarding the Gates: The Canadian Labour Movement and Immigration, 1872-1934. UBC Press. 2007. xii, 273. $85.00, $32.95

David Goutor has produced an impressive examination of Canadian labour's approach to immigration from the 1870s to the Great Depression. He makes an important contribution to the study of the history of the Canadian labour movement as well as immigration and racism. Goutor's central assertion is that, for the most part, mainstream labour leaders insisted that a restrictive and racially discriminatory immigration policy was essential for protecting the standards of living of Canadian workers as well as the social, moral, and medical vitality of Canadian communities. Thus, Goutor demonstrates that as Canada emerged as a nation, the labour movement also emerged as an actor on the national scene. Immigration was an important issue for the labour movement right from the start. As such, Goutor reveals that the immigration question within labour circles was not an insular, defensive, and self-interested matter, but one that very much concerned itself with larger questions of the future economic, social, and political development of the dominion, as well as one that was affected by international ideologies and events.

Goutor's study is divided into three main parts. The first deals with Asian immigration to Canada, in which he shows that Asian exclusion was a fundamental value of the mainstream labour movement throughout this period. Asians were not only viewed as enemies of the working class, in that they were perceived as driving down wages, but also as threats to the moral and social fabric of Canadian society. While labour leaders constructed themselves as intimately interested in the country's economic and social development, Chinese workers were associated [End Page 583] with the greed and corruption of capitalism. Goutor shows just how widespread anti-Asian sentiment was among labour leaders across the country. Indeed, labour's campaign for Asian exclusion was a uniting force in the labour movement. The second part of Goutor's study deals with immigrants from Europe and the British Isles. Although European immigrants were not as vilified as Asians, they too were seen as threats to workers and Canadian society. The most significant discussion here is Goutor's examination of labour's campaign against the commerce of immigration. Goutor uncovers an interesting story of Canadian labour's British campaign to limit immigration, some successes in exposing fraudulent practices of immigration officials and philanthropic organizations like the Salvation Army, as well as labour's effect on domestic immigration policy.

The third and last section deals with the role of immigration in labour's plans for developing the dominion and in political struggles within the movement. Goutor examines the prevalence of the producer ideology in the 1870s in framing labour's approach to immigration, which included supporting a protective tariff as well as immigration. By the 1880s and 1890s, with the growth of industrial capitalism, labour became more hostile to immigration. Labour now criticized the National Policy for benefiting manufacturers, not workers. Land reform gained support, which meant relocating excess urban workers to rural western Canada. But party allegiances to the Tories and Grits meant increasing dissention in labour's ranks. Also, by the early twentieth century, the expulsion of the Knights of Labor from the TLC and the rise of business unionism meant that labour lost a broad vision of the dominion's development. Rather, agitating for government control of immigration provided a much-needed rallying point among mainstream unionists.

In his examination of labour's view of immigrants, the immigrants themselves hardly appear. Goutor makes only passing references to the agency of the migrants that labour targeted. Considering the already expansive timeline and thematic scope of his study, it is not surprising that he chose to leave this out of the study. But some discussion of immigrants' reaction and resistance to labour's treatment would have been welcome. Also, while Goutor's study is most strong in the areas of class and race analysis, gender is treated less comprehensively. Goutor does argue that groups like the Chinese were considered unmanly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 583-585
Launched on MUSE
2010-08-07
Open Access
No
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