- Jobs and Justice: Fighting Discrimination in Wartime Canada, 1939–1945 by Carmela Patrias
Studying race and racism in Canadian history has become a mainstay of the discipline. There are numerous studies detailing all manner of how racism operated in Canada’s past and what effect it had on the Canadian nation and identity. Even still, works that detail how racialized groups battled against this discrimination and hostility are not as abundant. In Jobs and Justice: Fighting Discrimination in Wartime Canada, 1939–1945, Carmela Patrias investigates race and racism during the Second World War and how it operated as a barrier to employment for immigrants and Canadians of various ethnic backgrounds. But Patrias goes further than documenting examples of racism in employment, she also demonstrates how people who faced racism organized and fought back against it. Aside from some minor issues around the organization of some of the content, Patrias’ book excels at demonstrating how marginalized groups had a voice and how they used it to fight against the barriers they faced.
The book is divided into four parts with the first two examining the job discrimination immigrants and racial minorities faced, while the others explore the Anglo critics and allies of government racial policy. The book is at its best when detailing the discrimination and racism immigrants and minorities such as blacks, natives and Jews experienced during the war when labour demands were high, when these workers tried to fill that demand and when they fought back. A key element to Patrias’ study is her reminding readers that immigrants of different ethnicities today were considered different races in the past. Different ‘Slavic’ peoples were considered races and were often barred from working in war industries. Foreigners faced work-place barriers and social ones as many were labeled as unpatriotic or dangerous. The state often did not prevent employers from firing or refusing to hire workers because of their race and was even complicit in the practice. Patrias outlines how the National Selective Service (NSS) and Unemployment Insurance Commission, groups created with the purpose of maximizing civilian labour for the war effort, used “racial origin” information to discriminate against minorities and support stereotypes. Even though unions reported that Chinese workers were doing well at a Ford plant, the NSS was instead moving them to work in the laundry or restaurant industry. When African Canadian community organizations complained about the low rate of hiring black workers, the head of Montreal’s NSS replied that “I can’t do anything for your people, their I.Q. is too low (33).” Another strong element of the book is the resistance workers put up against this discrimination. Patrias reveals how workers took militant action such as when Polish workers went out on strike during [End Page 177] the Kirkland Lake Gold Miner’s strike in 1941–42. Many of the strikers were also women and the determination of the foreigners in maintaining this strike helped inspire the labour movement in Canada. As well, Patrias documents the fluidity of race and racial categorization such as when eastern Europeans asserted their “whiteness” when faced with workplace discrimination.
While historians are certainly well acquainted with the racism expressed towards Asians in Canadian history, Patrias does well at documenting how significantly disenfranchised groups like Asians, blacks and Natives resisted the discrimination leveled against them by employers and the state. Barred from joining most trade unions, Chinese workers created their own organization, the Chinese Trade Workers’ Association in 1942. Chinese workers also became militant in demanding equal pay for equal work. Fifteen hundred Chinese shipbuilders and shingle workers threatened to strike in 1943, demanding the same pension benefits for their families that white workers received. Three CIO unions intervened on their behalf, averting the strike and offered support to resolve their grievances. While discrimination against the Japanese during the war is also well known, Patrias reveals how Japanese fought for their right to vote through groups such as the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ League (JCCL). The group...