UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pursuit of status : professionalism, unionism, and militancy in the evolution of Canadian teachers' organizations, 1915-1955. Roald, Jerry Bruce


The hypothesis of the thesis is that Canadian teachers have sought to gain some control over their professional lives through organisation. The study traces the evolution of the Canadian teachers' organizations from a period of vigorous ascendency between 1916 and 1921 to the middle of the 1950s. By then the organizations had formed their main features and shaped their occupational ideology. The simplest theoretical statement, framework, or model of the thesis is that teachers have attempted to escape from or at least to modify the bureaucratic environment which prescribed the conditions of their vocation. While teachers largely united in seeking this escape, they were not of one mind as to the appropriate means or alternatives: professionalism, unionism, or a combination of both. To most teachers, professionalism and unionism seemed polar and incompatible. The conclusion reached in the study is that teachers’ organizations evolved as "professional unions," largely because of the teachers' need to cope with their salaried and employee status while clinging to the aspiration of professionalism and public service. The thesis rests extensively on primary sources: the records and files of the teachers' organizations, journals of the organisations, contemporary newspapers and magazines, and documents housed in the various archives of Canada. The thesis is not a definitive study of all the issues that have concerned teachers or their organizations. Rather, it is keyed to those issues and situations that have involved a debate over unionism and professionalism, or which have caused teachers to adopt more militant postures. Admittedly the study is pro-teacher, essentially a result of the sources consulted. A deliberate attempt, however, has been made to record the teachers' reactions to their own historical experience, the trustees, and government. The study is divided into six chapters. The first, tracing the years of formation and survival (1915-1930), explains the causes for teacher organization and the teachers' goals. It probes their occupational ideologies. The second chapter investigates the teachers' strikes of the 1920's, and ponders the meaning of these strikes and the issues of teacher militancy. The third chapter deals with the impact of the depression and the war (1930-1945) on the evolution of the organized profession. This chapter reveals the extent of economic retrenchment on teachers' salaries, the spirit of organizational experimentation, and the renewed militancy as the depression receded and the war ensued. The fourth chapter shows how the teachers' "professional unionism" is rooted in their acceptance of the essentials of trade unionism. The fifth chapter records the teachers' courtship with organized labour--affiliation. In particular, it traces in detail the experiment of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation with affiliation, with public admission of trade unionism. The last chapter deals with the achievement of statutory or automatic membership, an organizational development which is singularly the most significant in the history of the Canadian teaching profession.

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