Sociology Index


The concept, One Big Union, emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century amongst working class trade unionists. The idea was that all workers should be organised in one union: one big union. Initiatives for One Big Union occurred across the world. Most notable was the attempt of the Industrial Workers of the World (also known as "the Wobblies") to organise One Big Union in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries. One Big Union movement inspired a generation of radicals with their revolutionary spirit. The One Big Union Movement stressed class organization rather than industrial organization.

One Big Union Movement highlights the early conflicts within the trade union movement over how unions should be structured. There was disagreement over whether unions should be based on craft groups, the dominant model in 1919, or should be based on entire industries (industrial unions). The One Big Union movement supported the 'entire industries' model over the 'craft groups' model and was successful in getting thousands of workers to join. The One Big Union movement in Canada grew out of the discontent of the Western unions with the Trades and Labor Congress of the Dominion, On March 13, 1919, a conference was called at Calgary, Canada. 

The 237 delegates who attended immediately voted to sever connections with the old body and the A. F. of L. and to form a new industrial organization to be known as the One Big Union. - M. D. Savage: Industrial Unionism in America.

In pursuance of this class policy it did not condemn political action, but rather declared that the only hope for the workers was "in the economic and political solidarity of the working class, One Big Union Movement and One Workers' Party." The 0. B. U. Bulletin, Dec. 20, 1919

The Socialist Party of Canada and many active members of the SPC helped form the One Big Union movement in Canada and the US in 1917.  

The challenge of the one big union movement in Canada, 1919-1921
by Peter Warrian, One Big Union History and Labor unions Canada History.

Searching for workers' solidarity: the one big union movement and the Victoria General Strike of 1919. - Isitt, Benjamin
"ONE BIG UNION MOVEMENT IS THE IDEAL to be aimed at, the final aim being the workers as a class arrayed against the common enemy," Victoria Trades and Labor Council (VTLC) delegates unanimously declared in February 1919. Supporters of the breakaway One Big Union MOVEMENT were unable to wrest control from labour leaders loyal to American Federation of Labor (AFL)-affiliated international unions. Victoria workers wavered in response to the Winnipeg General Strike. This study explores the One Big Union Movement and 1919 Canadian labour revolt from the standpoint of Victoria's working class, illuminating a contested example of industrial solidarity.

Historians have assessed the character of the Winnipeg General Strike and debated the rise and fall of the One Big Union Movement. Enduring racism and sexism among Anglo-Saxon workers impeded efforts toward genuine working-class unity; even in the radical One Big Union Movement, which claimed to "not make either age, sex, color, race or creed a barrier to membership," a masculinist conception of social class persisted.

In Victoria, contested leadership defined the local response to the Winnipeg General Strike. Against the backdrop of the One Big Union Movement's rapid growth and sympathetic strikes from Vancouver to Amherst, Victoria workers voiced sympathy with Winnipeg labour while questioning whether to strike. Revealing the impact of local conditions on working-class militancy, the unresolved tension between the One Big Union Movement's industrial unionism and a more conservative craft unionism translated into the limited extent of the strike.