History Professor Craig Heron has won the 2015 International Labor History Association (ILHA) Award for his book, Lunch-Bucket Lives: Remaking the Workers’ City. The ILHA choice for book of the year honours an outstanding contribution to labour history.
Heron’s book reveals the realities and struggles of the Canadian working class through the lives of Hamilton, Ont. residents in the 1890s and 1930s. The book outlines working-class people as essential to the country’s economic and social life, says Heron, and how their collective actions resisted powerful forces and shaped the 20th century Canada.
“Heron’s award-winning book illuminates the history of workers through the lens of race, class, gender, politics, ethnicity, economics and social organizations,” says an ILHA statement announcing the award winner. “The highly engaging narrative represents many years of careful research and reflection, convincingly revealing the inner dynamics of labour situated in an environment of deep anti-labour hostility, political struggles, community cross-pressured, societal and economic upheavals that, taken together, drove changes in the labour sphere.”
Though the city of Hamilton is a lesser known Canadian city on the global scale, Heron found that what can be learned from the city’s history can resonate internationally.
“A study of this factory town can address issues that resonate through many other communities in the industrialized world,” says Heron. “Hamilton has been a city much like many other industrial centres in other parts of Canada and in other countries. It has had a concentration of large-scale industries and a transnational work force drawn from the British Isles, Europe, North America and beyond. It was also exposed to many international trends in new management practices, new social policies, new labour ideologies and new forms of popular culture, including movies and radio.”
Heron finds that the issues faced by Hamilton’s working class in the past are still relevant today.
“The working class has become invisible in Canadian public life,” he says. “Historians need to remind their fellow citizens that there are now, and have been for generations, millions of people out there who work for wages, who have difficulty making ends meet and who exercise no power over major political and economic decision-making. The so-called ‘condition of the working class’ is in fact deteriorating and, indeed, looking more and more like what workers faced in the early 20th century.”
Lunch-Bucket Lives was also a finalist for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s 2015 Speaker’s Book Award. It has also been shortlisted for the Canadian Historical Association’s Sir John A. Macdonald Prize. That prize is given to the best scholarly book on Canadian history and the 2016 winner will be announced on May 31 at the CHA Annual Prize Ceremonies in Calgary.