La conscience syndicale lors des grèves du textile en 1937 et de l'amiante en 1949
Members of the community of scholars and sundry other commentators -both from organized labour and outside -have not generally responded in a salutary fashion to the development of the national and catholic union movement in Quebec. From its inception and well into the second half of our century it was the butt of criticism from every quarter it was dominated by the church, it was directed by a narrow nationalism, it was servile to business interests, it preached moderation and accommodation.
... ending and very often simplistic, the criticism was and is of the same variety that one always finds leveled at groups whose ideology does not go along with mainstream expectations. The facts, however, are there and it is about time that they are placed in the perspective that historical analysis permits. The Confederation des syndicats nationaux (CSN) is the direct descendant of the national and catholic union movement that was embodied in the Confederation des travailteurs catholiques du Canada (CTCC) and the CSN is one of Canada's most militant labour organizations. The CTCC successfully pioneered organization along industrial rather than craft lines; its descendant, the CSN, was the first Canadian central to encompass salaried professionals and middle managers and the first to make important inroads in unionizing white-collar employees. Quebec has been the major stronghold of national unionism in Canada and the indigenous character of the crea-tion is quite unique in North America. A documented high level of industrial unrest and turmoil has characterized the Quebec labour scene since the turn of the century. Quebec's vaunted traditional and agrarian society changed into an industrialized and urban society with unexpected speed and pragmatic verve, and the national and catholic union movement was one of the vital structures in this transition. Is this the picture of a reactionary and unresponsive movement? Is this the kind of a context where monolithic thought and attitude prevails? Or is this a union movement developing in its own distinct pressure-cooker, that of Quebec, with its yet to be fully fathomed contradictions and particularities. Alfred Charpentier was a product of this era and a fine embodiment of the changes taking place. Born in 1888 in a Quebec-style family of thirteen. he started his working life at the mature age of thirteen in the cotton mills of Valleyfield. Shortly thereafter he joined his father as an apprentice bricklayer and remained in this trade until 1915 when he became a Montreal fireman, a full-time position that he retained for the following quarter century. Charpentier was grass-roots working-class down to the marrow and while he laboured his vocation as a union militant took on greater definition. A working-class consciousness had been instilled from a very young age. An active trade unionist, his father was a founder of the Parti ouvrier. It is not surprising then that his son joined the Bricklayers, Masons & Plasterers International Union of America as soon as he had finished his apprenticeship in 1907. While a member he served first as its local secretary and later as president. Simultaneous with his departure from bricklaying, Charpentier moved into national and catholic union circles. In 1921 he attended the founding convention of the CTCC in Hull and the following year he was elected treasurer of this struggling organization. From then on it was one challenge after another in the national and catholic union movement until 1935 when he ascended to the presidency of the thirty-two thousand member CTCC, a post he held until 1946.