This thesis aims to situate the working class uprisings in Quebec in 1972 and British Columbia in 1983 in order to explain and compare the manner in which the official union leadership related to the working class. It is argued that the ability and willingness of the working class to engage in militant activity independently from the official union leadership is largely a function of their confidence in facing employers and that the level of this confidence is mediated by the corresponding set of political, economic and historical circumstances within which the struggle is situated.
The events which preceded and accompanied the struggle of the Common Front strike of 1972 bred confidence in the working class and created a climate amenable to ideas that saw the proletariat as central to a liberation strategy. The working class achieved a heightened level of consciousness and organizeditself into various left-wing political groupings, citizens coalitions, agitational groups, shop-floor organizations and student groups which prepared it for its spontaneous uprising in May of 1972 where they seized control of entire towns, workplaces, radio and television stations without the official endorsement of the leadership of the Common Front which watched on from behind bars in astonishment.
An international capitalist crisis gave initiative to a new employers' offensive in Canada by the 1970's and the workers' movement found the terrain of the class struggle far more demanding and suffered a series of defeats that pushed it from struggles characterized by their "offensive" nature, to the type typified by the Operation Soldarity strikes - a defensive fight for, at best, the preservation of existing conditions against an employers' offensive. During such periods where workers are demoralized, sectionalized and unorganized at the shop floor level and the community level, they are apt to look at the official union leadership to direct and lead the struggle. While the working class initiated confident challenges to capital and sometimes even the official union leadership in Quebec during 1972, by 1983, in British Columbla, the working class forms of organization had eroded and broken down. While union leaderships manage conflict, the precise manner in which they attempt to tailor militancy is mediated by the organizational, ideological, historical and political past of the workers' movement.