The Politics Of Industrial Restructuring: Canadian Textiles

Rianne Mahon
Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1984.
Pp.xii, 204.$25.00cloth,$12.50 paper

This study provides a provocative analysis of how Canadian industrial policy has been formulated. Utilizing the concepts of capitalist class fractions and hegemonic class domination, Professor Mahon argues that the dominant staples fraction has been able, through the state, to ‘organize an unequal but positive-sum relationship among the fractions of capital and between them and the subordinate classes’. Owing to increased trade liberalization after World War II, the historic compromise established between staples exporters and manufacturers began to disintegrate, and, to maintain its hegemony, the staples fraction was compelled to arrange a new accord. According to Mahon, the sector of the Canadian economy to be threatened first by the spectre of trade-induced deindustrialization was the textile industry, and she provides a fascinating account of why, how, and with what results various options for restructuring the textile industry were advanced. Through a policy of ‘progressive liberalization, ‘enhanced by government funding to promote modernization and rationalization, major textile manufacturers have been converted to the doctrine of freer trade. Although Mahon criticizes R. T. Naylor for portraying the two major fractions of capital as too antagonistic and for ignoring ‘the actual links that developed between them’, her own analysis tends to exaggerate the dichotomy. Were the staples-exporting and import-substituting fragments as separate and committed to opposing objectives as she implies? The capitalists who organized Dominion Textile, for example, were closely identified with the Bank of Montreal, the coal industry, and pulp and paper companies. More recently, as Mahon herself reveals, textile firms have made significant investments in their source sector. A more detailed analysis is required of the interconnections and overlapping economic and political interests of resource-based and manufacturing capital prior to 1970. By concentrating on impersonal structures and neglecting corporate links, the author has sacrificed colour and nuance. The treatment accorded labour’s relationship to the capitalist fractions is also puzzling. The textile unions are portrayed as generally supporting textile capital’s definition of and solutions to the problems confronting the textile industry, yet we are informed that the state’s fear of labour militancy induced it to frame a textile policy with improved provisions for labour. The author further contends that it is ‘the militancy that the rank and file members have displayed’ which is needed to ‘transform the structure of representation’. How, then, was this militancy manifested in the textile sector, and how significant was it? While the period covered was one of heightened crisis, Mahon unfortunately creates the impression that the problems of import competition and modernization campaigns in the textile industry began only after 1945, when they were primary characteristics for at least the four preceding decades. Overall, this volume makes a significant contribution to the debate about inter- and intra-class relations in Canada and the role of the state in the enunciation of industrial policy.

Gail Cuthbert Brandt, Glendon College, York University, The Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 67, No. 1, March 1986, pp. 104-105