The Changing Social Structures

Occupational diversification

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Occupational diversification

The shoe factories of former days ; the textile and the pulp and paper mills of the turn of the century and of the early 20's ; the frontier mining concerns of Abitibi, the heavy metallurgical centers and the hydro-electric and refining centers of more recent date, – all these, as they established themselves at various stages, absorbed growing segments of a working population consisting either of former rural farmers and artisans, or of urban craftsmen, day laborers and inexperienced young adults. The statistical literature on the typical stages of this evolution is well known and Keyfitz' study sums up the tell-tale signs of the present trends. Between 1871 and 1951, about 400,000 rural young men left the farms on which they were born and, whereas the absolute number of people engaged in non-agricultural industry increased by 748,000, the absolute number of those in agriculture decreased by 17,000. 8 In 1951, only 17 per cent of the total gainfully employed population is engaged in agriculture. There are, in the province, approximately 12,000 industrial establishments employing over 400,000 salaried workers who represent one third of the total salaried population of Canada and about 30 per cent of the total Quebec population. 9

This re-orientation has involved women as well as men. The female industrial hand-worker has been a familiar social type in Quebec for many years. Her immediate ancestor is the country girl who, back in the 1860's or 70's, migrated to the New England states with her family or her husband and settled there as textile weaver. Leather and shoe industries, corset and garment factories have, for over fifty years, made use of women's work in this province and they were followed by the textile mills which attracted a great number of women from the country. World War II intensified this process tremendously. Ammunition factories and expanding wartime industries depopulated the country of thousands of women, [108] married and unmarried, and automatically absorbed the total force of domestic servants. It has been estimated that a total of about 60,000 women in Quebec left the country for the factory between 1941 and 1944 and the data available indicate that very few of them returned to the country after the war 10. From what we know, the greatest proportion either married workers in the cities or moved along to larger industrial centers, particularly Montreal and even Toronto.

But statistics, elaborate as they may be, reflect only the superficial part of the more deeply interesting story. Many observers, including Miner and Hughes, have suggested that one function of industry in Quebec has been to absorb the constant overflow of farm population at each generation which formerly had to migrate to new colonization areas or outside the province. Most likely, the history of many of these migrants, especially those of an older generation, must have a content and a shape similar to the adventures of the old Euchariste Moisan, the pathetic key character in Ringuet's novel Thirty acres who, after a lifetime on a prosperous Quebec farm, ends up as night watchman in a New England garage. We still have to learn what have been the psychological and sociological consequences of such uprootings. We would also like to know what have been the typical sequences of occupations of individuals and families who had to shift from farm to factory during the last three or four decades. It is fairly well recognized that most French-Canadians entered the industrial market at the lowest level of unskilled work. They had to learn and to master unknown skills on the job, the hard way and the slow way. It was to provide their sons with specialized training that technical schools, arts and crafts schools were eventually founded, although at a relatively recent date. 11

Becoming an industrial worker meant, for the French-Canadian, not only learning new skills but entering the highly competitive struggle of a new impersonal work world for which his traditional education had not equipped him. It meant moving into a status [109] of occupational subordination to a culturally-alien employer, whether anonymous or individualized. He was used to social relationships of a highly personal and emotional character and felt like a stranger in the bureaucratic, hierarchical social universe of the factory or the plant where most English and Protestant foremen and managers put a premium on technical efficiency and communicated with him in a language he did not master. New values as well as new goals of life ambition were imposed upon him. The almost inevitable result was frustration, loss of self-confidence and a growing consciousness of alienation. These feelings breed occupational instability. Actually, one leitmotiv that recurs obsessingly throughout the greatest number of case histories of French-Canadian workers that have already been gathered 12 is the litany of the successive occupations held by the family head in the course of his lifetime.

These remarks emphasize certain aspects of what could be called the « French Canadian differential » in the system of division of social labour in Quebec. Within this system, the English perform especially the financial, managerial and technical functions while the French are rather concentrated around the services, clerical, small industry, commercial and professional activities. The latter have striven, for the last thirty years, to ascend the higher rungs of the industrial ladder. The specialized occupations associated with modern technology such as chemistry, civil and mining engineering, physics, have become possible fields of vocational orientation over against law, medicine and priesthood which traditionally constituted the exclusive trilogy of professional ambition. The emergence of these occupations also influenced the re-orientation of university teaching and research. Yet, it seems that the actual achievement of French-Canadians in the new scientific professions remains of a modest order and Professor Hughes pertinently indicates some of the deep cultural reasons that may explain this reluctance. 13

Among a total of 9,304 students who, between 1939 and 1950, graduated with their B.A. degree from the classical colleges in the province, 3,447 or 37 per cent entered the priesthood. Of the [110] remaining 5,857, 40 per cent chose the medical profession, 16 per cent engineering, 11 per cent law, 8 per cent commerce and only 7 per cent « applied sciences. » 14 A recent monograph on the engineering profession shows that in 1949 the two French universities of Montreal and Quebec produced only 3 per cent of the total 3,300 students graduating as engineers in Canadian universities and that, in 1951, the 1,800 engineers of French origin in Canada constituted only 5.1 per cent of the total number (35,000) of Canadian engineers and about 25 per cent of all the engineers in Quebec. 15 At a symposium organized in 1947 by the ACFAS on « The position of French-Canadians in scientific careers », our colleague Cyrias Ouellet estimated that about only 5 per cent of the Canadian physicists and mathematicians are French-speaking and that the universities of Montreal and Quebec turn out a total annual production of only ten to fifteen. Six per cent of the memberships of the Canadian Institute of Chemistry are French and, whereas 15 per cent of the Montreal area chemists are French, the percentage is still lower in such industrial centers as Arvida, Shawinigan and Beloeil. 16 The French-Canadians' own invasion of the higher technical occupations offered by the invading industries is still a timid and slow process.

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