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Marks, Joseph Taylor, tinsmith, labour organizer, and newspaper editor; b. probably on 15 Oct. 1858 in Windsor, Upper Canada, son of George Marks and Mary Henrietta Ducker; m. 9 March 1887 Emily Ada Ellis in London, Ont.; they had no children; d. 14 Nov. 1932 in Toronto.

Joseph Marks devoted his life to the cause of labour. As a tinsmith in the Grand Trunk Railway shops in London, he was a member of the sheet-metal workers’ union; he helped found the London Trades and Labor Council in 1884 and, later in the decade, the Workingman’s Legislative Club. He joined the rising Knights of Labor [see Alexander Whyte Wright*], becoming recording secretary for Local Assembly 7110 in 1888 and district master workman of District Association 138 the following year. Marks assumed these leadership roles, however, just as the organization began to decline, and despite his vigorous attempts to rebuild, the Knights disappeared from southwestern Ontario in 1890. Undeterred, he laid the groundwork for the Industrial Brotherhood at Woodstock in May 1891. Modelled on the People’s Party, an emerging populist movement in the United States, the IB sought to promote social reforms and transfer power from the “monopolists, money brokers and titled idlers” to the workers. Though the organization was swallowed up in 1902 by the American Federation of Labor, the brotherhood’s most significant progeny, an independent newspaper, would live on.

The Industrial Banner had been started in 1892 by Marks, Henry Brinsmead Ashplant*, Frank Henry Plant, and Rudolph Russell. Although neither a journalist nor a printer by trade, Marks helped turn the Banner into one of the most successful and widely distributed workers’ papers in Canada; he would move with it to Toronto in 1912 to try to attract a broader audience. He acted as both editor and chief writer, authoring pieces on issues of relevance to unions and workers in Canada and abroad, as well as choosing news articles and editorials from other North American pro-labour papers. His wife, Emily, helped feed the printing press, allowing Marks to rest before his shift at the Grand Trunk yard. He hoped that workers would use the monthly to become informed so that they could “overcome the deadweight of partyism” and defend themselves against the power of established interests. The Banner presented a diverse melange of late-19th- and early-20th-century radical thought, including liberalism, the ideas of American author Edward Bellamy, the single tax proposed by Henry George [see John Wilson Bengough*], agrarian populism, and Christian and ethical socialism. In his work on the Banner and in most of his other activities, Marks saw himself as an organizer, uniting diverse factions on the left in pursuit of a common goal.

The paper and its editor espoused labourism, an ideology that dominated working-class politics in central and eastern Canada until the 1920s. A form of populism, it envisioned a world in which social, economic, and political power were widely accessible, citizens enjoyed social and legal equality, and voluntary association and mutual assistance (through cooperative institutions, for example) were valued. It aimed to achieve these goals through the ballot box. Labourism held that proletarian concerns could only be advanced through the election of workers – as workers, not as members of the existing parties – to public office, but did not otherwise set out a clear ideological program. In this way, it was able to serve as an important bridge between the two ends of the labour spectrum, from socialists on the left to more conservative craft unionists on the right. Marks’s support for direct working-class representation led him to stump on behalf of the Patrons of Industry [see George Weston Wrigley*] during the 1890s; he also ran as an independent labour candidate in the 1894 provincial election but pulled out owing to a lack of support. Over the years he was regularly courted by the Liberal Party to run for federal and provincial office, yet he always refused. Instead, he would help form the Ontario branch of the Canadian Labor Party, which would become known as the Independent Labor Party of Ontario, one of Canada’s first workers’ parties, in 1907.

Marks was also behind the establishment of another long-standing institution of the Ontario labour movement. With socialist James Simpson and Laura Hughes*, niece of Conservative politician Samuel Hughes*, he set up the Labor Educational Association of Ontario in June 1903 (it was originally focused on western Ontario but it quickly became a provincial body). A forum for the exchange of ideas between trade-union organizations across the province, it published educational material and sponsored speaking tours. The group lobbied the provincial government on labour matters, spearheading, for example, the successful campaign that led to the Ontario Workmen’s Compensation Act, which was passed under Premier Sir James Pliny Whitney* in 1914.

Like many on the left, Marks initially opposed World War I, believing it to be the result of capitalist imperialism. Nevertheless, the hope that the conflict’s end would usher in the so-called new democracy at home and abroad led him and many other labourists to support the Allied cause, and he used the Banner to advocate the conscription of men and wealth. He also promoted the organization of factory workers, especially women, into unions and the nationalization of industries and utilities; in addition, he urged the government of Sir Robert Laird Borden to implement fair-wage clauses in its munitions contracts. Feeling that the time was ripe for the formation of a new labour party, Marks and others increased their efforts to bring together workers from a wide spectrum of political views: “Social-Democrats, Independent Labor men, social and economic reformers, people who believe in direct legislation, proportional representation, votes for women, and the nationalization of the railroads and all the national sources of wealth.” The Greater Toronto Labour Party was created, and Marks was named secretary at the founding convention in April 1917; a provincial organization with the same objectives, the Independent Labor Party of Ontario, was established on 1 July, reviving the group formed in 1907. Though he campaigned extensively (while continuing to manage and write for the Banner on trains and in hotel rooms), the party did not fare well in the federal contest of 1917. Marks’s efforts were finally rewarded on 20 Oct. 1919, when 11 ILP candidates were elected to the Ontario legislature. He helped broker a coalition with the United Farmers of Ontario, and under Ernest Charles Drury* a third party took power for the first time in the province’s history.

Unity within labour’s ranks began to come apart during the strike wave that rocked the immediate post-war period, and the conflict sometimes played out in the pages of the Industrial Banner. Marks found himself being challenged for editorial control, particularly by James Simpson, who had joined the publication in 1912 and staged a successful coup in February 1919. By the next year Marks had severed his connections with the newspaper, citing Simpson’s poor management, but the two men’s ideological differences, particularly over support for the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, were also important factors. On 24 Feb. 1922, less than two years after his exit, the once proud “banner” of Ontario labour printed its last edition. Similarly, the ILP was being torn apart by infighting between moderates and radicals. When Marks asked the latter to abandon extremist platforms or leave the party, he was denounced as a reactionary, and he resigned after the 1921 convention. By the time of the 1923 provincial election the ILP lay in tatters (only three members were elected), and it disappeared from the political map in 1927 when its last remaining mpp, Karl Kenneth Homuth, crossed the floor to join George Howard Ferguson*’s Conservatives.

Having spent a good part of the late 1920s trying to establish an independent labour newspaper to replace the Banner and to resurrect the ILP, Marks, the “Grand-dad of the Ontario labour movement,” as he was described in the Labor Leader, died of heart failure at his home in Toronto on 14 Nov. 1932. He had worked for the cause of labour without fanfare, glory, or the expectation of personal rewards. Like reformers Thomas Phillips Thompson, James Simpson, and Allan Studholme*, he had a profound impact on both the organizational and cultural history of trade unionism and labour politics in Canada. His death in many respects represented the end of a working-class culture centred on the notions of voluntarism and self-help.

Kevin Brushett

LAC, MG 28, I 54; R174-45-6, vol.568, file 170 G1 and vol.612, file 379–37; R2803-0-5, Toronto Dist. Labor Council minute-books, 1912–26; R4023-0-9. TRL, Special Coll., S 18 (John Warburton Buckley scrapbooks); S 72 (James Simpson papers). Univ. of Toronto Libraries, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, ms coll. 00035 (Woodsworth memorial coll.); ms coll. 00179 (Robert S. Kenny papers). Industrial Banner (London, Ont., and Toronto), 1895–1922. Labor Leader (Toronto), 25 Nov. 1932. People’s Cause (Toronto), 1925–28. K. T. Brushett, “Labour’s forward movement: Joseph Marks, the Industrial Banner and the Ontario working-class, 1890–1930” (ma thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1994). Craig Heron, “Labourism and the Canadian working class,” Labour (St John’s), 13 (1984): 45–75. G. H. Homel, “‘Fading beams of the nineteenth century’: radicalism and early socialism in Canada’s 1890s,” Labour (Halifax), 5 (1980): 7–32. G. S. Kealey and B. D. Palmer, Dreaming of what might be: the Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880–1900 (Toronto, 1987). J. Myers, “The Independent Labor Party of Ontario – labour in politics, 1907–1923” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1962) (copy in R4023-0-9 at LAC). James Naylor, The new democracy: challenging the social order in industrial Ontario, 1914–25 (Toronto, 1991). Trades and Labor Congress of Can., Report of the proc. of the annual convention ([Ottawa]), 1896–1930. Ron Verzuh, Radical rag: the pioneer labour press in Canada (Ottawa, 1988). The workers’ revolt in Canada, 1917–1925, ed. Craig Heron (Toronto, 1998).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Kevin Brushett, “MARKS, JOSEPH TAYLOR,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marks_joseph_taylor_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marks_joseph_taylor_16E.html
Author of Article:   Kevin Brushett
Title of Article:   MARKS, JOSEPH TAYLOR
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2016
Year of revision:   2016
Access Date:   November 29, 2023