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MAROIS, ARTHUR, bricklayer and trade union leader; b. 1 Nov. 1872 at Quebec, son of Ferdinand Marois, a mason, and Marie-Anne Juneau; m. there first 1 Feb. 1892 Adiana Langlois; m. there secondly 24 Oct. 1921 Émélie Bouret, widow of Gaudiose Langlois; four sons and one daughter survived him; d. 27 June 1928 at Quebec.

A bricklayer in Quebec City, Arthur Marois was introduced to trade unionism at a very early age by his father, who had founded a bricklayers’ union there in 1880. In the 1890s he belonged to the Union Nationale des Briqueteurs, Plâtriers et Maçons de Québec and was its secretary. Subsequently he became a member of the Union Secourable et Protectrice des Journaliers, which elected him a delegate to the Central Trades and Labor Council (CTLC) of Quebec. At the end of the 19th century he joined the Feuille d’Érable Assembly 1160 of the Knights of Labor, “largely,” he would write, “to learn about the organization where I felt the leaders [were].” He had a good opinion of the Knights of Labor, who impressed him with their concern for the “moral and intellectual” advancement of the working class. He did not at that time take umbrage at the organization’s American origins, since its leaders left the assemblies considerable autonomy. On the other hand, the condemnation of the Knights of Labor by the archbishop of Quebec, Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau*, in 1885 had left him with a bitter taste. “Instead of doing the same thing as the American clergy, who not only gather information but sympathize with the workers, ours . . . learned only what the gossipmongers reported to them,” he would point out in March 1917 in a letter to Alfred Charpentier*, the future president of the Confédération des Travailleurs Catholiques du Canada. Many members had at that time left the Knights of Labor and, according to Marois, the organization did not recover from the blow in Quebec City. From this experience he retained the conviction that the clergy understood nothing about labour issues and that they should not interfere in union affairs.

In 1898 Marois was elected president of the CTLC of Quebec, an office he held until 1901. Established in 1889, the council had a good many Quebec unions affiliated to it; its main role was to represent them on the municipal scene while serving as a forum for discussion of matters affecting the interests of the working class. In September 1900 Marois founded Le Bulletin mensuel du travail, Quebec City’s first trade union newspaper, which took as its mission “to back and defend programs of organized labour.” This monthly, which later became a weekly and which remained in publication until December 1903, sought in particular to support shoemakers’ unions in their struggle to be recognized by factory owners. The members of these unions were the victims of a general lockout in October 1900 and, seeing that the conflict was dragging on, the parties agreed to resort to the arbitration of Archbishop Louis-Nazaire Bégin of Quebec [see Gaudiose Hébert]. One of the three unions affected, the Union des Cordonniers-Machinistes, was, however, particularly reluctant to subject its constitution to the archbishop’s examination, as he required, for its leaders deemed that he was overstepping his authority. Marois, then still president of the CTLC, backed the shoemaking machine operators. Like them, he found it hard to understand why “the ecclesiastical authority would have become the competent court for imposing its judgements in purely civil matters.” He saw in this development “the manifest, and equally unfortunate, coalition of clerical power and capitalist forces, to enslave poor workers.” On 29 Nov. 1901 he sent a voluminous file on this matter to the federal Department of Labour, judging that the cause affected all Canadian workers and all those concerned about civil liberties. “The question,” he wrote, “is to know whether from now on everything will have to be subjected to ecclesiastical jurisdiction: finance, commerce, industry, agriculture, work, contracts, our various daily transactions. . . . Do the laws of Canada give bishops the power to bring back the horrors of the Inquisition in their respective dioceses as soon as they can find laymen interested in acting as their secular arm to implement their decisions?” Henry Albert Harper*, the deputy minister, replied cautiously that in his opinion the union should respect the archbishop’s decision and that the Department of Labour could not intervene in the conflict. The episode reinforced Marois’s opinion that the Catholic clergy should stay far away from union affairs. In March 1917 he would write to Alfred Charpentier: “I fully profess my faith in the Catholic Church, I have all the proper respect for the ministers of God in the teaching of dogmas, but I absolutely deny their fitness in labour matters; with very rare exceptions they do not know the first thing about them, and if you had been permitted, as I was one day, to have a private discussion with His Eminence Cardinal Bégin, and on various occasions with some of our parish priests about the condition of the workers in our country you would, like me, be able to appreciate their mentality and their autocracy, even though for the most part they are workers’ sons themselves.”

Though he did not much value clerical authority where unions were concerned, Marois nonetheless did not favour workers joining international unions, which were experiencing tremendous expansion in Quebec at the beginning of the 20th century. He reproached the international unions for having “a point of view” that was “Americanizing [and] dominating” and for draining the dues of Canadians into a country “where gold flows.” He sought to group workers into purely national unions, judging that Canadians themselves should determine the direction of their trade union movement. Defiant, he submitted this proposal in 1913 to a meeting of union members from the province of Quebec who belonged to the Bricklayers, Masons, and Plasterers’ International Union of America. He suggested to them that they disaffiliate their unions from this organization and that they found a national federation which, once well established in Quebec, could expand across the country. Taking advantage of a wave of discontent with “the International” among his colleagues, he initiated the process in Quebec City in July 1916 by founding the Union Canadienne des Briqueteurs, Maçons et Plâtriers. Two years later the bricklayers of Montreal left their international union and joined the Quebec bricklayers in forming on 24 Nov. 1918 the Canadian Federation of Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers, which, it was hoped, would spread through Quebec and the rest of Canada. Marois became its secretary-treasurer. The federation gained members in other cities within the province of Quebec and for a time had three unions in Ontario. Eager to “cast off the American yoke” and to give the unions back their national autonomy, it affiliated with the Canadian Federation of Labor, a purely Canadian body, in 1920. However, English Canada responded poorly and the movement remained rather marginal in Canada.

From the time of World War I, national trade unionism also suffered strong competition in Quebec from Catholic unions, which wanted national scope as well. Marois was asked to support turning national unions into Catholic ones, notably by Charpentier, but he refused, not having forgotten the distressing episodes of the early 1900s. He still did not see the need for mixing religion with trade unionism, whose function he held to be purely material. In his view, labour relations were based fundamentally on a balance of power and it was utopian for Catholic trade unionism to want to change their nature. In his letters to Charpentier in 1917 Marois had occasionally intimated that he would be prepared to accept the Catholicizing of the unions but only after they had assumed a national structure for at least 25 years. Delegated by the Union Canadienne des Briqueteurs, Maçons et Plâtriers, which still refused to become a Catholic body, he nevertheless attended the first congress held to prepare for the founding of the Confédération des Travailleurs Catholiques du Canada in Quebec City in 1918. He was not able to participate in the Chicoutimi congress in 1920, however, for only truly Catholic unions were admitted [see Maxime Fortin*].

From 1920 Arthur Marois held the office of secretary of the Fédération des Travailleurs du Bâtiment du Canada, which was linked to the Canadian Federation of Labor. Tenacious and determined, he remained faithful to his principles: a purely Canadian trade unionism that was open to workers of every religious denomination and that separated religion from union activity.

Jacques Rouillard

AC, Québec, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Roch (Québec), 24 oct. 1921. ANQ-Q, CE301-S96, 1er nov. 1872, 1er févr. 1892. Arch. de l’Univ. Laval (Québec), P212 (fonds Alfred Charpentier), 1/1 (corr. avec Arthur Marois). Le Bulletin mensuel du travail (Québec), 1er sept. 1900. Le Soleil, 27 juin 1928. Alfred Charpentier, Ma conversion au syndicalisme catholique (Montréal, 1946); “Malheureuse aventure d’une ex-‘Union canadienne,’” in Programme-souvenir; fête du travail des syndicats catholiques nationaux (Montréal, 1930), 10–23. Jacques Rouillard, Les syndicats nationaux au Québec, de 1900 à 1930 (Québec, 1979).

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Cite This Article

Jacques Rouillard, “MAROIS, ARTHUR,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marois_arthur_15E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marois_arthur_15E.html
Author of Article:   Jacques Rouillard
Title of Article:   MAROIS, ARTHUR
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   May 25, 2024