Rebel Youth

1960s Labour Unrest, Young Workers, and New Leftists in English Canada

Reviewed by Laina Hughes

August 23, 2015

Peace, love, and … labour? Perhaps not as sexy a description as we usually see for the 1960s and 1970s, but Ian Milligan’s Rebel Youth argues that it was the labour class, above all else, that drove youth to participate in civil upheaval in the mid-twentieth century.

Dense but digestible, Rebel Youth describes a Canada where the majority of the population was under the age of twenty-five and went straight to work after high school. Radical uprisings may have started in universities, but upheaval would not have been possible without the labour class’s anti-authoritarian gusto.

Milligan, an assistant professor of Canadian and digital history at the University of Waterloo, notes that much of his research was based on interviews and that the history of this era is an oral one. Written resources, he says, are few and far between. If it’s tempting to question his argument as one founded solely in a white, male, middle-class mindset — was this not the defining decade of feminism, of civil rights? — Milligan is quick to acknowledge these shortcomings. Many of his interview subjects were men, and it was mostly men who attended university in Canada at that time.

Milligan nonetheless argues that the protest movement of that era would not have been possible without the convergence of various currents. In this book, he weaves a compelling take on activism during a transformative period of Canada’s history.

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