Chapter 4 - The Recognition
| Ford blockade, 1945. |
Courtesy of National Archives, C107288
Do we get dressed up when we go in to see the boss or do we go in just the way we are in the factory?
- Shop committee member, Brantford
All day long, whether rain or shine,
She's a part of the assembly line,
She's making history, working for victory,
Rosie - the Riveter.
- "Rosie the Riveter," Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb
... the "Rand remedy" [made] the Ford walkout of 1945 the most important post-war strike in Canada.
- David Moulton
The war economy between 1939 and 1945 provided the Canadian UAW with the opportunity to build on its earlier but very fragile success and establish the membership base which would define the UAW for the next four decades. This base included workers at the Big Three, at major independent parts companies, in aerospace, and in agricultural implements. In addition to the numbers, the specific responses of Canadian workers to this period had a significant impact on the emerging character of the union.
At first, the war, like most wars, tended to unite people around a common enemy and a collective goal. This tendency left workers hesitant to take contrary positions, and it legitimized pressures to keep production rolling. But as the war dragged on, the nature of the changes raised new questions about the organization of production in our society, about the everyday inequality that contradicted the call to a common purpose, about the subordinate role of workers relative to their employers in a country fighting for democracy, and - as women entered the workforce in such large numbers - about the role of women in the workplace and in society.
The War Ends the Depression
The war did something depression-era capitalism couldn't do: it provided jobs. Bankers stopped warning about the deficit, and corporate executives toned down their insistence that government stay out of the economy. Idle factories became busy, as the number of workers doubled in manufacturing and quadrupled in transportation equipment. Governments and companies even introduced child-care services to attract women into the workforce. The government's own Bank of Canada, along with Victory Bonds, financed a substantial portion of savings. (The bonds, which were sold by the government, carried lower interest but appealed to people's patriotism.) These options limited the dependence on foreign borrowing. Crown corporations were established to guarantee key supplies, such as oil, and vital materials, such as rubber. And a growing civil service introduced a measure of planning by way of the conversion to military production, partially regulated prices, and exchange controls limiting the export of capital as well as unnecessary imports.
None of these initiatives, it must be emphasized, undermined the basic power of those who owned industry and finance. In fact, by the end of the war, the productive capacity of Canadian business had been dramatically expanded, and profits were skyrocketing. This development wasn't solely the result of the strong and steady growth. The government had subsidized retooling, expansions, and new plants for military use. And as the war came to an end, the government subsidized the reconversion of these productive facilities to civilian use. Flourishing crown corporations were sold or virtually given to the private sector. Canada emerged from the war with sizable potential as a manufacturing nation, though the private sector was much more integrated with the United States in terms of ownership and trade.
Nor did the wartime planning regulate the economy to address the needs of working people. The strong economy and tight labour markets clearly strengthened labour's position. But the government counteracted with imposed delays on the right to strike, limits on picketing, and wage controls in 1940 which froze wages at their 1926-29 levels. In 1942, eighty per cent of manufacturing was involved in war production. Limits were placed on workers in war industries, preventing them from leaving their jobs for work elsewhere. And even when, after a period of both intense worker militancy and political gains, the government finally introduced legislation supporting unionization in early 1944, it made strikes against wage controls illegal and subject to stiff fines.
During the depression, when business was taking advantage of the large numbers of unemployed and desperate workers, one-sided labour legislation clearly presented a barrier for unions. However, the significance of such legislation declined with the strong wartime economy and tight labour market. The new conditions empowered any determined workers to establish their unions irrespective of, or at least in spite of, the absence of legislative support. Canadian labour, like business, came out of the war stronger. In 1939, union membership in Canada was at 356,000 (seventeen per cent of the workforce). By the end of the war it had more than doubled to over 724,000 (twenty-five per cent of the workforce). At the end of the thirties, the fate of the Canadian section of the UAW was uncertain: its prewar membership was down to 5,000. By the end of the war, membership had soared to almost 50,000.
Getting a Voice
The outbreak of war didn't immediately lead to rapid union growth. The drive to unionization was delayed by the shock of the war, the sense of relief at the availability of jobs, the lag in actual conversion to military production, and the intimidation of the state. In the fall of 1941, GM workers at McKinnon in St. Catharines went on strike for wage parity with Oshawa and learned first-hand about the rigidity of wartime controls. Uncertain about its own strength when the strike began and suddenly confronted with armed RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers, the union nevertheless survived the seventeen-day strike and made modest wage gains.
The turning point in the new drive to unionization again took place in the United States; this time at Ford. Unlike GM and Chrysler, Ford had survived the thirties without having to acknowledge the UAW. The company entered the forties confident that the situation would not change. In March, 1941, Henry Ford was quoted in the Toronto Star as declaring: "In my opinion the unions are losing ground and haven't a leg to stand on."
As long as Ford resisted, other major companies harboured hopes of rolling back the tide of unionism. For decades, Ford had led in the fight to keep workers in their place, depending in turn on paternalism, wage incentives, and threats. The company even monitored and spied on workers' personal lives, checking to see ifthey fulfilled Ford's "moral" standards. Ford tried to buy non-union subservience by paying higher wages (though only as long as the company's monopoly on assembly line development assured a flood of profits). Later, Ford hired an internal army of organized gangsters to monitor, spy on, and intimidate workers. Breaking the anti-union bastion at Ford was therefore crucial not only because of the new union members it would bring, but also because of the enormous symbolic weight a victory at Ford would carry.
|As part of mobilizing UAW members to fight Ford, executive board member Walter Reuther arranged for the distribution of 200,000 copies of Upton Sinclair's working-class novel The Flivver King.|
Although the U.S. hadn't yet entered the war, its economy was already booming, and conversion plans were well underway. Ford found itself unable to hold out given the profitable opportunities it was missing. In April, 1941, workers went on strike for eight days, bringing in a massive cavalcade of cars to surround the sprawling River Rouge complex outside of Detroit - and the Ford workers won. Within a short month of Henry Ford's dismissal of the union as ineffectual, the company recognized the UAW. The American UAW had therefore "locked up" the Big Three and clearly established its permanence. Furthermore, the Ford agreement included union security, which had eluded the union at GM and Chrysler; Ford would deduct dues from workers' paycheques and send them directly to the union.
The Windsor workers had been trying to obtain a foothold at Ford since the twenties, and these attempts intensified, though without any immediate results, after the 1937 victory in Oshawa. The success across the river again inspired Canadians, as it did in 1937, to take hold of the new possibilities. This time, the workers had the advantage of war-time production demands and proximity. Skilled workers from Windsor, with experience in British trade unionism, had been meeting with the River Rouge workers even before the U.S. strike. Now they intensified their efforts in Windsor. Furthermore, the Americans were now sufficiently established to offer some material support.
|In 1941 at Kirkland Lake where Mine Mill had an organizing drive, a conciliation board ruled in favour of a vote so that workers could decide whether or not to join the union. The company refused to allow a vote and the government refused to intervene, claiming "neutrality." The workers went on strike, and the government demonstrated its neutrality in the form of the police marching into town to protect scabs. Although the strike lost, many future activists and leaders emerged from the protest and the government response reinforced the labour movement's commitment to win union recognition.|
-Courtesy of National Archives, C107290.
In the fall of 1941, when Ford tried to exclude the Canadian UAW from the ballot by limiting unionization to a vote in favour of or against a company union, Canadian director George Burt and UAW president R.J. Thomas visited Ford headquarters. River Rouge was already in some turmoil, and Burt and Thomas threatened further workplace disruptions at River Rouge to stop Ford from shipping components for military vehicles to Windsor. Later, when Ford began flooding the air waves with the company message and no radio station in Ford-dominated Windsor would sell the union air time, the River Rouge local (Local 600) bought time on Detroit radio, allowing Burt to beam his message back across the river. With the help of their American brothers and sisters, the Canadian workers showed that the union could, quite literally, give the workers a voice.
The threat of parts shortages quickly got the attention of and a reaction from the federal government. Canada had entered the war before the Americans. Ford, one of the first to fully convert to military production, was already the leading producer of military vehicles. The government was concerned about its war orders and used its wartime legislation (it could place plants involved in war production under a government-appointed trustee) to pressure Ford into accepting a prompt representational vote.
Ford naturally exploited its access to every worker in the plant. But more significant, the company offered concessions to the workers ifthey rejected the UAW. Ford's promises went beyond the benefits of the UAW victory in Oshawa. The company offer matched GM in seniority rights, but offered a better deal in both wages and union structure. Ford promised, for example, to recognize not only a bargaining committee but also a steward system to handle grievances. But the Ford workers in Windsor had reached an irreversible stage in union consciousness and confidence. They had done the solid groundwork, organizing inside and outside the plant. A public meeting at Windsor's former Capital Theatre brought 2,000 workers together. Workers could now discuss the union without fear of company reprisal, and the union had won them the right to vote and a chance to be heard. The Ford workers were ready to launch the union. In November, 1941, they voted in favour of the UAW by a margin of three to two (6,833 to 4,455).
By January, 1942, the workers had an agreement. Because of the Americans' later entry into the war, the UAW in the U.S. didn't have to confront wage and price controls at that time. Wages at Ford U.S. had therefore moved ahead of those at Ford's Windsor plant. The Canadian agreement did not close that gap. It confirmed Ford's North American practice of a standard forty-hour week and also introduced companywide seniority for layoffs and recall, a first amongst the Big Three in all of North America. And when long-term lay-offs did occur, the agreement - consistent with both the spirit of solidarity that existed at the time and the company's own preferences - required an initial stage of a four-day, thirty-two-hour week to limit the number of lay-offs. But most important, a major company had finally agreed to recognize the UAW.
|Excerpt from first UAW-Ford Agreement in Canada (Local 200), 15 January 1942:|
8.(n)ifthere be a general reduction in the number of employees in the Windsor plants the following procedures shall apply:
First - Probationary employees shall be the first to be laid off.
Second - As far as reasonably practicable the hours of work will be reduced to thirty-two hours per week and thereafter layoffs shall take place according to seniority.
The negative side of the agreement was that Ford still denied Canadian workers the crucial breakthrough it had accepted in the United States: union security and the dues check-off. Moreover, the achievement of union recognition at Ford did not trigger a general pattern for the Canadian labour movement. Companies generally continued to fight the labour movement even where a union had the clear support of the majority of the membership, and the government endorsed this resistance directly and indirectly. Within the Canadian UAW, however, union recognition quickly spread throughout southern Ontario.
Windsor workers had tried to organize Chrysler in 1938, after the momentum of the mid-thirties had begun to fade. The walk-out by a small group of activists wasn't supported, and the organizing drive petered out. In 1940, before the organizing momentum of the war period had begun, the Chrysler workers tried again. After a company lock-out, forty-seven workers - including UAW director George Burt - were arrested for interfering with the production of war materials while picketing across the street from the plant. This latest attempt to organize also failed, though an intensive labour lobby subsequently changed the law on picketing. Buoyed by the Ford victory, the 3,600 Chrysler workers in Windsor finally won. In April, 1942, they voted four to one (2,856 to 707) in favour of the union just as car production was being suspended for the duration of the war.
| Workers at Motor Products, manufacturer of auto components, c. 1938. (In 1942, workers walked out to gain union recognition and got a government supervised vote, which they won.) . |
-Courtesy of CAW Archives, Port Elgin
By the end of 1943, the Canadian UAW had organized the main component plants in Windsor and won a narrow victory amongst the Ford office workers. Its agreements in total covered approximately 40,000 workers. The union had spread beyond Oshawa-St. Catharines-Windsor, to Amherstburg, Tilbury, Wallaceburg, Simcoe, Welland, Belleville, Sarnia, Brantford and Toronto.
The slow rate of unionization in the reactionary Toronto area had been reversed with the organization of 3,500 workers at de Havilland Aircraft and 6,000 workers in Toronto and Brantford at Massey-Ferguson (which manufactures farm equipment). Both previously had company unions. The fact that these units represented an expansion outside auto and therefore broadened the base of the union gave them an additional importance.
|At one point, the Chrysler workers thought they had found a loophole in the law that allowed picketing ifthe picketers weren't on foot. They rented horses. The horses, one of the workers later joked, are still in jail.|
In Canada, one unionized worker in three participated in a work stoppage in 1942-43. This number was unprecedented in Canadian history and, for the first time, there were proportionately more strikes in Canada than in the United States. In the Canadian UAW, almost half of all workers participated in a stoppage in these two years.
|A UAW organizing leaflet at de Havilland Aircraft argued that: "The only opportunity de Havilland workers have of bettering their wages=through comparison with the auto industry, since their wages are now as high as any paid in Canadian aircraft plants."
Unionization did raise wages significantly, but neither was auto standing still. In the early seventies, this demand for catch-up with auto turned out to be a crucial aspect of worker militancy in the Ontario aerospace industry.
"A Woman's Place Is..."
Within the trade union movement itself, the war brought to the fore a contradiction that, while not new, could no longer be ignored. The CIO and industrial unionism had crusaded for the equality of all workers, and working women, especially in the clothing industry, joined unions in large numbers. But wages in the sectors that employed women were low while in the new sectors such as auto, companies rarely hired women. Even when women got jobs in auto, their wages were about two-thirds of men's (or lower), and management restricted women to separate seniority lists.
At GM, in the thirties, the Oshawa and St. Catharines plants each employed over 200 women. In addition, women reps sat on the bargaining committee, but they generally represented women who worked in segregated departments such as the sewing room. The original GM agreement of 1937 included a clause reading: "In any department in which both men and women are employed they should be divided into separate non-interchangeable occupational groups."
Soon after that agreement, when the economy slowed down and lay-offs returned, the union argued that positions should be found in other departments for those women with highest seniority. Although some inequities were later corrected, GM's Oshawa plant manager replied, at a meeting on 24 September 1937, that GM would unilaterally decide how many women to hire, adding that "the management did not favour mixing male and female 'help' in a department."
As young men left for the battlefield and the economy geared itself to the overseas war needs, Canada moved from unemployment to a situation where, by 1942, companies were competing for workers. For many companies and the government, women were the answer. Rather than attracting scarce workers with higher wages or better conditions, the companies could bring a new pool of labour into the factories and segregate these women workers in certain departments. Confident that the position offered to women - temporary, new to the labour market, separated from experienced union activists - would limit the development of their trade union consciousness and make them easier to control, the companies paid them lower wages.
|McKinnon recruiting poster for women during the war. |
-Courtesy of CAW Local 199 Collection.
In Oshawa, the number of women workers doubled (to 400); in St. Catharines, over one-quarter of the workforce was now women (1,200 of 4,500); at de Havilland, women (1,775) represented over half the workforce. In the auto industry before the war, only one worker in fourteen was female; this number more than doubled by 1943. In aerospace, the number of women was previously negligible; it rose to better than one in five workers (though they were still concentrated in certain lines of work). In agricultural implements, the proportion of women quadrupled from about five per cent to almost twenty per cent.
With popular culture supporting the inclusion of women in the workforce and with women participating in production, many thought that prevailing stereotypes of the role of women might change. After all, magazines now glorified the woman who left her home to produce for the war, popular songs such as "Rosie-the-Riveter" paid tribute to her, governments and companies not only endorsed but actually provided child-care services, and women showed that they were capable of heavy manufacturing and skilled work.
In spite of the apparent social support for women entering the workforce, their status remained inferior. The gendered division that the auto majors enforced was effective. ifwomen had, for example, worked on the assembly line, doing the same work as men, the pressures from both the women and their fellow male unionists might have led to wage parity. But the company managed to avoid this outcome.
|Woman involved in war production, GM Oshawa. |
--Courtesy of CAW Collection.
In motor vehicle assembly, employment increased by about 8,400 workers between 1939 and the wartime peak of 1942-43; but only 130 of these new workers, less than two per cent, were women. Even though the number of workers in the assembly sector increased by two-thirds between 1929 and 1949, the number of women - low as it was to start with - actually fell. Women were hired in certain sections of the parts sector, in traditional women's departments within the auto majors, or temporary divisions expected to disappear after the war. General Motors, for example, created a special Victory Shift for women which was to end when victory was achieved.
Some definite changes in attitude occurred. The Detroit office of the UAW established a Women's Bureau. With no automatic dues check-off, the union collected dues on an individual voluntary basis; this increased pressures to set out demands that would gain the support of women. Amalgamated locals such as Local 195 in Windsor and Local 397 in Brantford, which represented women in auto parts and miscellaneous manufacturing, successfully negotiated equal pay for equal work. Within the Big Three, Local 199 in St. Catharines was one of a number of locals who regularly raised the issue at the council, warning in June, 1942, that "unless the union=able to give leadership to the struggle for equal pay for equal work we will remain weak among the women."
The first strike of Ford Canada workers centred around the concern that Ford would replace men with lower-paid women. The union's demand was not to oppose the hiring of women, but to insist that they earn the same wages. Ford Canada's eventual response was that hiring women was worthwhile only ifthey were cheaper, and it refused to hire women at its assembly plants until 1977. Although the union leadership did raise the issue of equal pay with the broader public, the union did not launch a campaign to challenge Ford when it stopped hiring women in Canada. In the U.S., on the other hand, Ford was a major employer of women. This discrepancy may have stemmed from the differing structures of the company in the U.S. and in Canada. Whereas the Canadian operations were heavily weighted to assembly, the U.S. operations included an extensive parts manufacturing sector that could absorb lower-paid women workers.
|The federal government had a nation-wide network of nurseries to "help working mothers in all industrial districts." Women not in the workforce provided voluntary assistance of a few hours per week to ease the staff pressures. |
--Courtesy of CAW Local 199 Collection.
After the war, many of these women, especially those who were married, were quite effectively returned to the kitchen. This trend was a matter of both company and government policy, reflected not only in lay-off policy but also in the closing of the extensive child-care centres that had been set up during the war. Yet women's return to the home also had a wide base of support amongst male and even female workers. There were isolated examples of resistance on the part of women, but as Pam Sugiman commented in Labour's Dilemma, her study of women in the Canadian UAW, the more common occurrence in the immediate postwar period was that "Married women disappeared as quietly and unassumingly as they had appeared in the auto plants."
Women's exposure to the world of work during the war did, however, have some lasting impact. In the decades after the war, the proportion of women in the workforce resumed a steady climb. Many of the married women who had entered the workforce in the war years and then returned to the home went back to work after their children grew up, influenced in part by their wartime experience. Furthermore, later studies indicated that women with wartime work experience passed on to their daughters attitudes that were more sympathetic to women's role in the workforce.
The story of women in the workforce during and after the war years contrasts in significant ways with the experience of black workers in the United States. The labour shortage and the relatively high wages in Detroit had attracted southern whites and blacks to Detroit. Racism against blacks was intense in spite of efforts by the UAW leadership to limit it: 100,000 person-days of wildcats occurred when whites (often but not always from the South) refused to work alongside blacks. The racism culminated in the horror of the Detroit race riots in the summer of 1943, when thirty-four people were killed. Yet, after the war, blacks, unlike women, remained a significant part of the auto workforce.
The difference, it seems, was that the role of blacks as paid workers wasn't generally challenged; the fight was over some white workers insisting that blacks be segregated. With women, on the other hand, it was their role as permanent paid workers that was not yet accepted. The truth was that the equality of women in the workplace could not be achieved unless the union addressed the broader role of women in the family and in society. As long as it was generally assumed that the role of women was primarily in the home, their role in the war would be viewed as temporary regardless of the rhetoric. Men might join in the fight for equal pay because they recognized this fight as being in their own self-interest; women accepting lower pay would be a competitive threat to their own jobs. But not so with seniority. Fewer workers with full seniority rights means more security for those with full rights (at least in the short run when solidarity is an issue).
A rare photo of black women in the early auto industry. These women are making parts in a St. Catharines components plant, 1944.
-- Courtesy of Toronto Telegram collection at York University.
Indicative of these assumptions about the place of women in society was the role of the women's auxiliaries, organizations of wives of autoworkers established to assist the men in their struggles. The auxiliary in Oshawa, which became the largest such group in either Canada or the United States, was established before the 1937 strike began. These auxiliaries quickly spread throughout the union. They supplied coffee and sandwiches during strikes and sometimes joined the picket lines. They evolved into a social club for the participating women, who organized recreational and charity work.
But these women also saw themselves in broader political terms. In many locations - Oshawa is one example - they supplemented the work of the union by mobilizing within the community and sometimes nationally for better housing, rent controls, and national medicare. They supported key labour struggles outside the UAW, participated in the peace movement in the sixties, and addressed international issues.
Yet the auxiliaries and the working women in the UAW seemed to inhabit completely different worlds. Few links were established. As the participation of women in the workforce later grew, and as a feminist consciousness developed in the seventies and eighties, the membership of the auxiliaries correspondingly declined, especially amongst younger women.
Little research has been done on black workers within the Canadian auto industry. There=little record of the kind of violently racist response that occurred in Detroit during the war, but that was fundamentally related to the small numbers of blacks then in Canada and the fact that social breakthrough into well-paying auto jobs hadn't yet started.
The main settlements of Canadian blacks were in Nova Scotia, where blacks came as part of the "loyalists" leaving the United States after the American revolution. While these settlements were far from the Ontario-based auto industry, GM recruited a few blacks from Nova Scotia along with a larger number from Toronto in the late thirties. They were hired in the St. Catharines foundry where the work was the hardest, dirtiest and most damaging to health. White workers generally avoided these jobs but those who had no choice regularly collapsed from the heat. Part of the rationale for recruiting blacks was the racist view that, being from Africa, they could better stand the heat. By the late forties, some blacks worked in St. Catharines. There were no blacks hired in Oshawa.
Another major settlement for blacks was Amherstburg, an end-point to the underground railway bringing escaped slaves to freedom. Yet even though Amherstburg was so close to Windsor, and even though tens of thousands of blacks were hired in Detroit, Chrysler didn't hire black production workers until after the war. That only changed after they lost a human rights case in 1946, initiated by the Canadian UAW and others in the labour movement and civil rights community. Ford, the largest private employer in Windsor, hired Chinese workers during the war as well as a few blacks. Again this was linked to the foundry and the worst jobs.
When the war ended and lay-offs replaced labour shortages, the prevailing assumption that women's real role was in the home directly led to separate seniority lists. Even the fight for equal pay, as long as it was about equality in the abstract, rather than the pay of workers who were truly equal, would not attract the kind of commitment and mobilization needed to change the existing pay structures. Working women had not yet developed their own self-confidence and were not yet in a position to build on the experiences of the war to transform society's (and their own) view of women's role. They had little or no supportive resources inside or outside the union. The Women's Bureau, for example, was in Detroit and itself had limited resources. Changes occurred, but they came slowly and not before the notion of a broader women's movement was on the agenda.
The No-Strike Pledge
Before the war, equipment was sitting idle and skills and ideas were wasted. Suddenly the war demonstrated that productive capacities and formerly unskilled labour could be transformed to suit virtually any need. The car companies made military vehicles, armoured vehicles, tank hulls, Browning machine guns, naval gun mounts, automatic rifles, engines for the vehicles, and fuselages for airplanes. Ford's Windsor plant was the largest supplier of military vehicles in the British Empire. Massey-Harris manufactured shells and airplane wings. Early on in the war, de Havilland Aircraft, with an allocated workforce but no parts for planes, had the workers make toys and socks. Since war production could not be left to the market, a level of planning was necessary; the government had to closely supervise quality control and the allocation of production to ensure that the right demands were met according to plan. Plant closures couldn't be tolerated.
These accommodations eventually raised a series of questions: ifwe can plan for war, why can't we plan for peace? ifthe needs of war lead to full employment, why can't the peacetime needs of our citizens have the same result? By 1943, after the war clearly shifted in favour of the Allies, people began to think about the postwar world. How do we avoid another depression? How do we apply what we learned during the war to organizing our economy?
People questioned whose interests were being served by the structure of economic decision making and power. In the first days of the war, citizens patiently accepted the government's calls for sacrifices. But the calls for sacrifices also raised the issue of equality of sacrifice, and as the war went on, it became all too clear that wage controls worked much more effectively than price controls. The corporations could be conscripted into enforcing the limits on wages but controls on profits did not seem to work at all, especially after conversion to military production had been successfully implemented.
| It's undemocratic to attempt to call a halt to the free development of organizations of workers in the midst of a total war for freedom. |
- UAW (Canada) brief to the National War Labour Board
When workers asked for legislation forcing companies to negotiate with a worker-elected union, the government retreated behind its refusal to introduce mandatory requirements. Yet, it legislated mandatory wage controls. Unions challenged the inconsistency between fighting for democracy in Europe and denying basic trade union rights at home - such as the right to bargain. The patriotism that had been used to repress workers early in the war later became linked to democratic rights and justice at home.
Central to such debates was the government's request of a no-strike pledge. The war demanded steady production of war supplies and equipment. Although workers overwhelmingly supported the war and were generally very reluctant to interfere with production, they had their own grievances and demands, which had disruptive potential. The governments of both Canada and the United States responded with a call on labour to accept a no-strike pledge, which was eventually supported by wage controls and legislation that delayed or prevented strikes. Given that the industrial unions were still in their formative stages and given the significance of the strike as a weapon for workers, the response of the unions to the no-strike pledge could potentially have a profound effect on union philosophies, attitudes, structures, and internal politics.
|Wartime government poster. |
-Courtesy of National Archives, C87500.
In January, 1942, a month after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the leadership of the CIO met with Roosevelt. The American president offered the CIO affiliates union security in exchange for no-strike pledges. Weekend work without premium pay was also demanded. The unions accepted. A special convention of the UAW in April confirmed the CIO patriotic pledge, formally including the Canadian UAW. But at a subsequent meeting of the Canadian Council, delegates refused to go along with their parent organization. The different responses in the two countries primarily reflected the distinct stages of the two labour movements and the contrasting legislative context each faced.
By the spring of 1941, after the decisive victory at Ford, the UAW had organized all the major auto companies in the U.S. and made major advances in aerospace and agricultural implements. Furthermore, and unlike its Canadian section, the American UAW had already obtained legislative protection. The additional union security offered by the government stipulated that workers who did not opt out within fifteen days of signing a contract would have to stay in the union and pay union dues (by a dues check-off). The government also established special labour boards to deal with any outstanding grievances.
For the American UAW, with its major organizational goals largely achieved, this trade-off offered the chance to consolidate its new structures relatively free of company attempts to destroy them. The favourable political environment that had supported the union in the thirties was quickly fading, and the union felt vulnerable. Moreover, after Pearl Harbour and the appeals to defend American honour and prove that America was "Number One," American patriotism had reached a fever pitch. The union leadership and membership were not immune to the patriotic tide and were also sensitive to the risks of being isolated.
The UAW was walking the fine line between building the union's base and trying to limit the actions of that base. It had developed impressive educational materials and structures; it lobbied for creative national initiatives that would address both the war effort and domestic needs; and some leaders (the Reuthers, and especially Emil Mazey, the militant and popular president of the Briggs plant who was to become secretary-treasurer of the UAW in 1947) were less than enthusiastic in their support of the no-strike pledge. In terms of membership growth, experience seemed to justify the American UAW's acceptance of the no-strike pledge. By late 1943, UAW membership exceeded one million members (one-third more than the membership had fifty years later).
|The number of local educational committees in the UAW grew from seventy-five in 1940 to 240 in 1943. In 1941, the single one-week summer school had under 100 participants; by 1945 there were eight two-week schools for over 1,200 people. The left-dominated UAW educational department also offered regional weekend schools, provided numerous pamphlets, distributed films, used radio extensively, and produced a regular weekly newspaper which included both union news and political analysis, reprints of key speeches, and reviews of relevant books, movies, and musical events. (The paper included a Canadian supplement.)|
Significant sections of the membership were however, increasingly ready to take militant action despite the union's no-strike pledge. These groups included not only those workers opposed to the pledge because of the negative impact on the union, but also many workers who, hired as a result of the war, were new to the industry. While the activists of the thirties had focused on building the union, these new workers voiced other concerns. They were simply frustrated at the wage controls which kept wages far behind inflation, impatient with the company procedures for dealing with (or ignoring) their workplace grievances, and angry at the record profits the corporations were making from the war effort. In 1944, there were more strikes - most of them unauthorized - than in any year in American history, including the sit-down year of 1937; almost half of all union workers participated in a work stoppage that year.
The union's involvement in the no-strike pledge created a potentially dangerous gap between the membership and the leadership. The union was now in the position of disciplining, or at least pressuring, its members to "be more responsible" rather than leading them. The leadership's retreat from the strike weapon and the subsequent emphasis on technical presentations to government boards increasingly shifted the emphasis of the union away from worker mobilization towards centralization and professionalization.
The Canadian and American situations were fundamentally different. Until 1944, late in the war, Canadian workers were never offered legislated union security. During the war, the Canadian Manufacturers' Association (CMA) went so far as to argue that industrial unions be banned and that CIO organizers be jailed. Without effective legislation guaranteeing the right to bargain, the Canadian unions had little difficulty rejecting a formal no-strike pledge. Moreover, since the Canadian CIO unions were still organizing their sectors, their strikes were recognition strikes - the primary demand was for the basic democratic right of representation. Patriotism in this context didn't pressure workers to be more responsible; it challenged the undemocratic nature of the companies and the government.
In Canada, the union's top leaders were therefore actively working with the locals to mobilize and build the union. Since the government was directly involved in limiting wages and strikes, Canadian Council meetings directed attention to lobbying and challenging the government as well as the employers. And so, as the union grew, different relationships than in the U.S. developed between the members and their leadership, and between the union and the government. The Canadians' goal was not radical: they simply wanted the legislation the Americans had already won. Having to fight for it in the special context of a war economy, when the workers had some shop-floor strength, resulted in the development of confidence and independence. That drive extended to the Canadians also taking political action outside the mainstream parties - whether directly through demonstrations and lobbying or by way of a third party.
The different positions on the no-strike pledge taken by the Canadian and American sections of the UAW can't be understood apart from the different positions also taken by the communist trade unionists in each country. In both countries, the communists played a vital role in the development of industrial unionism in the mid-thirties. In addition to their own commitment and organizational skills, they also brought in activists from outside the labour movement, building a unique relationship between intellectuals and workers that developed mutual understanding. At the end of the thirties, communists were part of the alliance - along with social democrats such as the Reuthers and other militants - that fought to keep the union independent, democratic, and based on a strong shop-floor presence. This alliance was responsible for the ousting of Homer Martin in the U.S. and Charles Millard in Canada.
|Wartime poster in Quebec. |
-Courtesy of National Archives, C87504.
When the war started, the CP declared itself to be the organized opposition to the war and claimed that there was no difference between the sides involved in the European conflict. Then, in the summer of 1941, after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the CP abruptly changed its tune, becoming "red, white, and blue." In the United States, not only did the communists endorse the no-strike pledge but they showed their support with a passionate and ultimately self-destructive enthusiasm. The CP referred to striking workers as scabs against the war effort and attacked the UAW leadership for not being aggressive enough in disciplining workers. It even went beyond the no-strike pledge, calling for incentive pay to increase productivity. The attempt to reinstate the piece-rate system, which workers had fought so hard to eliminate, turned out to be political suicide.
To top it off, the leadership of the American CP turned to American exceptionalism - arguing that class conflict no longer applied to the United States and that cooperation with business and government should continue even after the war. This latter change in direction led to a split in the American CP, the ouster of its leader, and a temporary discontinuance of the party.
The patriotic zeal of the CP and its move to the right did, it seems, appeal to some American workers. But these factors inevitably weakened and destroyed the credibility the CP had amongst activists. Their vision of building a new society might have kept the communists themselves going, but other activists were primarily interested not in their philosophy but in their militant daily actions. Now the communists were undercutting their own reputation for militancy. As it turned out, the CP's new-found and extreme Americanism didn't prevent it from being red-baited, but it did undermine the party as a force in the UAW before McCarthyism and the cold war finished it off.
The Canadian CP, tied to the Soviet CP rather than the American CP, did not show the same enthusiasm for a new era of cooperation with employers as its American counterpart. It did support the no-strike pledge, and some communist trade unionists, such as those at Massey-Harris, followed suit. But unlike those in the U.S., many communist trade unionists in Canada, especially in the UAW, refused to follow the party line. This resistance reflected, in part, the more general opposition within Canada to such a pledge when the trade union rights had not been recognized. It also reflected the unique position of communists within the Canadian UAW.
Alone amongst virtually all major labour unions in North America, the CP in the UAW was neither marginal nor dominant. It was neither so weak that it could be kicked out nor so in control that the Canadian UAW could be isolated as a "red" union. In the Canadian UAW there was a close working relationship between communists, leftist members of the CCF, and unaffiliated militants. And there was a relative balance between these groups and right-wing CCF members and anti-communists. That alliance and balance changed how the communists operated within the union; they refused to risk their effective relationships by following the party line. In addition, this dynamic preserved an organized and credible left in the union which affected the future UAW culture in Canada.
George Burt, the director of the UAW in Canada, reflected that balance. He was often criticized for drifting with the wind; he supported the left when it was the dominant faction in the union during the war and shifted towards the Reuther supporters when they became ascendant. But this weakness in choosing sides was also, from the perspective of the union's future, a strength. Burt avoided factional infighting, and, without preventing ongoing disagreements and debates about direction, he concentrated the union's efforts on fighting common enemies, building the membership, and strengthening the organization.
Alongside the different union responses in the two countries to the no-strike pledge was a more general difference in the changing political mood and directions. Politically, the U.S. shifted to the right, while Canada moved to the centre-left. In the U.S., the Roosevelt New Deal faded, while in Canada the CCF, a new political party with growing links to the labour movement, emerged.
In the U.S., Roosevelt's popularity had begun to fall after the recession that started in late 1937. Within labour, the AFL, fighting back against the CIO, was offering companies sweetheart deals to keep CIO unions out, while opposing progressive labour and social legislation, which the AFL believed would strengthen the CIO. Furthermore, with the outbreak of war and the return to full production, criticism of the corporations had abated in the United States. In Canada, however, both major parties had lost credibility during the depression. The extremely hard line against unions and the disruptions caused by strikes for simple recognition left unions with a measure of public support. In addition, since Canada entered the war before the Americans, Canadians experienced the contradictions of the wartime economy earlier, and resistance to the inequality of sacrifice came sooner.
In the February, 1942, federal by-election, the Conservative Party, with its very conservative leader, Arthur Meighen, lost to the CCF. The shock led the Conservatives to move their platform to the centre-left and absorb into their official name the word "Progressive" from Manitoba's Progressive Party of Farmers, which the new Conservative leader, John Bracken, had led since 1920. By 1943, the CCF's momentum had the establishment truly concerned. The CCF had come within a whisker of winning the 1943 Ontario election and the elected MPPs included the heads of the United Steelworkers of America (Charles Millard) and the International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers (Robert Carlin). In elections in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, the CCF came in second.
A month after the Ontario election, the CCF was in first place in a national poll (twenty-nine per cent compared to twenty-eight per cent for each of the Liberals and Conservatives). In a 1943 by-election in Montreal, the contest was actually between the communists and the CCF, with Fred Rose (CP) defeating David Lewis (CCF) for the seat. With the record strike wave in 1943 and the shift to the left in the popular mood, the Liberal government eventually adopted more progressive legislation such as family allowances and union rights to regain control over the pace of change, undermine the CCF support, and preserve their own future.
Once the government had conceded on the labour legislation, the UAW's Canadian Council resolved, in April, 1944, to limit its strike activity. The union was concerned about jeopardizing the permanence of the legislation as the war drew to a close. Over the next year, strikes were down, and the union turned its attention to a lobbying campaign to "Win the Peace". The emphasis was on implementing economic conversion, changing the labour code that unions would face after the war, achieving the forty-hour week plus extended paid vacations, and developing national social security plans.
This strike truce was, however, short-lived. When the war ended, Canadian workers acted quickly to build on the union recognition that they had won at the government level and to persuade employers to agree to union security. The momentum from that fight carried the union to a major national wage offensive.
The Day Ford Saw Too Many Cars
The fight for union security was the bridge between the end of the war and the beginning of the postwar period. At the height of the war (1943), 1.2 million Canadians were employed in the defence industries. By August, 1945, this workforce had been cut in half, while 50,000 soldiers were returning each month to the civilian workforce. For the UAW and others in the Canadian labour movement, the key threats after the war were the possible return of high unemployment and the concentration of corporate power, which threatened democracy. Labour's response included plans for postwar conversion that involved input from working people and wage increases to replace war demands with consumer demands. A strong labour movement was needed to support these objectives. The most immediate task was therefore to ensure that wartime union gains were irreversible and that unions became a permanent and accepted institution in society.
The first step towards the legitimization of unions was taken earlier, when the union won recognition from companies. The next came in early 1944, when the federal Liberals finally introduced labour legislation modelled on the American Wagner Act. This policy put in place mechanisms to certify unions and pressure the companies to recognize democratically chosen unions and bargain with them in good faith.
The final step in this process of securing trade union stability occurred when companies accepted union security clauses. These clauses had already been negotiated amongst major American companies and enforced by the American government in exchange for the no-strike pledge. But they were rare in Canada. The Canadian confrontation over this issue took place at Ford's Windsor operations - then Canada's largest manufacturing establishment.
One crucial difference between Canadian labour law and the American Wagner Act=that in the U.S., unlike in Canada, workers can negotiate the right to strike over unresolved issues such as health and safety or production standards. This=a potentially powerful weapon in an era of just-in-time production, comparable to the "quickie" sit-downs during the earlier breakthrough of the union.
That Canadian law outlawing strikes during the life of the agreement did not seem to be a major issue at the time, given the prevalence of short-term agreements and the excitement at finally having some legislative rights and protections. But it limited Canadian trade union rights in a way that distinguished Canadian legislation from common practice in other developed countries. In the sixties, it resurfaced as a key issue for the union.
By 1944, Ford employed 14,000 production workers who were anxious to address their grievances, including union security, by going on strike. But they wanted to avoid an all-out strike during the war at this crucial plant. Ford had never fully accepted the union, and there were mini-strikes between 1942 and 1944 over speed-up and the firing of union militants, as well as over equal pay for women. The union had, from the day of its first contract, continued to build its membership and steward body. David Fraser, in his thesis, "Years of Struggle," quotes a local 200 steward: "On Sunday we have a full day frequently holding as many as ten meetings. Wherever possible we have an election of sub-stewards to carry our gospel into the plant and so far we have elected 367 sub-stewards. [Note: sixty-four of these were company-recognized stewards]."
There was little or no concern that establishing union security might undermine the union by freeing stewards from direct contact with each member in collecting dues, and that the steady dues might give the leaders too much autonomy from the members. There was overwhelming consensus in three areas: the financial base provided by of a dues check-off was crucial to the union's survival, the union needed to devote its time to activities other than collecting dues, and the lack of union security constantly provided the company with opportunities to divide the membership and even destroy the union when tough times recurred. The issue was therefore never whether to fight for the dues check-off but how to replace the loss in membership contact.
On 12 September 1945, a few months after the end of the war, the Ford workers in Windsor officially opened postwar labour relations by going on strike. The strike was clearly a test for the Canadian labour movement as a whole, but it also divided the movement along ideological lines. Communists and their allies, now freed from their wartime cautiousness, argued for broadening the struggle to include other locals and other unions; the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL), representing the majority of the industrial affiliates, disagreed with that strategy. Both the CCL and the CCF were also concerned that this strategy might strengthen communist credibility in the movement.
|As they did during the Oshawa strike, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star articulated two poles within the establishment (the Globe reflecting the more dominant tendency):
[It's time] to clear the communists out of the trade unions and [the strike offered] ample excuse for making the cleaning nation-wide.
Those who do not relish socialism should be the first to advocate ... changes in the capitalist system which fall short of complete socialization but make concessions to the growth of socialist sentiment. ... in doing so, capitalists will be preserving the system which they support.
The union had previously been successful in persuading conciliation boards to recommend union security, but the companies generally ignored these nonbinding recommendations. Before and after the strike began, the union - confident that the ruling would be favourable - suggested resolving the issue of union security by way of binding arbitration. The company refused, and the strike dragged on.
After five weeks on the picket line, the union moved to escalate the strike by preventing the non-union security guards from entering the plant. When the police tried to escort them in, thousands of pickets blocked the path. The province looked to the federal government to send in the RCMP, and in anticipation of that assault, one of the most dramatic events in Canadian labour history occurred.
First, the Local 195 leadership, generally led by the left, decided to hold a sympathy strike with the Ford workers. The international executive board of the union did not support this tactic, but the Canadian director, George Burt, supported the Windsor local (though he opposed its call to shut down all Canadian UAW plants). The response of the Local 195 membership was remarkable: the local included workers at GM, two dozen components plants, a few miscellaneous manufacturing firms, and 3,600 members at the Chrysler plant. These workers shut down their own operations and joined the Ford picket lines, and then, at a time when the union provided no strike pay, they demonstrated their solidarity with the Ford workers by refusing to return to work for almost one month.
The sympathy strike began on 5 November 1945, and later that day, the union acted to block any police or RCMP action. The workers chose the same strategy the Ford River Rouge workers had used in the U.S. in 1941: a car blockade. The event was planned by strike leaders with participation from the national office, though carrying it out involved creative and spontaneous intervention by many rank-and-file workers. Roughly 8,000 Ford workers participated in the protest with the help of 6,000 members from Local 195. Workers brought not only their own cars to the Ford plant, but also trapped over 1,000 cars and twenty-five street buses (some estimates ranged up to 1,500 vehicles) that were - willingly or unwillingly - caught in the traffic. The blockade, in which workers defended their strike with products they themselves produced, covered twenty blocks. The union had prevented a violent confrontation, and negotiations resumed.
The strike had strong support within the community. The mayor promised to pay welfare to any family in need (though a conservative majority within the city council soon reversed this pledge). Small business in the community took out a newspaper ad supporting the strikers. Church groups backed the strike, and some even joined picket lines. Especially militant in their support were the young soldiers recently back from the front lines. Rallies took place across the country with the city of Windsor alone bringing 15,000 supporters together. UAW locals in Sarnia and Brantford stopped work in a day of solidarity, and other UAW locals in St. Catharines and Oshawa took votes of support for any action they were called on to do. American locals sent financial support. Workers in Fort William and Ottawa expressed their clear support, as did mineworkers from Nova Scotia, rubberworkers from Kitchener, and steelworkers from Hamilton.
|CBRE poster in support of 1945 Windsor strike. |
-Courtesy of Wayne State Archives.
The leaders of the Canadian labour movement were, however, divided in their attitudes to the strike and in their choices over strategy. Without their united support, a more general national work stoppage wasn't possible. From then on, with the workers' actions having peaked, the strategy of Ford and the provincial and federal governments became simply waiting the strikers out. Towards the end of November, the parties reached a compromise. Ford wasn't ready to give in to union security, but ifthe workers returned to work, Ford would accept the union's original offer of binding arbitration. The committee was divided, but George Burt and most of the committee members favoured ending the strike.
Fifty-two per cent of the members, however, rejected that recommendation. Tom McLean, even though he was Burt's assistant, voiced his strong opposition to the compromise at the membership meeting, and sufficient numbers agreed. He reasoned that the workers couldn't trust an arbitrator and had to win this fight on the picket line. (Others argued that McLean should be fired for his insubordination but Burt never pressed the issue.)
However, with no way to escalate the fight and with the members and the leadership split over ending the strike, the membership had few options. Two weeks later, the union held another vote on essentially the same offer, with the added understanding that the arbitrator would be sympathetic to the union. The committee, including Tom McLean, was satisfied, and of the 6,000 workers who voted, seventy-two per cent were in favour of ending the strike. Justice Ivan Rand was appointed arbitrator, and his decision endorsed full union dues check-off, even for those workers who chose to stay out of the union. Justice Rand essentially argued that since all employees benefited from union struggles and union representation, all workers should pay their share.
This ruling was very rapidly applied to UAW agreements that followed. By the end of 1946, twenty-three other agreements in Windsor, including those at Chrysler, contained the Rand formula, and GM conceded in 1947. It was soon common across all regions and sectors. In the late-seventies, Quebec legislated the Rand formula; in the early eighties, Ontario followed suit.
This strike against the largest employer in Canada, in the critical early period after the war, was a national event, and its outcome was clearly a victory for Canadian workers. But that victory also had an explicit price tag. In exchange for union security, Justice Rand established a new responsibility for the union: policing wildcats. This bargaining followed the pattern of the Roosevelt wartime offer of union security, which included a no-strike pledge, and it expanded on the new Canadian labour legislation which gave workers the right to have a union but prohibited work stoppages during the agreement's term. Rand went one step further; the union's responsibility was not only to oppose wildcat strikes, but also to end them. Workers who went on wildcat strikes could face fines and lose years of seniority in proportion to the length of time they illegally stopped work, while the union could lose its dues check-off for up to six months.
In the United States, although the UAW seemed divided between a communist-supported group and the emerging Reuther group, the traditional left-right identifications lost most of their meaning during the war. One result of the consensus on the no-strike pledge within the United States was that neither group mobilized the growing frustrations of the membership. This lack of cohesiveness became evident at the 1944 special UAW convention on the war, when a significant minority of delegates refused to go along with the proposals of either caucus. It was also expressed more generally in the unauthorized strike wave of 1944. As the war came to an end, the American UAW seemed to be in chaos, and strategy at headquarters was geared to reestablishing a measure of control. Victor Reuther, in an interview cited in Eric Mann's Taking on General Motors, later commented on the thinking behind the first significant postwar strike in the union: "The GM strike was designed to take the ball out of the hands of stewards and committeemen ... and put it in the hands of the national leadership."
|At the end of the war, the two largest locals among all of Canada's unions were CAW locals: Ford Local 200 and the amalgamated local in Windsor, Local 195. (Third was Mine Mill Local 598 in Sudbury. CAW Local 222 in Oshawa - now the largest - was then seventh.)|
The Canadians experienced their own disappointments and divisions during this period, but the leadership's relationship with its members was maintained and strengthened. The concentration of the industry in southern Ontario provided the union with the potential for cohesiveness, but the development of this potential rested on a more profound, worker-built base. The Canadian Council provided the regular forum for collective discussion, debate, and leadership. The actual decisions that were made reflected rank-and-file pressures and led in creating a clearly independent working class orientation. The strong independent locals provided the mechanism for workers to express in-plant demands, challenge "the top" when necessary, develop new leadership, and effectively carry out agreed-on policy. Supported by such structures, and with the resourcefulness, solidarity, and determination of shop-floor (and sometimes office) workers, the union won crucial victories.
While trying to establish itself during one social crisis, the depression, the UAW was confronted by another, World War II. The depression made organizing difficult because, for most of the period, the threat of disrupting production carried very little weight since most of the economy was already down. In contrast, the war made organizing difficult because the threat of disrupting production, and therefore the war effort, carried so much weight that governments placed severe limits on strikes and walk-outs.
The Canadian section of the UAW entered the war uncertain and lagging behind its American counterpart in numbers, strength, supportive legislation, and social programs. It emerged as the largest union in Canada, with a base in key industrial sectors spread across the communities of southern Ontario. Along with the rest of Canadian labour, the union essentially caught up to the New Deal reforms won earlier in the United States. While these reforms came later to the Canadians, they also provided a momentum heading into the postwar period that the Americans had lost.
The war and its aftermath established union recognition for the Canadian UAW from both the state, through the legislation of collective bargaining rights, and employers, through union security clauses won by direct action. In spite of internal conflicts, the struggles and mobilizations that led to this achievement left the Canadian UAW relatively healthy and confident as it prepared to address the next stage of its development. Having established its existence, and with the war over, what kind of union would the Canadian UAW become?