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Unrest in British Columbia
History of Unions in Canada
- Labour unions have existed in Canada since the early 1800s.
There is a record of skilled tradesmen in the Maritimes
having a union organization during the War of 1812.
- Canadian unionism had early ties with Britain. Tradesmen
who came from Britain brought traditions of the British
trade union movement, and many British unions had branches
in Canada. Canadian unionism ties with the United States
eventually replaced those with Britain.
- A key development in the growth of unionism came in 1872
when printers in Toronto went on strike for a nine-hour-day.
Union activity was illegal at the time, and many prominent
labour leaders were arrested. Mass protests ensued, resulting
in the dropping of charges and the legalization of union
- The first national labour organization was formed in 1873
at a national convention in Toronto. The organization later
became the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada in 1883,
a forerunner of the present Canadian
- The early 1900s saw massive escalations in labour activity
as workers demanded universal eight-hour days, union recognition
and better wages. Between 1919 and 1920 there were over
1500 strikes involving an estimated 375,000 workers. The
largest of these was the Winnipeg
General Strike of 1919, which involved over 25,000
Winnipeg workers. The government used strike breakers,
police and army to violently end the strike.
- The early 1900s also saw the development of labour politics.
In 1921 the Communist
Party of Canada was founded, and in 1932 the Co-operative
Commonwealth Federation was created. Both parties supported
worker rights and were critical of capitalism. The Co-operative
Commonwealth Federation eventually became the New
- Collective bargaining was first recognized in 1937, following
a strike by the United Auto
Workers at the General Motors' plant in Oshawa, Ontario.
- Justice Ivan Rand issued a landmark legal decision following
a strike in Windsor, Ontario, involving 17,000 Ford workers.
He granted the union the compulsory check-off of union
dues. Rand ruled that all
workers in a bargaining unit benefit from a union-negotiated
contract. Therefore, he reasoned they must pay union dues,
although they do not have to join the union.
- The post-World War II era also saw an increased pattern of
unionization in the public service. Teachers, nurses, social
workers, professors, and cultural workers (those employed
in museums, orchestras, and art galleries) all sought private-sector
collective bargaining rights.
- In the 1970s the federal government came under intense pressures
to curtail labour cost and inflation. In 1975, the Liberal
government under Prime Minister Trudeau introduced mandatory
price and wage controls. Under the new law, wages increases
were monitored and those ruled to be unacceptably high
were rolled back by the government.
- Pressures on unions continued into the 1980s and 90s. Private
sector unions faced plant closures in many manufacturing
industries and demands to reduce wages and increase productivity.
Public sector unions came under attack by federal and provincial
governments as they attempted to reduce spending, reduce
taxes and balance budgets. Legislation was introduced in
many jurisdictions reversing union collective bargaining
rights, and many jobs were lost to contractors.
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