Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 23 > Page 33 - The Coming of the Trade Union Act (1937)

Page 33 - The Coming of the Trade Union Act (1937)

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1979/8/1 (259 reads)

The Coming of theTrade Union Act (1937) In Issue 22 of CAPE BRETON'S MAGAZINE, we told a story of the 1923 strike in steel, and "tTie miners' sympathy strike. The strike was broken when John L. Lewis forced the miners back to work, leaving the penniless steelworkers helpless and with no other "choice but to go back to work themselves, those that could get back on the plant. Then the management of the steel plant set up the Plant Council (also known as the Bischoff Plan, named after a BESCO manager at the steel plant) to head off further organizingT" In Issue 22 Bernie Galloway made it clear that the jPlant Council had no strength to help the steelworkers with their real problems • such as low wages and long hours • and Emerson Campbell told us that "what you got in concessions you lost m wages." He made it clear that "if the workers are going to get anywhere they've got to fight for it.'' The Plant Council was the closest thing the steelworkers knew of a union for the next thirteen years (1923 to 1937). And when they did finally achieve recognition of a union of their own, that recognition came via machinery won m a different kind of fight from what everyone had expected. The machinery was won politically, using the threat of the workers' vote at the polls. The machinery was the Trade Union Act of 1937. legis? lation which said that a company cannot arbitrarily ignore the existence of a workers' union. It was the first Trade Union Act adopted by any Canadian province. '/Je talked with George MacEachern, who with Carl Neville and Dan MacKay researched and drafted the Trade Union Act (Bill 92, An Act Respecting the Rights of Employees to Organize). George MacEachern; We got an independent union going (Independent Steelworkers' Un? ion of N.S.). The guide was given to those of us WHO were militant by the Communist International. Their advice was that in plants where there was a plant council, militants were to join the plant council and use it to build a union. And this was done pretty generally. When I got on the plant, and the election for plant council came up, I ran. And mind you, the workers generally knew what the plant council was. They had no illusions about it at all. In some departments the boss had to go around and ask the men to vote, you know, because they knew it was a useless bloody thing. So I got on the plant council and started to raise issues. Tried to get blacklisted men back on the plant, but I couldn't. So then we raised the wage question with Sir Newton Moore, he was president of the corporation. And he told us that it wasn't a matter of more wages but how long they could afford to pay the 28 cents an hour they were then paying, and that we better be careful because there was talk in the board of directors about moving the plant to Three Rivers, Quebec. And on like this. And when we left that meeting I managed to corral 3 or ' of the plant councillors. I said, "Are you prepared to go back and tell the workers that the situation is hopeless?" "What else can we tell them?" "Well, you can tell them that there's hope, but that- you can't get it with just discussion with the boss." So I invited them up to the house. Four came. We chewed the thing over. We decided all we could do was go out and ask the men flat out, would they support a union. And if they would, we'd build a union for them, give leader? ship. And we'd meet the next Thursday night at my house. And the next Thursday only one fellow arrived • his name was Har? ry Davis, a Newfoundlander. Harry and I waited till 9 o'clock. No sign of anybody else. What are we going to do? We'll try it ourselves. So we decided that Harry would act as president, I would act as secretary. Next day I took the day off and went out to Glace Bay to get union cards and dues stamps printed at Brodie's. Get minute books, financial books, call a meeting. And we did, and we got a pretty good turn? out. 50 or 60 came. That was encouraging. Of course on the percentage basis that wouldn't be big. But according to our ex? pectations it was big. And we decidea to continue organizing. If we had more exper? ience I guess we would have put in wage demands and rallied the workers around a set of demands. But of course we weren't experienced. And on the day our next meet? ing was held, the plant council was called in and given a 10 per cent increase in wages • after Sir Newton Moore telling us
Cape Breton's Magazine
  View this article in PDF format Print article

Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to the PDF version of this content. Click here to download and install the Acrobat plugin
Acrobat Reader Download