Saturday, 8 December 2012

Canadian Labour History Timeline

While hardly a year goes by without important developments occurring in the Canadian labour movement, some years carry with them developments so profound as to have permanently reshaped the history of the labour movement. Listed below are some of the events that brought those very developments.

Conciliation Act. This marks the first legal framework for federal government intervention in labour disputes. The Act both established the Department of Labour and empowered the government to investigate any dispute and meet with the parties. The process established was non-binding and, in general, proved to be ineffective.


Industrial Disputes Investigations Act is enacted. In order to respond to a series of acrimonious strikes, the IDIA established tripartite conciliation boards that were mandatory for public utilities. These conciliation boards were also available to other sectors, but were voluntary. Industrial action was prohibited while a board investigation was ongoing. The framework was unable to gain legitimacy among employer and unions.


The International Labour Organization (ILO) is founded. Formed as part of the League of Nations, the ILO - an international tripartite organization (jointly run by employers, unions and states) - had a mandate to promote international labour standards.

Also occurring in 1919 was the Winnipeg General Strike. Soldiers facing unemployment, poverty and poor economic conditions upon their return home from WWI led to a great deal of worker unrest and militancy across Canada. General strikes were held in many cities and culminated in the Winnipeg General Strike. Police and military were used to put down the strikes with violent force. 


The Great Depression leads to substantial labour unrest. Workers’ movements, such as the Workers’ Unity League, broaden to include the unemployed.


In the U.S., the Wagner Act is enacted. Officially titled the National Labor Relations Act, it was a response in the U.S. to worker unrest due to the Depression. It established the modern labour relations legal framework, often called“Wagnerism”, by formalizing certification, restricting employer interference and creating the National Labor Relations Board.


Occurrence of Privy Council Order 1003, which was a wartime federal act that loosely duplicated the U.S. Wagner Act, establishing a modern labour relations regime for Canada. Following the war it was replaced by the federal Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act in 1948. Provinces later established their own, largely parallel, legislation.


Windsor Ford Plant Strike. A 99-day strike settled by an arbitration decision by Justice Ivan C. Rand, which created the “Rand Formula”, where stipulates that since all workers benefit from unions, union dues are to be automatically deducted from all workers’ paycheques to support union representation.


The 1950's saw rapid expansion of trade unions in the private sector. Under the construct of Wagnerism, private sector unionism expanded and grew as the economy prospered. Much of the organizing too place in industrial sectors. Many goups of workers were excluded from organizing, including minorities and women.


National Postal Workers Strike occurs. This was an illegal strike of all postal workers in Canada that ultimately led to legal recognition of trade unions and of the right to strike in the public sector. These new recognitions were officially entrenched in 1967. The strikers received great public support and won a large victory, receiving wage increases and much improved working conditions.


In 1975, Prime Minister Trudeau brought in his Anti-Inflation Program. In response to a crisis of inflation, this policy of the federal Liberal government suspended free collective bargaining for all workers in Canada, established an Anti-Inflation Board to rollback wage increases that were found to be too high, and restricted future wage increases. The Anti-Inflation Program is generally considered to be the first act in a new period of anti-union policies by government and marked the beginning of “permanent exceptionalism”.


The National Postal Worker Strike happens. This strike was ended by a government back-to-work order. Union President J.C. Parrot defies the back-to-work order, leading to his imprisonment. J.C. Parrot's imprisonment is the first such jailing since the Wagnerism was introduced.


The "6 and 5” Program brought in by the federal Liberals. It is a second anti-inflation program launched by the Trudeau government and imposed wage settlements (of 6% and 5%) on federal public sector unions. Provincial governments followed with their own similar impositions.


The Delisle decision is handed down. Delisle is a Supreme Court decision ruling that RCMP officers did not have a Charter protected right to organize a union.

Dunmore decision. Dunmore is a decision where the Supreme Court found that governments have a “positive obligation” to protect the right to organize for farmworkers and other vulnerable groups. This was the first indication from the courts that the Charter might protect the right to organize[1].

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