Ruth Mead Speaks at the Community Day of Action Rally
One of the most important speakers on June 24th was Ruth Mead, a young mother with small children subsisting on social assistance. Her words put the reasons for our fight-back in focus in a way no one else could. Ruth’s words speak louder than anything we might say, so here’s Ruth’s story…
Speech for the Labour Rally, June 24, 1996, Peterborough, Ont.
I am speaking today so that I may express my anger and my utter disbelief of the treatment emanating from Mike Harris’s fascist regime. Their harassing and intimidating tactics are oppressive and abusive for many of us. These common sense revolutionary tactics have negatively influenced and altered many of our lives. Mike Harris’ rich boy’s club approach has devalued single women with children and has labelled us criminals by implicating punishments such as the welfare snitch line, the fingerprinting of recipients, and workfare.
Every night when I get into bed I am literally exhausted from being a single mother, a university student, a C.S.A. farmer and a volunteer and social activist within this community. Why am I labelled a criminal when all I have done is tried to better myself and my children? I ask that question today. I feel I am being forced and manipulated into someone I never thought I would be. Without enough money and the risk of my children going without the necessities, my moral ideology is shifting. Maybe they will succeed at criminializing me.
Being a single woman with three children, I have had to deal with these oppressive implications creatively. I have had to rely on my ingenuity to bring dignity, food and materials to my family. A 21.6% reduction means $320.00 less a month for my children and myself. After the fixed bills are paid I am left with $430.00 for food and any other costs that come up. A lot comes up with 3 children. It is a continuous battle to try and stay confident and composed when trying to endure. I have never experienced so much stress in my entire life. I wish one of these politicians would follow me around for a whole month so that they may see their true effects of their policies. Every day is a financial battle such as coping with costly school events and trips. It is also difficult going to the grocery store with $7 in my pocket, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. My children have noticed a big change in me lately. One of my children calls me a garbage picker, she is only 4 years old. It seems cute and funny to us at the time but then the reality hits me after the cuteness dies away. I am picking garbage for food and other goods in order to survive. I have eaten food that I never thought I would ever eat. I have also made my degrading monthly visit to the Food Bank. I ran out of toilet paper for a whole week this month. I needed a lot of creative thinking order to resolve that dilemma. I’ll save you the details. Next time I run out I will be visiting Gary Stewart office, I’m sure he has huge rolls of wipes there.
Anxiety and depression imprisons me for many days on end. It’s hard to keep the tears hidden from my children, it is hard for the them to totally understand what the hell is going on. I wonder if I will be able continue to go to university, if I will have appropriate child care for my children when I am at work and school, I wonder if we will eat, I wonder if I will have to turn to the Children’s Aid Society as it may come to the point where I will have to give my children up.
I have listened to other women’s experiences. There are many similarities and differences, but all these experiences are horrific because the fact is we are living under these oppressive conditions that rob us of our dignity and rights. I think that we all must come together and work toward supporting one another by sharing these experiences. It is then that we can build the strength to fight back so that we may try to reinforce the value of social responsibility towards our neighbours and friends.
This protest is only the beginning. From the strength and support gained here today, we can proceed to carry on fighting within our own communities. I encourage you to remember your dignity and use your creativity to productively work within these restraints. I wish us all well in our lives.
Apsley, ON KOL 1A0
George Rutherford was an Executive Officer of the Peterborough and District Labour Council in 1966 and was one of those who were jailed for contempt of a court order for demonstrating during the Tilco Plastics strike. This article is reproduced from the 1973 edition of the Labour Review.
We 5 will share this memory a lifetime…(from one who was there)
What’s it like to spend two months in prison?
This is a question I was asked in regards to my two month shot for contempt of court in the Tilco affair.
As I had never been in jail before it was quite an experience but I would not want to take it up as a hobby.
The first five days I spent in the old Peterborough County jail house and I often wondered why Peterborough built a Museum when this old jail house was a masterpiece. First of all there were 25 of us shipped in, in one bunch and this old building was never meant for this size of a crowd. They did not have enough blankets to go around and they had to send out for more beans and bread the day we landed. However five of us were soon shipped to Millbrook Prison because of the sixty day stretch. On arriving you enter a small cubicle at the front where your guard duly announces your arrival by phone, there is a loud click and the door is electrically opened and as soon as you get inside it closes just as quickly. You are then ushered down a hallway to the shower room where you are told to strip and shower. You are then issued with prison clothes, razor, tobacco, tooth brush and blankets. We were then placed in a well barred cell, and we were served our dinner which to my surprise was really delicious. We were then removed from the main prison to a long building at the back which was to be our home for the next fifty days. The building was made up in four parts, Dining room, Games room, Bath room and sleeping quarters. The sleeping quarters contained sixteen cots with a cocoa matting mattress and after introducing ourselves to the thirteen inmates who were already there it was time for lights out which is 10:30 p.m.
After a sleepless night we arose at 6:30 and we were instructed on how to make your bed, you stack your pillow, blankets and sheets in a neat pile at the head of the bed. Then at the foot of the bed there is a wooden tray which you leave your boots and slippers on when not in use.
We then had our breakfast which consisted of bacon and eggs, lots of toast and marmalade and coffee. We were then taken back into the main prison for a medical, the medical consisted of bending over and touching your toes ten times in rapid succession, the old Doctor stuck his ear up to your chest and listened to your heart beat, he then informed us we would probably survive and said we were ready to be put to work.
Work at Millbrook Prison can lead into many different types of jobs, like every Monday morning we washed the windows of the guard houses on top of the prison wall that surrounds the prison. The license plates for all motor vehicles in Ontario are made at this prison and about twice a week our job was to load these plates on transports for the different cities.
On Saturday at 11 a.m. we were told to strip the sheets off the bed and take them outside and shake the farts and lice out of them, this is stretching it a bit as I can truthfully say the camp was very clean. You don’t have to work Saturday afternoons and you can lay around and do as you please. On Sunday they have a church service which was pretty boring till I suggested to the Padre that he bring out my fiddle so we would have some music for the hymn singing, to my surprise he agreed and every Sunday from then on was pretty lively.
We also unloaded transports of food, built roads, mixed salt and sand for roads for the winter time, piled up lumber, sorted bins full of half rotten onions, cut down trees, painted the camp, and even built picket fences for some of the staff houses on the property. On Thursday mornings we loaded the scrap steel left after the license plates had been cut out.
One thing the government had to do was hire a couple of extra guards to read and censor the mail.
As the most of you know Bill Mulders and I ran for City Council and we had to do our campaigning from the prison. The C.B.C. found out about this and received permission to come to the camp and make a tape for T.V. The Warden found out and made sure we had a tailor made set of prison clothes to go before the cameras in also a new pair of boots which they took away from us as soon as the T.V. crew left the building.
The day we were released from prison we went right back to the picket line for another stint at picket duty.
In closing, I am happy to say that I never met any people I would sooner fight a cause with and go to jail with, if necessary than Charles (Bud) Clark, Victor Skurjat, Stanley Rouse and William Mulders.
The following article was written by Henry Nokes and appeared in the 1974 edition of the Labour Review. Mr. Nokes was, for many years, closely involved in labour circles in Peterborough and was the area representative of the Canadian Labour Congress.
The Local Labour Council Throughout The Years
It has been suggested that I write a history of the Peterborough Labour Council. I am going to exercise literary license and choose to write something less comprehensive in nature. It is my choice to journey through the years in a more disconnected fashion.
There is ample evidence of active trade unions in the Peterborough-Lindsay area in the late 1880’s and 1890’s. In the Gainey collection of labour records which were unearthed by Mr. Cameron Wasson, a former Treasurer of the Peterborough Trades & Labour Council, and Mr. John McPhee, a former President of the Council, is a minute book of the Moulders Union, Local 191. This Union was chartered in October, 1873. The particular set of minutes in question ran from August 18th, 1882, to January 15th, 1892.
On August 17th, 1888, the Local Union appointed a Committee to co-operate with “other Labour unions in town” for a “demonstration”. This took place September 3rd from the Knights of Labour Hall. (The Knights had two Local Assemblies in Peterborough at that time).
Four International Unions paraded. They were Carpenters, Local 375; Bricklayers, Local 12; Moulders, Local 191, and International Typographical Union, Local 248 (still in existence), besides six other organizations. These unions were either purely local or part of the Knights of Labour. They were Masons, Shoemakers, Tailors, Machinists, Hod Carriers and Painters. It should be noted that I gleaned the above information from a letter with respect to the collection from Dr. Eugene Forsey, who spent a great deal of time going over the collection for his history of the Canadian Trade Union movement.
It is significant that the “demonstration” took place in 1889 because the Peterborough Examiner of December 26th of the same year reports the founding of what was apparently Peterborough’s first Labour Council. It reads as follows:
“An adjourned meeting of the Trades and Labour Unions of the town was held in the Labour Hall last night and a Trades and Labour Council, similar to those in other large towns and cities was formed The Unions represented at the organizational meeting were the Bricklayers, Carpenters and Joiners, and Knights of Labour. The object of the Trades and Labour Council is to deal with matters of municipal and national politics, (discussion of which is prohibited in individual unions) and labour interests in general.”
“The following officers were elected: President R. McCregor, Vice-President John Miller, Recording and Corresponding Secretary W. J. Hogan, Treasurer R. Sheehy, Warden, John Gibson.”
“A committee composed of Messrs. W. Ringer, George Rose and R. Sheehy was elected to appoint Legislative, Municipal and Organizing Committees-Standing Committees. The Council adjourned to meet December 28th.”
Dissolution of sorts must have overcome the original Labour Council because there is material in the Gainey collection on the Peterborough Trades and Labour Council formed in March, 1902.
In the Gainey collection the Minute Book of Bricklayers Union, Local 17, gives record of a letter received by the Local from another Peterborough Local, American Federation of Labour, Federal Labour Union, Local 9240, asking Local 17 to appoint three delegates to discuss forming a Trades and Labour Council. The Local Union agreed to do this and on April 1st two delegates were appointed.
In this period organized labour was making strides in Peterborough as the following article in the Peterborough Examiner of March 3rd, 1902, indicates. The article was headed “Labour Matters”- “Important Visit of Two Official Labour Representatives to Peterborough”, and it went on to say: “The great importance at present attaching to the labour movement in Peterborough has justified the visit of two of the best informed Canadian labour representatives to town to confer with the Federal Labour Local, whose membership has grown to such a phenomenal extent. Mr. R Glocking, Secretary of the Ontario Labour Bureau, and Mr. J. A. Flett, Vice-President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada, arrived in town yesterday and are stopping at the National Hotel. Mr Flett has cancelled a number of other engagements to confer with the officers of the Peterborough Local on matters affecting the welfare of the organization here.
“Mr. Glocking is particularly interested in explaining the operation of the new Bill passed by the Legislature for the conciliation of industrial disputes and other related matters.
“Apart from the local interest which these gentlemen may be expected to create among the local unions, their visit will serve the purpose of contributing intelligent information on the current labour movement of the day.
“It is expected that both Mr. Flett and Mr. Glocking will address a meeting this evening, the particular nature of which has not yet been made public.
“Announcement is made in another column of a Special Meeting to be held in the Foresters Hall, Simcoe Street, this evening of Peterborough Federal Union 9240.”
Another item from the Peterborough Examiner of Saturday, March 1st, 1902, seems to emphasize not only the strides that labour seemed to be making but also the fact that it was beginning to become cloaked with a degree of respectability. Under the headlines “Federal Union–High Water Mark Reached Last Night–153 New Members Initiated”, the item reads as follows:
“Remarkable as has been the growth of the membership in Peterborough Federal Union 9240, the increase to the roll last night rose to the highest water mark yet reached. The actual number initiated was one hundred and fifty-three, furnishing an acquisition to the strength of the Union that was little short of sensational.
“The hall was crowded as it never was crowded before. It was evident that between five hundred and six hundred were present, and the good order and business-like decorum that prevailed reflected the greatest credit on the officers and men.
“It appeared to be the general impression that the hall had become inadequate for holding the meetings in future and a committee was appointed to procure new premises for holding the Regular Weekly Sessions of the Union at once.
“During the evening the Rev. J. C. Davidson was presented with a beautiful cane by the Union as an expression of the respect of the men for his interest in their cause.
“Mr. Davidson made a feeling reply, thanking them for their gift. He also eave them some good counsel and advice regarding their duties as members of the Union and working men.
“A general discussion of the recent labour disagreements took place, when it was decided that the press be asked to refrain from publishing anything that might give undue prominence to their business.
“A petition was presented from some fifty female employees asking permission to be affiliated with the Union.”
A further article in the Peterborough Examiner of Monday, March 10th, 1902, indicates that the committee appointed at the above meeting to locate a hall acted with dispatch because the headline is “The New Rooms” The article notes that the Peterborough Federation of Labour have leased the old Business College and are in the process of fitting it out, and it makes the observation that the rooms will make an ideal home for organized labour, that they are large and comfortable and centrally located. The article also notes that the Union have recently purchased several hundred chairs from the 57th Regiment which were nearly new. Mention is made of the fact that the rooms are supplied with electricity and also supplied “with all modern lodge room conveniences”.
The Examiner of March 6th, 1902, makes mention of a visit to Lakefield by the Organizing Committee of Local 9240 with Mr. Flett, and 50 members were signed up and a Union Local formed that night.
The influence of trade unions on the community and their burgeoning importance can be noted from a report in the Peterborough Examiner of a Regular Meeting of Peterborough Town Council on Tuesday, March 4th, 1902. It was noted that notice had been received from the Federation of Labour (this refers to Local 9240) “that on or after April I st the wages of the Corporation labourers will have to be $1.50 per nine-hour day and all teams to be paid $1.25 per day. This matter was referred to the Board of Works”
It might be noted that there were advertisements with respect to the Labourers’ wage rate inserted in the Peterborough Examiner also.
I would like to make one further digression to note that at a meeting in the Labour Hall on Saturday night, July 13th, 1889, which was addressed by Mr. H. Lloyd, the International Vice-President of the United Carpenters and joiners International Union, there were a great many ladies in the audience. In all there were between 125 and 150 people present.
The meeting was also addressed by Mr. J. A. Stratton, M.P.P. for the riding. Mr. J. J. Hartley, Local President of the Bricklayers Union, and Mr. McCregor, President of the Carpenters Union, also spoke.
It is also of some interest that Mr. Wilson Craw reports in a book, “The Peterborough Story–Our Mayors–1850 to 1951”, that workmen on the construction of the Peterborough to Nassau section of the Trent Canal struck for a raise of 25c a day to $1.35. Violence broke out and the contractor laid charges of obstruction in the police court. The strike was settled with the pay remaining at $1.00 a day and the charges were withdrawn.
The new Peterborough Trades and Labour Council, organized in 1902, quickly became involved in Municipal politics. Mr. Wilson Craw in discussing the Municipal Elections of 1905 had this to say in “The Peterborough Story”: “Of the twelve councillors in 1905 six were. new and only two had served more than two years. It was a comparatively inexperienced Council. Three of the successful candidates had been sponsored by the Trades and Labour Council. Labour’s first move in the municipal field.”
The First World War had its effect on the labour movement as it did on many other things in what had been a placidly flowing reasonably undisturbed way of life, easier for those with wealth than for those without, but still slow-moving and placid.
In 1916 (December 1lth) there was a disastrous fire at the Quaker Oats Company. There were 22 fatalities. The plant was almost completely destroyed and the embers burned most of the winter. The County Court House also was involved in the fire.
This fire, with its tragic loss of life, loss of jobs and some indications that the company might move elsewhere cast a mantle of gloom over the community. Mayor J. J. Duffus convened three community suppers in February and March, 1917, for business, professional and union men. One dinner was for juniors, another was for seniors, and the third was for trades and labour representatives called together by their President John J. Hartley at the request of Mr. Duffus.
The purpose of the meetings was for the discussion of the industrial outlook of Peterborough, the general welfare of the city, including the military activities and other interests.
Although the disastrous fire had left doubts with many in the community as to the practicability of the Quaker Oats Company remaining in Peterborough, they were reassured by the manager, Mr. W. H. Denham. He indicated that the Quaker Oats Company would enlarge the plant and suggested that a high level bridge would be an advantage to both the company and the public. He indicated that work that the company was having done in Sudbury was of a temporary nature, The Labour Council was heavily involved in organization and municipal affairs. For many years in Peterborough, Civic Elections took place on New Year’s Day. In 1918 the voters endorsed the principle of electing aldermen by a general vote. This meant that the Ward system was rejected for the second time. The system of election when the city was incorporated was by general vote. The city returned to the ward system when Ashburnham, which had been a community in its own right at one time, failed to seat any members on Council for two elections. This took place in 1910. Two Aldermen were elected for each of the five wards — one coming up for election each year from each ward.
Peterborough was the first city in Ontario to elect its aldermen for a two-year term.
Labour’s voice was now being heard in regard to wages and working conditions and the social system generally. Workers were insisting on shorter hours, better safety standards, compensation for injury on the job and proper apprenticeship programs. Inflation was prevalent but wages had not kept pace with spiralling costs. Workers, through their Labour Council, wished a say in how the community was being run. They felt they could not do so under the ward system. Their candidates were getting defeated every time they went to the polls. The ward system was defeated at the polls and this came something of a shock to municipal politicians.
The City Council of the day decided to abide by the wishes of the majority but they inserted a ringer in the by-law. This was “that voters must vote for four aldermen but they could vote for five”. Successive Labour Councils exerted effort to get this by-law changed, without success. The writer can even recall being told that organized labour requested the change to the system which included the “must vote for four” provisions without mentioning that that particular provision was inserted by Council after the fact. It is only in very recent years that a change has taken place.
The “must vote for four” ringer inserted by City Council boomeranged in the 1919 municipal elections. Four representatives of organized labour were elected and a fifth man was elected who could be counted on to support the position of organized labour.
The Labour Council put forward a strong program which aroused considerable interest. The Council Chambers were overflowing on nomination night. This was the first time that nominations had been held in the evening, which might account to some degree for the crowd.
Many people were there because they were frustrated and dissatisfied with the manner in which the 1918 Council was handling the building of the new Hunter Street Bridge.
Robert Morrison, an electrician, headed the polls, along with Mr. Harry Gainey, a barber and a trade unionist and a person whose records and files have provided much of the background material of this writer and many other local labour historians. Mr. Alex Murray, a machinist, was also elected. Mr. Murray was an active trade unionist too. Others elected were J. J. Turner and James Hamilton. All of the above were elected for two years. The fourth candidate nominated by organized labour was James Garside, a machinist, who ran sixth and was the leader among those elected for one year. Four other aldermen were elected for one year. The mayor was unopposed.
A difficulty arose at the first meeting of the Council because the Council refused the Labour Council’s nominee for a three-year term on the Board of the Peterborough Public Library.
Alderman Mcintyre, who was often sympathetic to organized labour, lined up with the labour aldermen and supported Thomas Ogilvie. Five other aldermen supported Frank Sollit for re-appointment. The Mayor cast the deciding vote in favour of Frank Sollit.
This aroused the Labour Council and they argued that they should have a representative on the Library Board. At the January meeting of the Labour Council one member said in anger: “We asked for nothing more than we were entitled to. At the municipal elections we only nominated four representatives proving that we had no desire to obtain a majority of the Council seats. The Council action only means that the class struggle has been introduced and it should be noted that it was not started by organized labour”.
The necessity of participation in political action at all levels must have been driven home with some emphasis because that same evening an independent Labour Party was formed in Peterborough.
Tommy Tooms, a labour representative, was elected to represent West Peterborough in the Ontario Legislature in the United Farmers of Ontario Government of Mr. E. C. Drury.
This government, made up of 43 farmers and 11 labour representatives, provided a great deal of the basic social legislation that is on the statute books today.
Mr. Murray resigned later in the year because of ill health to return to Scotland. He later came back to Peterborough and was active in labour affairs.
In 1920 civic elections were not too successful for organized labour as none of the four labour nominees were seated. Organized labour, however, was represented by Mr. Harry Gainey, Robert Morrison and Joseph Crowe. Robert Garside, who had been elected previously for one year as a labour candidate and then dropped from the state, was also elected.
The following year Mayor McIntyre was elected without opposition. A slate put forward by a group known as the citizens committee were elected. These gentlemen were elected: Joseph Crowe, Harry Gainey, Robert Morrison, J. J. Turner and James Hamilton. It is to be noted that there were names that had been espoused by the labour movement on the citizens committee slate. Organized labour again proposed a slate of candidates but only Mr. Gainey, the perennial labour candidate, was elected. Mr. Morrison had been dropped from the labour slate.
The years following World War 1 had been hard years for organized labour just as they were for many Canadians. The war to save the world may have done so momentarily but it was a very different kind of world, not the same kind of contented, satisfied-with-your-lot kind of world that generations of Canadians had grown up in. The world had started on the toboggan slide that was the twentieth century. People, labour-management relationships, family relationships or community relationships would never be the same again.
This was the period that generated the Winnipeg General Strike and other exhibitions of public and ordinary people dissatisfaction with the status quo.
However, be that as it may, organized labour in Peterborough was still just awakening. Government, under public pressure, was being forced to take a look at hours of work, at minimum standards of wages, safety provisions and other matters affecting the worker in the work place.
The awakening of the worker to his rights and the dignity of his calling as a producer eventually ebbed into Peterborough.
In the Auburn Woollen Mill, wages for skilled workers were as low as $12.50 a week – $18.00 a week was about tops. It must be noted that these wages were for fifty and sixty-hour weeks.
There had been considerable dissatisfaction at the Dominion Woollens and Worsteds Auburn Woollen Mills plants for some time, also at the Bonner-Worth Mills owned by the same company.
The employees of the Auburn Woollen Mills went out on strike for a wage increase of 25% on June 29th, 1937. A representative of U.T.W.A.- C.I.0. came to town to assist them and signed them up the next day.
Women workers early displayed their desire to be a part of the trade union picture in Peterborough. Three hundred employees (mostly women) of the Bonner-Worth plant of Dominion Woollens, now the site of the Daniel Campus of Sir Sandford Fleming College, went out on strike in sympathy with their fellow Dominion Woollen and Worsted employees at the Auburn plant. There was a skirmish with local police under Inspector Reid that day.
It is significant that there does not seem to have been an active militant Labour Council in Peterborough at that time.
Peterborough was a centre of labour activity at last. The General Motors plant had just been organized. One of the speakers at the many labour rallies that were held was Charlie Millard, later to become the Canadian Director of the United Steelworkers Union and later again the General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Mass meetings were held either in the old Market Square soon to be the “Peterborough Centre” or Nicholls Oval. Alderman Fred Tuggey organized a Strike Relief Fund. Later this park was to see a more peaceful labour use. For quite a number of years the Peterborough Labour Day festivities were held here.
Negotiations opened a little more than two weeks after the strike started. The Company would not negotiate with Union Staff Representatives present; they finally withdrew. The Company made no offer on wages, some concessions on hours and conditions. The Union voted to stay out and the Company threatened that they would close the plant. No idle threat because they later did.
The Department of Labour for Ontario was asked to intervene in the strike by the Mayor. The Chief Conciliator for the Department of Labour, Louis Fine, was appointed.
An indication of public and political labour management attitudes is the fact that Mr. Fine also would not meet with the Union Representatives but did meet with a Committee of the Strikers and Mr. Harry Barrett, General Manager of Dominion Woollens and Worsteds.
The only thing that the Company would agree to with respect to the negotiations was a guarantee of a minimum wage of 32 cents an hour. It should be noted that this was something of an improvement because wages ranged as low as 22-1/2 cents an hour prior to the strike. The negotiations terminated.
Police escorted 20 non-strikers into the plant and they were well equipped with tear gas and night sticks. The result was violence.
The Provincial Police came into the picture on August 9th when the Company announced they would open the plant.
A riot took place. The mayor attempted to read a letter that he had received from the Premier of the Province, Mitchell Hepburn, promising an investigation of working conditions and minimum wage legislation.
The workers however, had had enough. The mayor was roughed up slightly, 15 strikers were arrested, 12 men and 3 women, stones were thrown, tomatoes, etc.
The President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada intervened and urged acceptance of Hepburn’s offer.
The workers reluctantly returned to work. Most of the charges against the strikers were withdrawn or failed.
An aftermath of the strike was that one year later the plant was closed for four months before the outbreak of the Second World War and the buildings were given over to the wrecker’s hammer. The only building remaining standing today is the old weave shed now used as a warehouse by the G. Wittaker Company. The original Woollen Mill in Peterborough, the oldest, was built in 1862-63.
Again a war came along to work its devious effects on the labour movement. In the years following the Dominion Woollens and Worsteds strikes industrial union organization had not progressed very rapidly in Peterborough. It took the Second World War with its consequent demands on manpower and production to give the needed stimuli to industrial union organization. One of the things that helped was that legislation in principle required an employer to give recognition to a union, where a majority of the employees desired it. The legislative provisions requiring the employer to bargain also assisted at that time.
It must also be noted that the changes in production demands and techniques, the change in employer attitude which eroded the craftsman principle and deemed the worker another tool in the production chain, thus bringing boredom to the workplace, also sharpened the appetite of the workers for a say in their wages, their working conditions, their health, their security and their future.
When industrial union organization came to Peterborough it came fast and many plants were organized. Notable among them were the Canadian General Electric, the Outboard Marine, the Quaker Oats Company, the Canada Packers Company, the Raybestos Brinton Carpet Company, Peterborough Canoe Company, Ovaltine, Western Clock Company, and others. Civic employee groups were also organizing into unions and the city outside workers and employees of the Sanitation Department were among those joining the throng along with the employees of Civic Hospital.
In early 1945 the organized workers of Peterborough again saw the need to have a central body for organized labour in the community and the Allied Labour Council of Peterborough and District was formed. The constitution is dated May 1st, 1945.
A rather faded picture from the Peterborough Examiner of 1946 shows a picture of the Council and lists the members of that day as follows: Fred Gandy, President; Mr. Gandy was a member of the Canadian Postal Employees Union. Bob Ward, United Electrical Workers, Corresponding Secretary; many old timers will remember Bob Ward. Albert E. Borland, Treasurer, Canadian Postal Union; Mr. Borland for many years was one of the strongest exponents of credit unionism and co-operatives in the central Ontario area. 0. R. Kidd, Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees, Corresponding Secretary; Mr. Kidd and Mr. Gandy were also the first labour representatives on the Peterborough Unemployment Insurance Board of Referees. W. Robinson, Local 524, U.E., C.I.O., Sergeant-at-Arms; S. J. Rowe, Local 22, Federated Association of Letter Carriers; G. A. Rowbotham, Local 140, C.B.R.E.; T. J. Stenton, Local 432, I.A.T.S.E.; H. C. Lord, District Council the Civil Service Union; W. J. Faiers, Mill Drivers Union, Local 883; Tom Markwick, Local 210, United Packinghouse Workers of America, C.I.O.; K.G R. Pound, Local 210, U.P.W.A., C.I.O.; 0. J. Meagher, Federated Association of Letter Carriers; P. Adamson, Local 432, I.A.T.S.E.; 0. Smith, C.B.R.E.; H. Keene, Mill Drivers Union, A.F.L.; S. R. Scott, Brotherhood of Express Employees; K. Sliter, Local 524, U.E., C.I.0.; G. N. Cowan, Trent Canal Employees; F. Wallwork, Local 248; International Typographical Union; H. Dormer, Local 248, International Typographical Union.
The Allied Labour Council was a sounding board for organized labour in municipal matters and a rallying point for organizational activities for a number of years. It is significant that the organized labour movement in Peterborough did not easily divide. The Allied Labour Council contained within its ranks members from international unions affiliated to the Congress of Industrial Organizations, also members from the American Federation of Labour and national unions affiliated to the Canadian Congress of Labour and the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada. The union movement in Peterborough worked harmoniously together when the union movement throughout North America was wracked with fratricidal strife. Eventually a division did develop for other reasons and the Council dissolved.
A couple of years after this the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L., was formed. This organization served a very useful function as a central labour body for the Canadian Congress of Labour, C.I.0., unions in the Peterborough area.
It is very interesting to look back and see that the trade unionists of seventy-five years ago, the trade unionists of fifty years ago and those of more recent vintage all have some common aims. One of those aims seems to be to have a place that organized labour can call its own in the community. This was true of the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L.
A report of the January 9th, 1951, Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L., in the Peterborough Examiner states that “the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L., has given its Executive power to investigate the prospects of building a ‘Labour Hall’ in Peterborough. This would entail setting up a trust fund. The Council presently meets in a room at 168-1/2 George Street but this room will not accommodate more than twenty people.
“President Alf Barber indicated that a local businessman had offered the Council a lot on McDonald if it decided to build.”
Names associated with the Peterborough and District Labour Council and familiar to many trade unionists were Alf Barber, Ed Humphries, Ed Silvester, Tommy Cupoli, Jack Benstead, George Logan, Bill Triggs and Orville Martin.
The Labour Council and the eventually leased headquarters of the Labour Council on Water Street above the Bank of Commerce became a centre for organizing activity. Many people who have become prominent in the Canadian Labour movement spent a considerable period of their apprenticeship working out of one of the various offices of the Labour Council building. The present Director of Organization of the Canadian Labour Congress, Mr. Joe Mackenzie, was one of them; Mr. Murray Cotterill was another. I believe Jack Williams and Howard Conquergood were others.
I believe that Alf Barber was President of the Peterborough and District Labour Council through most of the years if not all the years of its existence.
The unions affiliated to the Trades and Labour Council of Canada, who had been without a local central forum after the demise of the Allied Labour Council, organized the Peterborough Trades and Labour Council in 1951.
Mr. Glenn Price was the first President, Mr. John McPhee was the Vice-President, Mr. Cameron Wasson was the Treasurer and the writer was the Corresponding and Recording Secretary. Others associated were the late Dick Martin, the late George Degan, Gus Siegal, Merv Williamson, Henry O’Rourke and Bill Given.
This Council was a vigorous and active group and represented the A.F.L.-T.L.C. unions of Peterborough in municipal and organizational matters in a lively manner. It was primarily responsible for a great building of the union organization that took place in the early forties.
The two central labour bodies in Peterborough continued to co-operate fully to the greatest extent. A poster proclaiming a meeting is attached which in some degree demonstrates the kind of co-operation that took place, This was particularly true of municipal efforts. It is therefore not surprising that as soon as there were indications that the two national labour centres in Canada, the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada and the Canadian Congress of Labour, might merge, a merger committee was set up by the Peterborough Trades and Labour Council and the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L. The culmination of this effort was that the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.L.C., was the first merged Labour Council in Canada.
As could be expected initially the merged Council was heavily involved in many areas of community activity. Organized labour was faring slightly better with respect to representation on City Council and was represented by two trade unionists who earned the respect of all sections of the community – Mr. William Triggs, an active member of the Labour Council and a past president of Local 293, U.P.W.A., at the Quaker Oats Company, and another U.P.W.A. representative who came out of the same union and later became a Staff Representative of the U.P.W.A., Mr. William Beggs, also a former officer of Local 293.
The first time the possibility of a post-secondary educational institution being located in Peterborough was raised was at the Peterborough Labour Council meeting on February 13th, 1957.
In 1960, however, the united voice of all organized labour was heard politically for the first time in a very long period. The C.C.F. and the Canadian Labour Congress had come together to form a broadly based “People Party” which would be acceptable to not only workers and farmers but small businessmen, teachers and people in many other professions. A by-election was held in Peterborough and Peterborough trade unionists flocked to work for the election of the then comparatively unknown “New Party” candidate. The candidate’s name was Walter Pitman and in Peterborough at least his name is a popular and respected household word. He is far from being unknown to the rest of Canada.
Mr. Pitman was elected with a pleasing majority. The joy was to be short-lived however because he was defeated in the next general election.
Mr. Pitman has not sunk into oblivion however. He has become one of the people who have become the leaders of the social democratic movement in Canada. He also served a term in the Provincial Legislature. He has always identified with organized labour. After serving for several years as Dean at Trent University he is now leaving our community to become the President of Ryerson College. It is an honour for many of us in the labour community to have known and worked with him.
A long cherished dream of the Peterborough labour movement came into being on May 13th, 1968. The Peterborough Labour Centre was officially opened.
Efforts to construct a hall for organized labour in Peterborough in recent memory go back to January 9th, 1951, in the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L., and about the same time in the Peterborough Trades and Labour Council.
Plans for a building as far as the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C. L.C., is concerned go back to 1956. At that time a 3% assessment on affiliated unions grew to about $9,000 in ten years and formed the financial basis for construction of a building that would serve as a central meeting place for all labour unions in the city.
This was not the first effort in this direction but it was the first successful effort. In the period from 1920, the Allied Labour Council of Peterborough and District, the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L., and the Peterborough Trades and Labour Council, T.L.C., all exercised their best efforts towards achieving a permanent home for organized labour, but the best that could be achieved was rented quarters.
The original Board of Directors consisted of Gerry Reeds, Bill Mulders, Jack Narhgang, Gus Siegel, Roy Hadwyn, Stan McCormick, Gordon Reynolds, Walter Pollard, Jim Fairs and Dick Martin.
The Members of the Board at the time the Centre officially opened were Dick Martin, Eric May, Don Caban, Gordon Snape Jr., Charles Lester, Jack Benstead, Doug Lloyd, John Dunsford, Robert White and Les McDougal.
The main speaker at the opening banquet was David Archer, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour. Greetings and good wishes were given by Mr. Hugh Faulkner, M.P. for this riding; Mr. Walter Pitman, M.L.A.; Mr. T. H. B. Symons, President and Vice Chancellor of Trent University, and Mr. David Sutherland, President of Sir Sandford Fleming College.
Peterborough became the centre for a controversy over the use of injunctions in labour disputes that shook and disturbed labour-management relations throughout the country. Organized labour has always been opposed to the use of ex parte injunctions in labour disputes. Peterborough provided the battleground. Not the first or last but certainly one of the more prominent ones.
The Textile Workers of America organized Tilco Plastics located at the corner of Parkhill Road and Park Street in Peterborough and proceeded to negotiate a contract.
After a lengthy period of negotiation and exhausting the conciliation procedure provided by the Ontario Department of Labour the plant was struck on December 7th, 1965.
In an appearance before the Peterborough Labour Council to acquaint them with the situation, Mr. Vic Skurjat, the union representative who had been doing the negotiating for the union, had this to say: “The former union which tried to obtain a contract, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, failed in its attempts because of the union-busting tactics employed by Harold Pammet, personnel manager of the plant.”
Mr. Skurjat compared the union contract negotiations to a yo-yo. The company would agree to the financial aspects of the contract but would back down on its commitments in this area of agreement to compensate for non-monetary items of the contract it agreed to afterwards.
Mr. Skuriat said that union security was important to the union members and they asked that it be strong enough that the company would not be able to engage in union-busting tactics again. At this stage of the negotiations Mr. Pammet, the sole negotiator for the company, agreed to a wage increase of sixteen cents the first year of the contract and an increase of four cents for each remaining year of the three-year contract.
After Mr. Pammet agreed to the Union Security clause he retracted his offer of twenty-four cents over the life of the contract and changed it to twenty-two cents with fourteen cents to be paid when the contract was signed and four cents each remaining year of the contract.
Mr. Skurjat said that another point of contention was that the company insisted that its toolmakers not be included in the bargaining unit. However the certification granted by the Ontario Labour Relations Board had included the toolmakers in the bargaining unit. Mr. Skurjat said the matter was settled after the union and company lawyers met to discuss it.
The union at this point thought an agreement had been reached and recommended to their membership that it be accepted. A majority agreed to accept the contract as offered, that is, the new offer of fourteen cents the first year and five cents each subsequent year of the three-year agreement.
Included in the package was a lump sum payment of twenty-five dollars in lieu of retroactive pay. At this point in the negotiations Mr. Skuriat said Mr. Parnmet backed down on his twenty-five dollar offer saying he had given in on the toolmakers being included in the bargaining unit and he wanted something in return. The something that he wanted was the twenty-five dollar lump sum payment. After further negotiations he offered fifteen dollars or six cents an hour for the last year of the agreement.
It was at this point that the union decided that the negotiations were not getting anywhere and the union decided to strike as soon as legally possible.
Mr. Skurjat said “that the union was prepared to sit down and meet the company at any time and settle the matter.”
Mr. Skurjat also commanded the police on duty near the picket lines for their gentlemanly behaviour and for not taking sides.
An ex parte injunction was granted by Mr. Justice J. L. King on December 20th on the complaint of the company.
Attempts at mediation and conciliation of the dispute were made by Members of the Ministerial Association, the President of the Peterborough and District Labour Council and the Area Representative for the Canadian Labour Congress, the M.L.A. for Peterborough, the Mayor of Peterborough, the Chief Conciliation Officer of the Department of Labour for the Province of Ontario and the Deputy Minister of Labour for the Province of Ontario.
According to a newspaper advertisement in the Peterborough Examiner of Wednesday, February 23, 1966, purchased by the Peterborough Labour Council Injunctions Committee, workers’ wages at the plant were $1.12 an hour and in a few cases up to $1.17 an hour.
A decision was made by a meeting of the Labour Council to hold a demonstration against the use of injunctions in labour disputes.
The demonstration took place on the 23rd and again on the 24th of February. About four hundred representatives of various unions in Peterborough took part in the demonstrations on the 23rd and a lesser amount on the 24th.
It was indicated widely in the press that the Attorney General would take action against the demonstration and he did.
The union movement claimed and still do that the demonstration was an orderly demonstration against the use of injuctions in labour disputes and was not in violation of the picketing injunction.
Twenty-seven people were named in the summonses issued by the Attorney General. People named in the summonses were Victor Skurjat, Representative, T.W.U.A.; Charles “Bud” Clarke, Organizing Director of T.W.U.A.; William Mulders, President, Peterborough and District Labour Council; Stanley Rouse, Secretary of Peterborough and District Labour Council; George Rutherford, Vice-President of Peterborough and District Labour Council; Bill Woodbeck, Representative, United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America; Daniel Dean, Representative, International Association of Machinists; Merton Pearse, William Staunton, Bruce Castle, Michael Gahagan, Clarence Wilson, Harry Woodbeck, Allen Rice, James Welch, Jack Urquart, Carl Ainsworth, Robert Sarginson, Carl Jensen, John Pacey, Lockie Longhurst, Patrick Maloney, Robert Beubiah, Edward Shore, Robert Kelly Jr., John McGlennon, Victor Doughty from Bridgenorth, and Allen Rice.
One name appears twice on the list and some were unfamiliar to the Injunction Committee.
In the debate in the Provincial Legislature with respect to the mass arrests and the demonstration even the spokesman for the Government, Mr. Rowntree, agreed that there had been no violence at the demonstration, that there had been repeated futile attempts at conciliation and mediation, and even on the latest attempt on Tuesday of that week, February 25th, the company had refused to attend meetings called by the Department of Labour. He added that the law provided for the injured party to take the alleged offender before the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Mr. Donald MacDonald, Leader of the New Democratic Party, added the cogent comment: “Meanwhile the strikers go to jail.”
The hearings began before Mr. Justice G. A. Gale of the Supreme Court of Ontario. Initially slated for Osgoode Hall they were transferred to City Hall because of the large crowds.
The hearings were held in Toronto rather than Peterborough because the application for the contempt citation was made in weekly court, a division of the Supreme Court of Ontario. No weekly court is held in Peterborough.
The majority of those appearing in the contempt charges were represented by E. D. Jolliffe, however lawyer L. A. Scott represented T.W.U.A. Representatives Skurjat and Clarke.
The Labour Council paid $584.50 daily to meet the expenses and wages of the twenty-four trade unionists who were subpoenaed with respect to the mass demonstration at Tilco Plastics on February 23rd and February 24th, 1966.
It was pointed out during the trials by the prosecutors and defence alike that there had been no violence, that the demonstration had been one of the most orderly witnessed by police, that there had been provocation and that all of the people involved were of good character. However, be that as it may, they were found guilty. Appeals through the courts were disallowed and the defenders went to jail.
The case against Daniel Dean, Representative of the International Association of Machinists, was withdrawn but appeals on medical grounds of two of the defendants were disallowed on the basis that treatment would be available in jail.
William Mulders, Stanley Rouse and George Rutherford, Executive Officers of the Peterborough and District Labour Council, “Bud” Clarke and Victor Skurjat, Representatives of the Textile Workers Union of America were imprisoned for two months.
Merton Pearse, William Staunton, Victor Doughty, Bruce Castle, Michael Gahagan, Clarence Wilson, Allen Rise, James Welch, Jack Urquart, Carl Ainsworth, Robert Sarginson, Carl Jensen, John Pacey, Robert Beaubiah, Edward Shore, William Woodbeck, Representative of United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, and John McGlennon were sentenced to fifteen days in jail in Peterborough.
Roderick Maloney and Robert Kelly were denied special consideration on medical grounds. Harry Woodbeck was given a suspended sentence on medical grounds and Lockie Longhurst was denied special consideration and castigated because he was a volunteer Fire Chief.
One dull, gray morning much later when all of the appeal procedure had been exhausted, the time came for the “Demonstrators” to go to jail. They did so as true soldiers in the cause of worker freedom. They assembled at the Labour Centre and marched to jail led by a piper and at their head none other than David Archer, the President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, and his wife. They were also accompanied by many trade union friends and associates.
The Peterborough and District Labour Council took a leading part in focussing the attention of the general public and members of all political parties in government on the injustice of the ex parte injunction in labour disputes. It must also be said that support was given as required by the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress.
A great deal of credit should reflect on the Labour Council for the presentation of a most able brief to the Rand Commission on the use of injunctions in labour disputes. Organized labour, to say the least, was far from happy with the report but it must be said that there is now a great deal less use of injunctions in labour disputes.
There are many other milestones in the history of the Peterborough Labour Council and as was indicated at the start of this epistle we have not tried to touch them all. However we cannot close this journey through the years without mention of the most recent one, the unification of organized labour in Peterborough.
The United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, Local 524, being the largest union of any group in Peterborough, affiliated to the Labour Council after an absence of twenty-three years. The United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America again became an affiliate of the Canadian Labour Congress and thus gave the local unions in Peterborough the opportunity to participate in the affairs of the “Voice of Labour” in this area. Organized workers in Peterborough have been working to this end with a unity of purpose and dedication that might well be emulated in other centres. We are looking forward with anticipation and enthusiasm towards the future now that we are united again.
In closing this narrative I would like to bring back to fond and reverent memory for a moment at least some of those who in our memory have served us so well. I bring back to your remembrance the names of Bill Triggs, Gus Siegal, Merv Williamson, George Degan, Lorne Bebee, Dick Martin, Bud Bannon and Tommy Cupoli.
In closing I would also like to pay tribute to several people who have served the Peterborough and District Labour Council well and are still among us. I would like to mention Peter McCombe, Peterborough’s only “Labour” Citizen of the year; Ed Humphries, our ever doughty warrior for labour cause; Ed Silvester, Alf Barber, founder of the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.C.L., and for some years President of both C.C.L. and C.L.C. Councils; John McPhee, who served as an officer of both the Peterborough Trades and Labour Council and the Peterborough and District Labour Council, C.L.C. Mr. McPhee was also the writer of “The Labour Beat” which formerly ran in the Peterborough Examiner and received much commendation from labour groups and others alike for good objective labour reporting.
The old objectives that have been expressed from time to time in the preambles to the constitutions of the various central labour bodies that have been formed in Peterborough still endure and organized labour in Peterborough will go forward with the community still dedicated to the aim of serving all citizens whether they be members of the organized labour movement or not.