Canadian workers strike against wage controls, 1976

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Timing
Time Period:  
February
1976
to
October
1976
Location and Goals
Country: 
Canada
Location City/State/Province: 
Saint John, New Brunswick
Goals: 
To end the program of statutory wage and price controls imposed in 1975 by the Liberal government headed by Pierre Trudeau.
 

The Canadian General strike of 1976 was a result of the Bill C-73 passed by Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and the House of Commons in Ottawa on 14 October 1975. This bill limited wage increases to 8% the first year, 6% the second year, and 4% the third year after its enactment.

The majority of the provinces of Canada accepted the bill by spring of 1976, but within eighteen months they began to withdraw from the program. Despite its introduction in 1975, it was not until 1976 that the Anti-Inflation Board (AIB) began to roll back workers' wages.

Saint John is the largest city in New Brunswick, a province in eastern Canada. There the employees of Irving Pulp and Paper, members of the Canadian Paper Workers Union, were among the first to experience the roll backs implemented by the AIB.

The paper workers were required to give back to the employer 9.8% of their previous wage increase the first year, and 11% the second year. The Atlantic Sugar Refinery workers of the Bakery and Confectionary Workers International Union of America soon felt the burden as well. The majority of workers within Saint John were influenced by the AIB by January 1976.

On 5 February 1976, the Saint John District and the Labour Council held a conference to plan an organized opposition of the AIB. Fifty-two people came to the meeting as representatives of twenty-six unions in Saint John. The council was led by the Labour Council president, George Vair. They began simply by educating those present on wage control legislature, but swiftly transitioned into rallying and demonstrating in opposition throughout the city.

The Labour Council held a rally at St-Malachy's High School on 28 March 1976, at which 600 workers listened to Shirley Carr of the Canadian Labour Congress, Bob White of the United Auto Workers, Richard Deaton of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Paul Lepage of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour speak on the issue of the rolled back wages.

Months later in May, the Canadian Labour Congress convened in Quebec City where they discussed the issue of the bill's effects and of the AIB. The Congress accepted what was called the Labour's Manifesto for Canada, which called for a workers' strike, as well as a plan for communications with the government despite the current battles between the state and unions. The Canadian Labour Congress named 14 October 1976 the Day of Protest. A year prior this had been the day in which the wage control bill was first introduced by the Prime Minister.

Across the nation, labour leaders collected and prepared union workers under the guise of "protest," rather than "strike." Some areas remained generally unorganized, but Saint John, due to its proactive leadership, moved quickly to organize. Leaflets, shirts, and other materials were given to the people of Saint John by the Canadian Labour Congress for mobilizing.

Aware of Saint John's leadership, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau came to the city less than a month before the Day of Protest was to occur. Labour activists met him in the town. The Saint John Board of Trade also sent an open letter to the Saint John District Labour Council in an attempt to stop the coming strike. Numerous employers threatened workers who chose to participate. In the province of Ontario the Labour Relations Board warned that the strike would be illegal.

On 14 October 1976, one million workers across Canada refused to work, including in the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

In Saint John, New Brunswick, five thousand marched from numerous ends of the town to King square. All major industries in Saint John were shut down.

In response, the wage control legislature was reversed eight months before it was initially supposed to end, and the strike strengthened the labour movement as a whole. Canadian labour leaders felt that it prepared the country for the wave of strikes and opposition that later needed to be taken when class struggle intensified in the 1980s.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The strike strengthened the Canadian labour movement and allowed for stronger and more successful organization in the 1980s. (2)

Sources: 
The Struggle Against Wage Controls: The Saint John Story, 1975-1976, by George Vair, St. John's, Newfoundland: Canadian Committee on Labour History, 2006.

Leger, Raymond. "October 14, 1976 - The Saint John General Strike." October 14, 1976 - The Saint John General Strike. Hatheway Labour Exhibit Center. Web. http://www.wfhathewaylabourexhibitcentre.ca/labour-history/october-14-1976-the-saint-john-general-strike/

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jessica Seigel, 03/02/2013