Newfoundland loggers strike, win better working conditions, 1958-59

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Timing
Time Period:  
31 December
1958
to
March
1959
Location and Goals
Country: 
Canada
Location City/State/Province: 
Grand Falls, Newfoundland
Goals: 
To increase wages and gain better living conditions in the logging camps. In particular the workers wanted hot showers, heating, more comfortable living spaces, and balanced meals.
 

In the mid 1950’s hundreds of loggers were employed by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company (AND). Many of these workers were employed out of Grand Falls, near the town of Badger, Newfoundland, Canada. These particular workers soon felt that they were not being treated as they should be, and became increasingly frustrated with the low wages and uncomfortable living situations in the bush camps. These camps had cramped, cold, uncomfortable sleeping areas and lacked both showers and heaters for warmth. The food offered to them was generally the same thing daily consisting of beans, tea, and occasionally bread. Needless to say, many, if not all of the workers felt the need for something to change.

After pleading with their union, the Newfoundland Loggers Association (NLA) and not feeling heard, they began looking elsewhere for help. In 1956, against much protest from the NLA, a group of the loggers contacted H. Landon Ladd and invited him to Newfoundland. Ladd represented the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) and was stationed in British Columbia at the time. Soon, with much opposition from most of the Newfoundland public, a large majority of the workers voted Ladd and the IWA to take over as their union.

On December 31, 1958, after many failed attempts to negotiate with the AND Company, hundreds of the IWA workers voted to walk off the job and strike. Their demands remained the same as they were two years before: they wanted to have the right to warmth and somewhat comfortable living situations while at their bush camps, as well as balanced healthy meals to be provided to them during their time there. They also wanted to be paid a fair wage to compete with many of the loggers across the country, in places such as British Columbia.

They began to strike by setting up picketing lines on the roads leading to the camps. A large number of workers turned out to support the unions’ decision to strike, and most of them participated in the picketing lines daily. Their fearless leader, Ladd, was also present at the picketing lines and was their main media person. As the reporters came, Ladd told them of how the AND Company was guilty of maltreatment towards the loggers by not providing them with reasonable living environments and competitive wages.

Although the media was consistently present during the protest, Ladd`s message was not being embraced by the Newfoundland public, and their opinion of him seemed to be still quite negative. The outside people were also not in favor of the loggers going on strike and publicly opposed the action when asked by persons of the media. Even though the loggers seemed alone in their struggle, they persevered and continued to picket, later blocking the main road to the logging camp.

On February 12, 1959, the community’s opposition became a political agenda. Premier Joseph Smallwood publicly declared that he would put an end to the IWA`s presence in Newfoundland and take over the labour talks himself. This plan in theory was successful, and on March 6 Smallwood and his government passed legislation that allowed them to order the immediate cessation of labor talks and picketing by the workers. This statute also allowed them to disband all trade unions in the province, thus making the IWA void of any power that it had possessed.

This legislation came with much scrutiny from outsiders, including The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and International Labour Organization. Even Lester B. Pearson, a close friend of Smallwood, expressed concern with his extreme actions. Smallwood also approached the Prime Minister at the time, John Diefenbaker, and requested that the federal government provide the area with additional police presence to implement his plan. This request was promptly denied. Evidently, these powerful federal politicians were not in support of Smallwood’s punitive and prejudicial use of authority or his disregard for the workers’ right to unionize.

What Smallwood did not realize was that the workers had formed much solidarity over the previous six weeks and were not prepared to quit on their cause, regardless of him kicking the IWA out of Newfoundland. Unfortunately, the now over 300 workers were beginning to become agitated and the once peaceful protest began to interfere with some public freedoms. Some picketers began vandalizing existing logging camps and turned over the occasional car that was attempting to pass along the road towards the camps. Police then went in with Billy clubs and used them to injure many protestors in attempt to take back the power that was slipping from their grasps.

Then, tragedy struck in Badger. On March 10, during a struggle between the local police and protestors, one striker hit a police officer with a piece of wood, knocking him unconscious. The policeman died two days later. This horrible situation, along with the workers running out of money, forced the protests to quickly fizzle. Then, in an amazing turn of events, the AND Company agreed to the terms proposed by Smallwood. The puzzling thing was that this offer was virtually the same as what both the former NWA and IWA had previously been asking for. The strike ended, and soon the workers returned to camps that were transformed with new showers with both hot and cold water, cooks that made healthy stable meals, and warmth and relative comfort in their sleeping areas. They were also compensated with a sufficient wage increase that compared to loggers in other provinces.

This protest would go down in history as one of biggest human rights and labor disputes in Newfoundland.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Cooper, Austin M (2010). A Deadly Strike in Badger, pt 2. Retrieved from <http://www.canadianlawyermag.com> 22/04/2012

Clement, Dominique (2011), The IWA in Newfoundland. Retrieved from <http://www.historyofrights.com> 22/04/2012

Gillespie, Bill (2011). Newfoundland Loggers Strike. Retrieved from <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com> 22/04/2012

Ricketts, J.A.(2008). The Badger Riot. Flanker Press

Author Unknown. The Badger Riot. Retrieved from <http://newfoundwebbers.com> 22/04/2012

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ron Vadnais, 22/04/2012