he CIO's first major victory
in Canada came in April 1937 at the huge General Motors (GM)
plant in Oshawa. Management refused the demands of its 4,000
workers for an eight-hour day, better wages and working conditions,
a seniority system, and recognition of the United Auto Workers
(UAW), their new union. On April 8, the workers' struck,
launching one of the most significant confrontations in modern
Canadian labour history. Although the workers struck over
local issues, GM management and Ontario Premier Mitchell
Hepburn worried that a victory in Oshawa would greatly increase
the popularity of the Committee for Industrial Organizing (CIO)
throughout industrial Ontario. After two weeks, GM settled the
strike — much to the annoyance of the provincial government.
Management recognized that the depth of union support would be
difficult to overcome, and it feared the loss of markets a
protracted strike would entail.
The union won many of its demands. On the key issue of union
recognition, GM accepted collective bargaining, but union leaders
had to first publicly sever ties with the CIO. Despite such
official statements, many recognized the Oshawa strike as a
significant CIO victory. The Oshawa UAW was a made-in-Canada union,
like most CIO affiliates that emerged in the next decade.
They were organized by Canadian workers over Canadian concerns
and led by Canadians. They affiliated with the CIO unions in
the United States, because of the energy of the CIO in the 1930s
and 1940s, and because of the fact that they worked in the same
industries for the same employers, and under similar conditions.