fter World War II,
many unions proved intent on firming up the advances
made during the previous several years. As well,
thousands of unorganized workers looked to unionize.
Certainly, everyone sought to prevent a return to the
low wages and unsteady work that characterized the inter-war
years. This reasoning once again brought labour into direct
conflict with many employers. Business was not pleased with
the concessions labour had won during the war and did not want
to see those rights extended any further. Consequently, a new
strike wave roared across the country. By 1950, when labour
relations calmed somewhat, every major industry in every part
of the country had been affected. As labour historian
Craig Heron wrote about this time, "in the peak year of 1946,
strikers shut down the British Columbia logging industry, the
Ontario rubber industry, the central Canadian ports, the
Southam newspaper chain, the country's steel industry, and
dozens of mass-production plants in the biggest strike Canada had
ever seen." (Heron, p.75) In the next several years, packing-house
workers and railway workers launched a huge national strike.
In Quebec, asbestos workers literally battled company and
provincial police in a violent dispute that set labour on
a new path in that province.
A landmark legal decision followed a strike in Windsor, Ontario
involving 17,000 Ford workers. Justice Ivan Rand granted the union,
as part of the settlement, the compulsory check-off of union dues.
Rand ruled that all workers in a bargaining unit benefited from a
union-negotiated contract. Therefore, he reasoned they must pay
union dues, although they did not have to join the union. This
decision meant a degree of financial stability for unions never
previously enjoyed. This formula, when combined with the decision
of the federal government to codify P.C. 1003 into the Industrial
Relations and Disputes Act, created the legal framework for labour
relations in Canada for the next 30 years.
Labour used its improved bargaining power to secure better wages
and working conditions, and protection against arbitrary management
decisions on firings and promotions through grievance and seniority
clauses. The increased finances of the unions allowed them to hire
more permanent staff and develop greater expertise in collective
bargaining. These were all measures for which labour had fought
long and hard. Important victories as they were, critics worried
that these developments would make unions too bureaucratic and
less responsive to the needs of their members.
Despite the solidarity apparent among workers in the post-war
period, serious political differences continued to divide the
movement. The antagonism between the supporters of the Communist
Party of Canada and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation worsened
as the Cold War descended upon North America. As the political
hysteria of the period deepened, social democrats and other
anti-communists followed the lead of the unionists in the
United States. They expelled communists from their industrial
unions and eventually ejected a number of unions because of
communist involvement in them. This exclusion included the
International Wood Workers of America, British Columbia's
largest union. The communists did not help their cause by
continually offering uncritical support to the Soviet Union
and its allies. This conflict within the "House of Labour"
exploded in the 1950s and 1960s into some of the most vicious
and violent battles between unions in our history. On a more
positive note, though, the Canadian Congress of Labour and the
Trades and Labor Congress were resolving many of their differences.
In the early 1950s, discussions towards a merger of the two central
bodies began in earnest.