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.
© Peterborough and District Labour Council