The 1928 General Motors Strike

On March 26, 1928, 300 General Motors employees walked off their jobs in protest of wage reductions that would affect the Chevrolet and Pontiac trimmers.  The Chevrolet, Buick, Oakland, LaSalle and Cadillac lines struck “out of sympathy” and remained out until the former wage scale had been put back into effect.   The executive of General Motors (G.M.) was firm on its actions in wage cuts, shown by a statement issued by H.A. Brown, general manager, declaring:

“The scale in the Oshawa plants has always been in excess of that prevailing in the U.S.  The management has always been appreciative of its employees but due to the present labour situation should the men refuse to return to work, the company is in a position to fill vacancies and the production of the current month will be very little affected.”

(Oshawa Daily Times March 26, 1928)

Chevrolet and Pontiac men claimed they received their pay as usual on the Thursday, and on Friday they saw a notice on the bulletin board announcing the new scale of rates, reflecting a 40% cut in wages, effective as of that date.  This was the third cut in six months.

In response to the strike of the trimmers, Mr. H.A. Brown stated in a letter,

“The present difficulty with the trimmers has been given consideration by the executive of the Employees Association and action of the management has been upheld.  The action taken today, by the trimmers, caused management to consider each and every one as released from our employ and instead of dealing collectively, each case will be dealt with individually. We appreciate that many of these men are permanent citizens of Oshawa and own their own homes and have been unduly influenced by a small group who have radical ideas and for that reason our Personal Service Section will be  equitable as possible with individual cases.  Due to the present condition of the labour market in Canada we will have little, if any difficulty in filling the positions vacated.”

(Oshawa Daily Times, March 26, 1928)

At a general meeting held on Monday, March 26, 1928, more than 700 men assembled to hear the decision of the executive, composed of representatives from all departments affected.  The announcement was that when the new cut in wages was put in force, a representative from the men affected waited upon management and offered a 50/50 basis as a compromise.  Management refused to consider this, and therefore a decision was reached that the employees will not return to their work unless the former salary was forthcoming.  Other employees were temporarily laid off, unable to do their jobs while the trimmers were on strike.

Another mass meeting was held on Tuesday, March 27, 1928 at the New Martin Theatre.  The actual number of those on strike was estimated at 1800, comprised of both men and women employees.  At this meeting, Mr. Brown felt that the trimmers were not skilled labour, a feeling that was strongly contradicted by the men.  The trimmers felt that with the great profits of G.M., stated to be $210,000,000 in the previous year, there was no reason for the cut in pay.  After the meeting, strikers paraded from the New Martin Theatre; many of the men that attended the meeting at the theatre did not walk in the parade owing to the fact that many were only in “sympathy,” as stated in the Oshawa Daily Times on March 28, 1928. They marched to the head offices of G.M. in the middle of a snow storm, singing ‘Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here’ and other such songs.

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At a final mass meeting that took place at the Armouries on Friday March 30, 1928, attended by every factory worker employee of General Motors of Canada Limited, a decision was reached to return to work the following Monday morning.  This decision was based on a letter from H.A. Brown Vice-President and General Manager of General Motors of Canada Limited, addressed Hon. Peter Heenan, Minister of Labour, and contained proposals that were satisfactory to the employees who had been on strike. A man named ‘Slim’ Phillips, the “backbone of the strike, and now the most popular man in the [amouries] hall” reportedly nearly fainted from nervous exhaustion from it all (Toronto Daily Star, March 31, 1928). The body of workers had been made member of the International Automobile Industrial Workers Union.   The pledge, approved by the workers was as follows: “We, the employees of General Motors of Canada, do hereby pledge ourselves to establish a trade union organization.  Furthermore we pledge ourselves to use every possible means to secure one hundred percent organization” (Oshawa Daily Times, March 30, 1928).


This article was originally written as a Historical Oshawa Information Sheet ©Oshawa Historical Society

References:

Oshawa Daily Times, March 26, 28-30, 1928
Toronto Daily Star, March 27-31, 1928
General Motors Strike file, archival collection, Oshawa Museum

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