The Month That Was – April 1937

More about the 1937 General Motors Strike can be read in an earlier post


Toronto Daily Star, 8 April 1937
3700 Motor Workers Strike at Oshawa
“Won’t build another car until they sign” Organizer Declares, Walkout Orderly, 260 Girls quit work with men and help picket plant

Oshawa, April 8 – A stand-up walkout, not a sit-down strike, hit General Motors today when 3700 workers made their peaceful exit from the plant five minutes after filing in as usual at 7am.  At once 400 pickets were flung around the works with pre-arranged precision.  The big motor industry was brought to a standstill in orderly fashion.  The threat has been threatened for more than a week, but only at 1:05am was the decision arrived at following a five hour conference of union stewards.  Six hours later it went into effect.

Thus begins the first test of strength in Canada of the Committee for Industrial Organization, which, under the leadership of John L. Lewis, has been waging a union struggle in the motor industry of the United States.

The real issue of the strike here is the CIO, or rather recognition of its affiliate, the United Automobile Workers Union…

Besides recognition of the Lewis-led union, the strike involves demands for a 40 hour week, time and a half for overtime, seniority rights, and the right of workers’ stewards to talk over grievances with company officials.

The beginning of the strike was not only peaceful but undramatic.  The workers filed in.  The workers filed out.  There was no attend at a sit-down…

“General Motors,” declared Hugh Thompson, CIO organizer, “will not build another car in Canada until they sign an agreement with the international union.”

 

Toronto Daily Star, 8 April 1937
Sale of Liquor is banned in Oshawa during strike
Beverage rooms and government store ordered closed by Odette, Mayor’s Request

During the Oshawa motor workers’ strike the liquor store, the brewery warehouse and all beverage rooms in that city will be closed.  EG Odette, head of the Ontario Liquor Control Board announced today.

We are going to co-ordinate with the municipal authorities in every way possible to maintain order,”: he said, adding that not until today had he received a request from the mayor of Oshawa, the chief of police and other municipal officials, that all sources of liquor be closed.  A number of workers received their pay cheques late yesterday, he told The Star, stating that it was feared that idleness might result in disorder, should the beverage rooms remain open.

“We are trying to do all we can to do all we can to help clear up the situation,” he said.

In Oshawa, Mayor Hall said his request if idle workers had access to liquor.

“We do not want any drunken pickets on our lines,” Millard said.

 

Lafayette Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Indiana), 13 April 1937
Premier Hurls New Threat in Oshawa Strike
Warns Lewis and his Aides Will Be Jailed Without Bail if They Commit Overt Act in Canada

Oshawa, Ont., April 13 (AP) – A move by Canada’s minister of labor to mediate the Oshawa strike pivoted today upon consent by General Motors of Canada, Ltd.

Meanwhile, other developments added fuel to the already heated controversy of international scope: Hugh Thompson, John L. Lewis’s right-hand man in the Oshawa strike, asserted the US supreme court decision on the Wagner act would cast the United Automobile Workers’ union in the role of sole bargaining agent for the General Motors workers here and the in the United States.

Premier Mitchell Hepburn of Ontario accused Lewis of trying to become “economic and political dictator” of both the United States and Canada and declared that, if he came to Canada and sponsored any overt act, or if any of his aids should do so, they would be jailed “for a good, long time and there wouldn’t be any bail.”

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From the Reno Evening Gazette, 13 April 1937, page 1

The Indianapolis Star 14 Apr 1937
US to Fill GM Foreign Orders
Strike at Canadian Plan Necessitates Move – CIO May Act

Oshawa, Ont., April 13 (AP) – General Motors of Canada decided tonight that emergency orders for shipment abroad must be filled by United States plants because of the Oshawa strike, and an augmented police force was mobilized at nearby Toronto to guard against disorder.

The strike of 3,7000 workers in the local plant began last Thursday. Vice-President Harry Carmichael indicated tonight that the company had “no definite information” when it would end. …

The police force was augmented at the order of Premier Mitchell Hepburn who said the Oshawa situation apparently was becoming “a little more tense” because “Communists from outside were ready and willing to take an increasingly active part.” …

Pickets continued to walk before the Oshawa plant today, but they were peaceful and quiet.

Manhattan Mercury 16 Apr 1937 p 1
From the Manhattan Mercury (Manhattan, Kansas) 16 April 1937, page 1

The Daily Clarion, 23 April 1937
Hepburn Backs Down, Recognizes Auto Union; Oshawa Strikers Vote on Agreement Today
Worker’s Demands Accepted As Premier, Reactionaries are Beaten to Standstill

Oshawa General Motors employees’ demand for union recognition was crowned by victory it was reported early this morning.

The complete list of demands as presented by workers to the GM corporation had long been considered gained, with one contentious point of union recognition used by Premier Hepburn to block negotiation.  This morning it was learned that recognition of Oshawa local 222 was achieved.

Although at yesterday evening’s press conference the premier stressed that no amplification of his statement would be made to the press, the Globe and Mail, personal organ of WH Wright, multimillionaire mining operator and friend of Hepburn, and its informant, were evidently not bound by this gentleman’s agreement.  The Globe and Mail carried the full news both in paper and radio.

 

The Daily Clarion, 23 April 1937
An Ontario Scandal

To the Editor:

As a reader of your paper and much interested in your articles regarding the relief situation, I have often wondered why you did not tell something of the conditions under which the recipients of Mothers’ Allowances have to exist.

Budgeted as we are with no allowance made for dental care, for medicines or medical care, not yet for clothing (a large item) nor for the replacement of worn out utensils, bedding, and mattresses, in the Township our dollar has not the value of the voucher in the purchase of bread or of milk.

Take my own case, six children and self allowance $60 per month with rent at $15 per month for four rooms.

Four boys ranging in age from seven to twelve years sleep on a…couch, whilst a child of five – a delicate girl of 13 and myself try to sleep in another bed.

The mattresses covering these beds are worn out beyond repair. The threat of the Attendance Officer (who is a policeman in the Township) has been held over my head all winter by the school because I have been unable to provide the necessary clothing for my children to attend school.

There are many other mothers in the neighborhood in the same condition.

Can’t you take up cudgels on our behalf and through the columns of your paper let the people know under what conditions families such as mine have to exist, conditions which would be condemned by the Children’s Aid Society,

-Oakridge

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From the Daily Clarion, 23 Apr 1937, page 1

The Globe and Mail, 24 Apr 1937
JOYOUS MOOD OVER OSHAWA AT STRIKE END: Auto Workers Celebrate to Tune of Dance, Following Vote to Return THOMPSON IS EXPECTED

There are no picket lines in Oshawa tonight.  The tents of the strikers have been struck.

And this city is celebrating, gaily, jubilantly. It is marking the end of the 16-day strike which paralyzed its major industry, which extended its deadening influence through hundreds of other plants and dealers’ organizations, which took its toll in the town’s merchandising business, and which at one stage threatened to end in CIO domination.

Vote 2205 to 36

Tonight members of the local union, now ex-strikers, danced in the armouries where a few hours before they took a vote.  There at noon they balloted and by a decision of 2205 to 36 ratified the settlement agreement negotiated in the office of Premier Hepburn. They came to this conclusion when Hugh Thompson, CIO organizer, and Homer Martin, Thompson’s boss, were out of the country.  They brought about their settlement when Claud R. Kramer, the CIO agent newly thrust into the scene, was out of the way in his hotel room. …

Mayor Alex Hall was up on the platform making a speech, getting lots of cheers.  He said that Police Chief Owen Friend would tell them that there had been no law-breaking, complete orderliness.  Only arrest in the strike was a vagrant who asked to be locked up. He complimented his hearers for coming through with flying colors, maintaining the city’s good name.

 

Oshawa Daily Times, 30 April 1937
Oshawa Labor to Get Preference in Local Plant; Shop Committee Meets G.M. Management for Discussion

In the face of reports prevalent throughout the city that outside men in the city without work, the at General Motors while there were ment [SIC] in the city without work. The shop committee of General Motors employees met with the management yesterday afternoon for discussion of the matter.

E.E. Bathe, vice-president of Oshawa Local No. 222, U.A.W.A., revealed that the committee was assured by General Motors officials that Oshawa men and former employees would be given the preference when additional help is being taken on at the plant here. He pointed out that in all cases it was not possible to secure men from within the city and it was found necessary to seek elsewhere for men to fill some positions in the shop.

Production is going forward every day since the plant reopened on Monday and practically the same schedule of production which prevailed before the strike was called has been maintained if not bettered during the week. There has been no speeding up the lines and no pressure brought to bear on the employees. The employees hit their former stride in the various operations throughout the plant and it is quite possible that production will continue well on into the summer months.

 

Oshawa Daily Times, 30 April 1937
Belleville Students Stage a Walk Out

Belleville, April 30, – Forty students of the Belleville Collegiate Institute and Vocational School staged a walk-out yesterday after-noon and wended their way to Victoria Park. Approached by a reporter they refused to state the nature of their grievance.

Students who were questioned stated that the grievance had nothing to do with the teaching staff but it was a collective grievance and one which may effect [sic] the whole school.

The Board of Education and the principle of the school was questioned but nobody would talk and those who did say anything stated they had no knowledge of any trouble.

The event was the first walk-out ever to occur in Belleville.

 

Oshawa Daily Times, 30 April 1937
Oshawa Ten Years Ago, April 30, 1927 (The Oshawa Daily Reformer)

At midnight tonight, the time-pieces in Oshawa will be advanced one hour for at that hour, Daylight Saving Time comes into being for the season

Miss Marjorie Hancock of the Toronto Normal School is spending the week-end at her home, Celina Street.

A short meeting of the Oshawa Water Commission was held yesterday afternoon when accounts were passed and other routine business completed.

MH Hudson, 26 Warren avenue, had a spare tire stolen from his car which he left parked on Simcoe Street North yesterday.

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From the Oshawa Daily Times, 30 Apr 1937

Giving Tuesday & The 2018 Curator’s Most Wanted List

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

We have two days that are good for the economy. Now we have a day that is good for the community too.” GivingTuesday.ca

Once again the Oshawa Museum is taking part  in the global movement known as GivingTuesday. Taking place the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it is unofficially known as the “opening day of the giving season.” It is a time for charities, companies and individuals to join together and celebrate their favourite causes. (GivingTuesday.ca)

Our staff chose the artefact collection as the focus of the Oshawa Museum’s Giving Tuesday celebration.  A great deal of our work at the Oshawa Museum (OM) centres around the collection which numbers in excess of 50,000 objects.  Collecting the artefacts is only one piece of the puzzle. One of the most important aspects of the collecting process is the curation or, in other words, how the collection is accumulated and selected for acquisition,  presentation and preservation.  Melissa Cole and Jennifer Weymark are the staff members responsible for curating the OM’s collection.  In this process they are guided by their professional knowledge and a collection policy to ensure our collection is diverse and representative of the history of Oshawa and includes the voices, stories and artefacts of all those who have called Oshawa home. In order to strategically develop the collection for future generations, we rely on donations of both money and artefacts. Donations in any amount help us to purchase items we feel will help tell a more inclusive history of our City. We are also asking you to search your attics and basements for artefacts that will help us with our work.

Poster - SM Graphic

To help you, Jennifer and Melissa recently came up with a Curator’s Top 5  Most Wanted artefacts.

  1. Items related to the Henry, Guy and Robinson families including photographs, land deeds, letters, artefacts.
  2. Examples of Smith Potteries pieces or items related to the business. Currently the OM has 25 pieces of Smith Potteries, and we hope to grow this number and learn more about the business that operated in Oshawa from 1925-1949.
  3. Oshawa historic newspapers especially from the period 1880-1930. There are large gaps in the newspaper collection during these years.  Complete newspapers are great, however we also are interested in incomplete copies or single pages.
  4. Anything related to industry and manufacturing, labour history and the 1937 strike.
  5. A more inclusive look at Oshawa’s history means we must do a better job at telling the stories of our diverse community. Current research projects include early Black and Asian history as well as Displaced Persons.

Once again we are asking our members to join us in preserving Oshawa’s  history by helping us to purchase or by donating items that are on the Curator’s Top 5 Most Wanted List.

Recently the staff was sadden to learn of the passing of  one of our long time friends, Tedd Hann.

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Tedd Hann, Jillian Passmore, and Jacquie Frank

Tedd spent many years working for a bread company and then started work with the City of Oshawa.  He retired more than 18 years ago.  Tedd was an accomplished curler and once played on a team that scored an eight ender (a perfect score). Many of our  members will recall Tedd’s Uncle Earl, one of the founding members of the OHS.  Tedd said he donated to the museum in Earl’s memory, after all it was Earl who first got Tedd interested in the work of the museum.   Through donations to the Artefact Fund, Tedd  helped the museum  purchase an exhibit case, publish our WWII book, Stories from the Homefront, repatriate a pair of Ritson Pear Trees and conserve the Granny Cock painting.  Tedd said he got a “great deal of satisfaction” from supporting the museum and was happy to “continue Earl’s work.”

History organizations make their communities more attractive places in which to live, work, learn and play.  A strong arts and culture community is important to the livability and vitality of a community.   Would you be willing to make a donation of $25, $50, $100 or more to help us meet our goal?  Please use this link to make a donation: http://bit.ly/top-5-artefacts. You can also send your donation by mail to Oshawa Historical Society, 1450 Simcoe Street South, Oshawa, Ontario L1H 8S8.

We thank you for your support to strategically manage and develop the collection as a growing resource for education and research.  We also extend an invitation to you to visit the Oshawa Museum and experience first-hand Oshawa’s Home to History.

The Strike of 1937

The year is 1937. The City of Oshawa has grown to 25,000 citizens. Alex C. Hall is the Mayor. An unforgettable strike in the history of Oshawa was about to unfold at the city’s General Motors plant.

On April 8, 1937 3,700 workers walked off the job and did not return to the lines until a settlement was struck weeks later.

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This strike became pivotal to the future of labour relations throughout Canada.  The Toronto Star reported on the strike and described it as an orderly event – “a stand-up strike not a sit-down strike” and even saw 260 women joining the men on the picket line.

The strike began quietly.  Workers arrived at 7 am to begin work.  The day changed when, at 7:05 workers peacefully exited the plant and went on strike.

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Simultaneously, 400 pickets are flung up around the works with pre-arranged precision.

Despite the calm air surrounding the striking workers, the provincial police were mobilized in Toronto in anticipation of potential violence.  At the same time, the Liquor Commissioner, E.G. Odette, chose to indefinitely close the liquor store, brewer’s warehouse and all beverage rooms to prevent any disorder.

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Why strike?  Workers in Oshawa were demanding recognition of the United Auto Workers union.  The UAW was an affiliate of the recently created Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO; later Congress of Industrial Organization), a group that was working to organize industrial workers throughout the US. This group was not seen as a positive step by General Motors management and they, along with Ontario Premier Mitchell Hepburn, worked to keep the CIO out of Ontario. Both the company and the premier wanted a pliant labour force – unorganized, impotent and cheap. To break the strike, Hepburn even created his own police force, known irreverently as “Hepburn’s Hussars” and “Sons-of-Mitches.”

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The GM workers’ requests were simple: an 8-hour day, better wages and working conditions, a seniority system and recognition of their union, the new United Automobile Workers. The strike carried on for over 2 weeks. Fearing a loss in the marketplace to competitors, General Motors eventually capitulated and the strike ended on April 23, 1937.

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This major confrontation between GM and its workers in Oshawa in 1937 effectively brought about industrial unionism to Canada. “In 1937, when several thousand members signed union cards, the hopelessness of the depression gave way to a new hope, a new confidence. UAW 222 was born” (Local 222).