War of nerves in Canada

During the latter part of November much concern was expressed in official and other quarters over the strike of railway shop workers that was to have started on December 1st. No concern at all was expressed over the fact that the workers had been led around by the nose for a year prior to their decision to strike.

The railway unions had expressed their willingness to settle on the terms of a government conciliation board award which provided something less than half the amount originally demanded. In announcing the strike decision, F. H. Hall, chairman of the unions’ negotiating committee said: “The pattern of recent years has been a gradual falling behind industrial wages generally, and even the recommended increase will not halt this deterioration.”

In spite of this, a war of nerves was carried on against the workers. Politicians shook their heads at the potentially sad consequences to the nation, press editorials spoke learnedly about the dangers of inflation, preachers expressed the hope that moderation would triumph, business men talked about being priced out of to protect their living standard are not to be treated lightly

Meanwhile, the government organised a gathering of provincial government representatives and held “hearings” on the advisability of allowing the freight rate increase which the railway companies insisted they must have to meet the demands of the workers. These hearings could have gone on for months, but they were hurried along by the strike deadline, much to the undoubted irritation of the participants. A few days before the strike was to have started the railways were awarded their freight increase and came to terms with the workers.

In prolonging the dispute beyond the expressed willingness of the workers to accept the small change awarded by the conciliation board, the Government no doubt, had an eye to the future. That it hoped for a settlement more favourable to the employers is doubtful, for the unions had repeatedly slated they would not accept less. But another day is coming and the Government no doubt hopes that workers whose nerves are frayed by long months of “negotiations” and offensive propaganda will be less ready to put forward a determined position when the present contract expires. May the actual response be quite different!

In the midst of the railway “crisis” the C.C.F.. in the person of Harold Winch C.C.F.. M.P., from Vancouver. demanded that Prime Minister Diefenbaker be brought back to Canada to take personal charge. The prime minister was on a world tour.

This piece of grandstanding might have provided some comic relief, except for the unpleasant fact that antics of this kind tend to further the attitude that ruling class representatives can approach a conflict between workers and masters from an impartial and altruistic position. Mr. Winch is supposed to be one of the better informed members of the C.C.F. and ought to know this.

However, viewed from the standpoint of the uninformed and impressionable worker. Mr. Winch’s contribution might have been impressive, except for the fact that his own leader, Mr. Coldwell. was also galivanting in the far places.

J. M.

Leave a Reply