When auto parts supplier SKD Automotive informed G.M. that they were insolvent, G.M. wanted to get back its equipment. Trouble is, when G.M. showed up at the plant in Brampton to get their stuff back, they were met with a “blockade” by members of the Canadian Auto Workers. That blockage remained in place for three weeks. When the police were called, they refused to intervene without a court order. Yesterday, the Court issued that order in the form of an injunction ordering that the equipment be permitted to be removed. The CAW did not object to the injunction.
We have seen our own form of “blockade” at York. The picketers at York have set up physical barriers — people and fences–to prevent cars from entering the campus. This is clearly a tort. However, as I have noted before, in Ontario, an injunction cannot be issued unless the police have been unable to prevent harm to property or people or to prevent entry or exit from property. As we see in the SKD example, the police nowadays tend not to want to get involved when picketing is peaceful and orderly. That is a far cry from the early days, when police forces used to storm into picket lines with horses, guns, and batons.
For those of you without much Canadian labour history, here’s a description of the police reaction to the WInnipeg General Strike of 1919 from the CBC archives:
Then with revolvers draw …, [the mounted police] galloped down Main Street, turned, and charged right into the crowd on William Avenue, firing as they charged. One man, standing on the sidewalk, thought the Mounties were firing blank cartridges until a spectator standing beside him dropped with a bullet through his breast … dismounted red coats lined up … declaring military control.”
On that Bloody Saturday, two strikers were killed, thirty-four others were wounded, and the police made 94 arrests. Fearing more violence, workers decided to call off the strike On June 25, at exactly 11:00 in the morning, the strikers returned to work. Forty days after it began, the largest social revolt in Canadian history has been crushed.
Seven of the arrested strike leaders were convicted of a conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 6 months to 2 years. Protestant minister James Shaver Woodsworth was arrested but not convicted. He was elected to Parliament two years later.
Woodsworth now has a college named after him at U. of Toronto.