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Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical
Vol 1 - Chapter XXII
Labor, Trade Unionism, Industrial Unionism and Labor Legislation

It is purposed to deal with the subject in this chapter under the heads of Legislation, Organization, Wages, Strikes and Industrial Disputes.


Labor is a subject over which both the Federal and Provincial governments exercise control, each within the limits assigned by the Constitution. In this chapter particular attention will be given to those laws passed by the Territorial and Provincial authorities.

At the time of the transfer of Rupert's Land and Northwestern Territory in 1870, the laws of England were in force in those regions. In order to avoid a conflict of laws, the Dominion Parliament expressly enacted in 1886 (49 Vict., c. 25) that the laws of England as they existed on July 15, 1870, were to be in force as far as applicable to the Territories except as the same had been repealed or altered at the passing of the Act or would thereafter be repealed or altered by the Parliament of Great Britain, the Parliament of Canada, or the acts and ordinances of the Legislative Assembly of the North West Territories or any province created out of the said Territories. This law, of course, affected labor and the law of England as it existed on July 15, 1870, except as the same had been repealed or modified, applied to the workers of the Territories. Consequently, many of the rigorous doctrines of the Common Law were in force in Western Canada. Very soon, however, the North West Council and later the Assembly of the Territories began giving attention to special legislation dealing with the rights and the protection of the workers along the same lines and often in advance of the labor legislation of the older provinces of Canada. This legislation may be rightly divided into enactments respecting wages, protection of workmen in the course of their employment, hours of labor, female and child labor, and compensation for loss of life or injuries sustained in the course of employment.

With respect to wages, many laws have been passed with the intention of securing for the workmen the wages they have earned. The first was a clause in the Master and Servants Ordinance passed iii 1873. This ordinance embodied the exact terms of the Act passed by the Legislature of Manitoba in 1871. In 1879 a new law on this subject was passed by the North West Council. The law has been amended from time to time to contain practically the same terms as the original ordinance. As it stands today, contracts for personal service for periods of more than one year shall be in writing. The penalty for violation on the part of servants is a fine not exceeding $30.00 or imprisonment not exceeding one month. On the other hand, the ordinance provides a summary method for the collection of wages by a servant from an unjust employer and protection against illegal discharge.

A Mechanics Lien Law was first enacted in 1884. In 1906 the law was revised and many features introduced for the benefit of workmen. The principle of giving liens to the workman upon the works, buildings or material they help to produce was extended to cover threshers in 1895, threshers' employees 1913, woodmen, 1913. These laws were largely the result of western conditions. In harvest time there is annually a great influx of temporary labor from the eastern provinces to take off the harvest and assist in threshing. A great deal of work is done at various times of the year in the unsettled areas, such as cutting logs and lumber. The workmen come from all parts of the country. They have no homes here and unless they are promptly paid, or unless their wages are secured, suffering and injustice would in many instances be caused by either dishonesty, carelessness or insolvency of their employers. The various lien acts make the wages of the workman or mechanic a first charge upon the product of his labor. In 1886 the directors of companies were made liable to clerks, laborers and servants for six months' wages and when the Winding Up Ordinance was passed in 1903, three months' wages of clerks, laborers and servants was made a preferred claim. Claims for wages or salaries in excess of this amount rank as ordinary debts. Similar provisions were embodied in the Preferential Assignments Act of 1907 and the Creditors Relief Act of 1910. A fair wage law has been in force since 1907 on all railway contracts upon lines subsidized by the Provincial and Dominion Governments.

A minimum wage in shops and factories and offices was imposed in 1917 by the Factories Act, of $1.50 per shift for all persons and S1.00 per shift for apprentices. Since 1893 a minor may sue for wages in the same way as if of full age. With respect to attaching wages and salaries, all provincial civil servants are under a special law which gives the Provincial Treasurer the powers of a judge to determine the applications of a creditor and to withhold and to pay over to the creditor the debt claimed.

The beginning of the coal industry rendered it necessary to have legislation regulating conditions of workmen in and about the mines. The first legislation was enacted in 1893 but with the growth of the coal mining industry the law has been changed at various times, viz., 1898, 1906, 1913 and 1920, to meet new conditions and to grant increased provisions for safety. Several commissions have been appointed and the conditions surrounding coal mines in Alberta thoroughly investigated. Representatives of the mine owners, miners and the public have sat oil commissions and it may be said at the present time, the law is as satisfactory as it is possible for all interests to devise.

The Provincial Railway Act contains many provisions for the safety of railway employees in the construction of bridges, tunnels, the operation of trains and the use of safety appliances. The Act gives the Minister of Railways large powers for enforcing the law and the regulations.

The Factory Act of 1917 provides for guarding machinery in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. Coal oil, gas, or any explosive or inflammable material must be stored so as to avoid accidents as far as possible. Other provisions of the Act deal with safety of hoists, elevators, the prevention of fire in such a way as to reduce the probability of accidents and loss of life to the lowest possible minimum.

Proper sanitation in factories, shops and offices is provided for by the Factory Act arid Public Health Act. Steam boilers are regularly inspected by Government inspectors and no one is allowed to operate an engine without a Government certificate. The Steam Boilers Act is one of the oldest in the list of protective legislation, being enacted in 1897. Chauffeurs must be licensed.

Important acts passed in recent years that indicate the strength of organized labor are "The Act for the Protection of Persons Employed in the Construction of Buildings and Excavations 1913"; "Act for the Protection of Electrical Workers 1917"; and the "Act for the Protection of Employees of Public Utilities 1915."


The hours of labor have been the subject of much discussion in labor circles and in the Legislature within the last few years. One of the first enactments on this subject was contained in the Municipal Ordinance of the North West Territories in 1897 in which powers were given to municipalities to pass by-laws enforcing early closing hours in wholesale and retail shops and stores or other places where a mercantile business was carried on. Greater importance was given to the law on this subject by the Early Closing Act of 1912 applicable to towns and cities of not less than 1,000 inhabitants. But of later years the Act has been made applicable to all towns and villages. The early closing hour is limited to 6 p. m. except one day in the week which must not be earlier than 12 o'clock noon. In 1908 the hours for coal miners working underground were limited by a special Act, to eight hours per day. The Factory Act 1917 and amendments provide that the hours of labor for any person during a day shift shall not be earlier than 7 a. m. nor later than 6 p. m., and that a night shift shall not exceed eight hours. One hour is allowed to a workman at noon and since 1909 every employee may leave his work any time between 12 o'clock and 3 o'clock on polling day for the purpose of recording his vote, without deduction of time by his employer.

Child and female labor in mines has been prohibited since 1898. Boys under 12 years and women or girls of any age may not be employed underground in any mine. The Children's Protection Act passed in 1909 and amended in 1912 prohibits the employment of young children in street trades such as express or despatch messengers, vendors of newspapers or small wares and bootblacks, unless such children have the written authority of their parents or guardians. Such children are not permitted to carry on any street trade after 8 p. m. in the months of December, January or February or after 9 p. m. or during school hours throughout the rest of the year. Employment of children under the age of fourteen years during school hours is sternly prohibited except in certain circumstances to be decided by competent officials under the Truancy Act.

In 1919 the Legislature of Alberta abolished private employment bureaus and established a Government Employment Bureau to act as it clearing house and to provide facilities for finding employment and for distributing male and female labor throughout the province. This law was enacted as a co-ordinating measure with the Federal law on the same subject passed in 1920.

Compensation for workmen or employees injured or killed in the course of their employment is now largely governed by the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1920. Previous to any legislation on this subject, the law of England, as far as applicable, was in force, consequently that antiquated and barbarous maxim of the Common Law, viz., that the right of action for injuries sustained by workmen is terminated by the death of either party, was a part of our law. The rigor of this law was to some extent mitigated by an Ordinance passed in 1884 entitled "An Ordinance respecting Compensation to the families of persons killed by accidents." This law conferred a right of action on the wife, husband, parent or child whose death had been caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, if commenced within twelve months from the death of the deceased person (R. 0. 1888, c. 55).

Another doctrine of the Common' Law in force in the Territories was that of common employment. By the old rule as it stood until 1900 a workman could not make his master or employer responsible for injuries due to the negligence or wrongful act of a fellow servant, but in that year the Legislative Assembly of the North West Territories passed an ordinance abolishing this doctrine in the Territories and from that date negligence of a fellow workman is not a defence in an action for tort against an employer or a master. The most important legislation on this subject is found in the Compensation Act of Alberta. The Act was first passed in 1908, largely through the influence of the lion. C. W. Cross, the first Attorney-General of the Province. The principles of the Act were novel to the employers of the Province and were strenuously opposed by many employers. Gradually, however, the justice and humanity of the new law was recognized by the majority of the employers, and an equitable compensation law is now regarded as indispensable in any proper social system. The Act was revised and enlarged in 1918 to bring it more in harmony with conditions that have developed with the industrial growth of the Province during the last decade.

The Workmen's Compensation Act of 1908, the provisions of which. were extended by the Compensation Act of 1918, introduced a wholly new principle which is really in the direction of compulsory assurance, the primary liability being placed on the industry in which the workman is engaged. The duty created is a new statutory one, a duty which is wholly independent of any wrong-doing or negligence by the employer, but is made by statute part of every contract of employment to which the Act applies.


As in the other provinces of Canada, organizations for regulations between workmen and masters or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, have been authorized since the first Trade Union Act of Canada passed in 1872. Any seven or more members of a trade union may, by subscribing to the rules of the union and by complying with the terms of the Trade Union Act, become registered provided the purposes of the trade union are not contrary to the laws of Canada. The fundamental unit in labor organizations is the local union made up of the craftsmen or workers in a particular trade or calling in a given community. The local union is generally attached to a larger organization having either national or international jurisdiction. In certain cases the union may have no affiliation and is independent. The local has its own officers and is directly affiliated with the central or controlling body from which it derives its charter. Most of the unions in this Province as in the other provinces of Canada, are affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada. On the other hand, a few unions belong to purely national organizations such as the Federal Association of Letter Carriers, Civil Service Federation of Canada, Canadian Brotherhood of Stationary Engineers and Dominion Railway Mail Clerks Association. Some of these are affiliated with the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada or Canadian Federation of Labor. Of the 224 local unions in Alberta in 1920, 192 belonged to the American Federation of Labor or some other international central body. Twenty-nine had national affiliations only, while three were wholly independent unions. The total trade union membership reported in 1920 was 15,272.

The chief central bodies governing the activities of organized labor are :—American Federation of Labor, the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the Canadian Labor Congress. The Trades arid Labor Congress is largely representative of international unions in Canada, the membership being made up from the unions chartered by the American Federation. It concedes to the American Federation of Labor the authority to charter Federal unions in Canada, that is, bodies over which no central international organization exercises jurisdiction. The Congress issues charters to unions of public service employees as well as to trades and labor councils and provincial federations of labor. The American Federation of Labor recognizes the Congress as the mouthpiece of Canadian union men in dealing with legislative policies, but in respect to trade controversies and jurisdictional disputes, the American Federation has full control. The membership of the Congress is composed of: (1) Delegates from Provincial Federations, trades and labor councils and such Federal labor unions as may be granted charters; (2) delegates from local international organizations and other such locals of Canadian national or non-international as do not encroach on the jurisdiction recognized international unions.

The Canadian Federation of Labor is a national organization whose members are not in sympathy with international unionism. It issues charters to trades councils and craft unions which apply for affiliation. It dates from 1902, first being known as the National Trades and Labor Congress. The present name was adopted in 1908. At present it comprises 15 central organizing bodies most of which have members in Alberta. The Canadian Brotherhood of Stationary Engineers and Firemen has its headquarters at Edmonton. It was formed in June, 1919, and now has nine branches in Alberta.

Between the local union and the grand central governing body like the American Federation of Labor or the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada, there are Various forms of federation such as the District Council, the Provincial Federation and the Trades and Labor Council. The best known of these bodies is possibly the Trades and Labor Council. Trades and Labor Councils exist in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. They consist of delegates from the various local unions in each city and usually hold monthly or fortnightly meetings. The majority of unions in these cities are affiliated with the Trades and Labor Council and contribute to the funds of the Council a per capita assessment. The Councils are voluntary bodies and have no power to issue charters to local unions. They deal with matters of common interest to the workers of the community and have a powerful influence in moulding public opinion on many questions of civic and provincial policy.

With a view to bringing together dis-united local branch unions for the purpose of dealing collectively with matters affecting trade conditions and other affairs, a number of kindred trades have formed federations, each unit electing delegates and contributing by a per capita tax to the funds necessary to support them. The first to be mentioned is the Alberta Federation of Labor, organized in 1912 and chartered by the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada. This Federation is made up of Trades and Labor Councils, international and national local branch unions and independent federal labor unions. Annual meetings are held at which mainly legislative matters concerning wage earners are considered. Next there are delegate bodies representing particular groups of allied occupations such as the building trades, printing trades, and railway employees. Five such bodies are in operation in Alberta, viz.: The Building Trades Committee of the Calgary Trades and Labor Council, comprising eight unions and 843 members; the Printing Trades Council of Edmonton, comprising four unions and 165 members; the Grand Trunk Railway System Federation; the Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia Railway System Federation; and the Edmonton Civic Service Association.

A still closer grouping of local unions exists in the District Councils or conference boards. The jurisdiction of these bodies varies. Sometimes it is confined to one locality where two or more locals of the same craft exist. In other instances it includes all local branches of a given trade within a stated area. These district organizations are supported by the usual democratic method of trade union organization, viz., by a per capita tax on the branches comprising the membership. They deal with trade and other matters considered to be in the interests of the membership which can be better dealt with by a representative conference or board than by individual locals. There are five such councils in Alberta at the present time:

(a) Calgary Joint Carpenters District Council, two unions, 520 members.
(b) United Brotherhood of Joiners and Carpenters of Edmonton, two unions, 300 members.
(c) International Association of Machinists, 68 unions, 6,000 members.
(d) Western Canada Conference of Typographical Unions, 13 unions, 1,000 members.
(e) International Brotherhood of Steam Shovel and Dredge men, four unions, 328 members.

Among the important labor organizations operating in Alberta are those whose members are employed on the railroads and who are organized into local lodges at the various divisional points of the railway lines. These are the local brotherhood 'committees designed to provide delegate bodies which include grievance, adjustment, protective and legislative boards. They deal with conditions of employment, the settlement of disputes and cooperation in various ways with the railway company. The list of organizations of this class is given below separately with the names of the railroads over which the Committees exercise jurisdiction:

(1) General Adjustment Committee of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and B. C. Railway.
(2) Adjustment Committee of the Railway Conductors of the Canadian National Railway lines west.
(3) Railway Conductors of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and B. C. Railway.
(4) General Grievance Committees of the Locomotive Firemen and Engine men of the Canadian Northern Railway.
(5) General Grievance Committee of the Railroad Trainmen of the Canadian Pacific Railway lines west.
(6) General Grievance Committee of the Railroad Trainmen of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and B. C. Railway.

Mention should also be made of the Miners' organizations. As the mines of Alberta are all coal mines, the Western Federation of Miners which embraces workers in metaliferous mines, are not represented in the province. The coal miners of Alberta belong to the United Mine Workers of America. This organization is essentially industrial in character and includes all workers in and around coal mines. It is administered through a system of districts, sub-districts and local branches, all of which must be chartered by the International Body, United Mine Workel's of America. The Coal miners of Alberta are under the jurisdiction of district No. 18 of the United Mine Workers of America. This district was formed on November 9th, 1903 and embraces also the coal mines of the mainland of British Columbia. The first local of the United Mine Workers Association in Alberta was formed at Bellevue in June 1903.


The labor organizations dealt with ill preceding paragraphs all represent craft unionism. There are other forms of labor organization that may be classed under the head of industrial unionism; the latter forms were formerly represented by the International Workers of the World, but ill years by what is known as the One Big Union. Industrial unionism is bitterly opposed to craft unionism and one of the most engrossing episodes in the whole history of labor in Alberta as well as in Canada, has been the struggle in the last three years between craft unions, united with the American Federation of Labor and the Trades and Labor Council of Canada, and the One Big Union. Though the din of battle is still resounding, the victory unquestionably has fallen oil banners of craft unionism. The membership of the One Big Union has steadily declined since it reached the peak in 1919.

The International Workers of the World began to operate in Canada in 1906 and during the next six or seven years were very active in Alberta and British Columbia, but rapidly declined until in 1914 there were only two locals in the province. The organization appealed with most success to the unskilled workers. The general plan of organization provided for a structure composed of:

(a) Industrial unions embracing all the workers of a given industry in a given locality.
(b) National industrial unions consisting of local industrial unions of the same industry.
(c) Departmental organizations combining national industrial unions of closely allied industries.

Following the proscription of the Industrial Workers of the World in the United States in 1918, the Canadian Government by Order in Council Sept. 24, 1918, under the authority of the War Measures Act of 1914, declared the I. W. W. to be an unlawful association in addition to thirteen other revolutionary groups operating in Canada. Since that time the I. W. W. has not been heard of in Alberta except so far as that organization was the sinister progenitor of the O. B. U.

Opposition craft unionism developed slowly in Western Canada. A resolution favoring industrial unionism passed the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada held at Calgary in 1911. In 1912 the Vancouver Trades and Labor Council circularized the western unions for an expression of opinion on the subject. It was not, therefore, until 1912 that the agitation became serious. The question was warmly discussed in Winnipeg in December 1918 at the Convention of District No. 4 of the Railway Employees Department of the American Federation of Labor, but the real struggle between the two forms of unionism began at Calgary in March 1919, at a Conference of labor representatives from the four western provinces. At this meeting the O. B. U. was launched. The Convention recommended the immediate reorganization of the workers along industrial lines, so that by their industrial strength they could enforce their demands. It recommended the unions to sever their connection with other national or international parent organizations and provided for a referendum vote on the question. To execute the plan of the Convention, a central committee, which afterwards constituted the general executive of the O. B. U., was elected. The names on this Committee should be recorded, for possibly no body of men in the whole history of the west, ever raised such profound emotions of hope on the one hand and fear and doubt on the other. In the minds of thousands within the labor ranks and without, the fear of revolution became real and menacing. The executive was as follows: W. A. Pritchard, Vancouver; R. J. Johns, Winnipeg; Jos. R. Knight, Edmonton; V. R. Midgley, Vancouver; Jos. Naylor, Cumberland, B. C. In addition to the general executive, Provincial Committees were elected representing each of the four provinces of Western Canada. Alberta's representatives were Carl Berg, Edmonton; Donald McNab, Lethbridge; W. Kolling, Brule Mines; Mrs. Geo. L. Corse and J. Marshall of Calgary. Ballots were distributed among the various unions to get an expression of opinion on the O. B. U. principle and also on the advisability of a general strike on June 1, 1919 to establish the six-hour working day. Contributions were solicited from the unions and those that responded by voting union funds had their charters promptly cancelled by their parent organizations. Little interest was taken in the new movement by the unions of eastern Canada, but by the end of May, Secretary Midgley of the O. B. U. issued a statement that the unions from Port Arthur, Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia, were overwhelmingly in favor of the six-hour day and industrial unionism. Of the 41,365 reported trade unionists in Western Canada, 24,239 voted for the O. B. U. and 5,975 against. Medicine Hat was the only city in Alberta that gave a majority for the O. B. U., the Trades and Labor Council supporting it by a vote of 22 to S. In Calgary, 34 local branch unions out of a, total of 58 voted on the question; 14 of these were unanimously opposed. The remaining 20 gave 728 votes in favor of and 951 votes against the 0. B. U. In Edmonton only 16 unions voted out of a total of 62. Eight unions opposed the 0. B. U. and of the remaining eight, 646 were recorded in favor and 683 against the O. B. U. Eight unions out of 18 in Medicine Hat voted, giving 123 for and 51 against the O. B. U., while two unions were unanimously in favor. In Lethbridge six unions out of twenty-three voted, showing seven votes in favor and 93 against the O. B. U. Two unions were unanimous in their opposition. The vote of the miners is not included in these ffgures, but throughout district 18 the vote of the locals was largely in favor of the new form of industrial organization.

Following the vote a second Conference was called an(l met in Calgary June 11, 1919, to form a Constitution for the new organization and to further its cause. Meanwhile the celebrated Winnipeg strike intervened and spread to all the important cities of Western Canada. By the time of the next meeting of the O. B. U. which was scheduled to come off in October, the officers were required to attend court in connection with the trial of several strikers arrested, it was alleged, for conspiracy and sedition. The convention subsequently met in Winnipeg in January, 1920. It resolved to exclude all workers from the O. B. U. who held a card from an international union, or any other union card. The Winnipeg Defense Committee asked the Convention to take a vote on the question of a general strike to secure the release from jail of the Winnipeg strikers and to ask the cooperation of the workers of Great Britain. The Convention did not go so far as to endorse such a request. A new Executive Board of eight members was elected as follows: Chairman, W. A. Pritchard; Secretary- Treasurer, V. R. Midgley; E. Winch, representing the lumbermen; P. M. Christopher, representing the miners; T. E. Roberts, the metal workers; R. J. Johns, railroad workers; Jos. Naylor, workers west of Rocky Mountains; W. H. E. Logan and H. Cottrell, central district; Jos. R. Knight, eastern division.

The activities and propaganda of the O. B. U. were vigorously cornbatted by a majority of the trade unionists of Alberta, as will be seen from the statistics of the vote referred to above. The fight in Alberta was led by Alex Ross of Calgary, now Minister of Public Works and representing labor in the Government of Alberta; Robert Livett and Frank Wheatley of Bankhead and A. Farmilo of Edmonton (the last mentioned being general organizer of the American Federation of Labor), and other leaders in the craft unions of the province.

In April the Edmonton Trades and Labor Council cancelled the credentials of the delegates of the unions which had supported the One Big Union on the ground that their action was a violation of the constitution of the American Federation of Labor. The unions concerned were the locals of the Federal Labor Union of Canada, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, the International Association of Machinists and the Metal Workers. The two Edmonton lodges of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and the Edmonton local of the Retail Clerks Protective Association defected to the O. B. U.

A few weeks later the whole body of the unions in District 18 of the United Mine Workers of America deserted the International for the One Big Union. The Executive of the Mine Workers Association sent a commission into Alberta and British Columbia to stabilize the situation and win the miners back to the International. Failing this object, the charter of District 18 was revoked on July 28th. The commission, however, continued its activities and after a time won back a number of locals while the dissentients formed a new organization called District No. 1 Mine Department of the One Big Union with eleven local unions under its jurisdiction. An active propaganda was carried on throughout the year by the Provincial Committee of Alberta, publishing for a time "The Soviet" in Edmonton similar to the "O. B. U. Bulletin" in Winnipeg and the "Red Flag" in Vancouver. The movement in Western Canada as well as in Alberta is indicated by statistics published at the end of 1919. There were eight central labor councils; two district boards and 101 local unions mostly situated in Western Canada, with a total membership of 41,150.

During 1920 the O. B. U. steadily declined in Alberta and all through Western Canada, although two special organizers, Jos. R. Knight for Eastern Canada and P. M. Christopher for Western Canada, were kept in the field all year. The organization made the most strenuous efforts to disrupt the existing local unions. The O. B. Unions among the miners instigated strikes at various points. In September, 1920, a special convention of the O. B. U. was held in Calgary to protest against the agreements made between the locals of the United Mine Workers Association and the coal operators and to drive the United Mine Workers from Canada. The operators, however, refused to recognize the O. B. U. and with the support of the Department of Labor concluded an agreement with the members of the U. M. W. granting increases in wages and binding themselves to employ only members of the United Mine Workers of America. Threats and appeals were made by the 0. B. U. forces to have the members of the U. M. W. break their agreement. The Coal Operators Association applied for an injunction and succeeded in preventing the O. B. U. officials and members from interfering with the employees of the mining companies who desired to work.

At the second annual convention held in Port Arthur, Ontario, in September the Lumber Workers Union of the O. B. U. Central Labor Council of Edmonton withdrew from the organization. Other defections crippled the organization. By the end of the year sixty-six local units of the 101 in existence at the end of 1919 had passed out of existence, two had deserted, leaving only 50 weak and exhausted in their futile propaganda against the internationals. Meanwhile, the membership had declined to 5,000.

The growth of unionism in Alberta followed closely upon the development of the material and industrial life of the Province. The first unions were naturally the transport unions in connection with the Canadian Pacific Railway. The first union in Alberta was formed at Medicine hat, January 6, 1887. This was Cascade Lodge, No. 342, of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen with A. L. Morton of Calgary, president, and Jas. H. Smeaton, secretary. A lodge of the Locomotive Engineers was formed in the same year at Medicine hat, William Love, president, and R. D. Smith, secretary. Two years later a lodge of the Railroad Trainmen was formed at Medicine Hat and in 1890 the Order of Railroad Conductors was organized at the same place with William Crawford, president, and T. C. Blatchford, secretary. As far as known, the first union formed in Calgary was the local of the Railroad Carmen of America in March, 1900. It was followed soon afterwards by a local of the International Association of Machinists.

The miners were the next class of workers to organize in the province. There was a local of the Provincial Working Men's Associations of Miners in Lethbridge in 1901 with Thos. Farrer, president. This organization was superseded in 1903 by the United Mine Workers of America, which, as already noted, entered the province in March, 1903.

The ten year period, 1901-1910, was one of great activity in labor circles. By 1910 nearly every trade and craft in the province was organized at one or more points. A great tide of immigration set in towards Western Canada at the turn of the century and Alberta obtained its share of the inflow of immigrants. Thousands of tradesmen from the Old Country settled in the province and their presence was reflected in a forward movement of trade unionism. By the end of 1903 the workers of Calgary were organized as follows: Building trades, metal trades, wood workers, printers, clothing trades, transport workers, leather workers, general laborers. The Edmonton printers organized in 1,903 and the Edmonton Trades and Labor Council was formed January 16th of that year. Unions of the bricklayers, masons, lathers, painters and paper hangers followed a few months later. The carpenters of Red Deer joined the United Brotherhood of that craft in 1903. Next year, 1904, ten new locals were formed in the province, including the electrical workers, boiler makers, amalgamated carpenters and joiners at Calgary; the carpenters at Wetaskiwin, Lacombe, Lethbridge, Strathcona and Medicine 1-lat. Locals of the plumbers, steam fitters, plasterers, laundry workers, sheet metal workers and barbers followed next year in Calgary.

In 1906 the United Mine Workers of America invaded the Lethbridge field and established their organization there. The first local of the Federal Union of Canada to be formed in Alberta was organized at Medicine Hat, June, 1907. In that year 15 new unions were formed in the province and in 1908, 16 new unions were added. Among the new trades represented were the Flour and Cereal Workers of Calgary, Restaurant Employees, retail clerks and musicians at Lethbridge.

In the year 1909, nineteen new unions were formed and in 1910 twenty-two more, including carmen, theatrical employees, bookbinders, tailors and bakers. These statistics represent the average annual growth of the Trade Union movement in Alberta until it reached its peak in 1913. In this year there were reported 171 locals and 11,572 members.

By 1906 the trade union movement began to make its influence felt in the steady improvement of working conditions on all works, the lessening of hours of labor, and the securing of more humane and protective legislation. Until 1906 the working day in Alberta was generally nine and ten hours in the cities and longer in the small towns and villages. In this year there was a general and successful movement to reduce the working day to eight hours for carpenters, joiners, painters, bricklayers, masons, plumbers and steam fitters. This result was accomplished by an agreement with the employers and has remained the standard working day in these trades ever since, and has been extended since that time to most of the principal trades of the province.

The success of the trade union movement in Alberta has been clue to a variety of causes. In the first place the majority of the workers immigrating to the province were union men and were convinced that the status of the worker depended upon his union organization. Again, the movement began in Alberta at the commencement of a cycle of rising wages and costs of living all over the world. Local conditions in this respect were intensified by an unprecedented demand for all classes of labor and especially for agricultural, railway and urban development.

A unique development in group organization in Alberta in recent years has been the Alberta Teachers' Alliance. This organization was formed in 1917. It was quickly copied by the teachers of other provinces and has gradually developed into the Canadian Teachers Federation. The Alliance maintains a business agent to promote its organization and policy. It is supported by assessments graduated according to the salaries of its members. It aims to place the teachers in their proper social and economic position. it strives for a minimum salary of 81,200 in Alberta and for extensive rights and responsibilities in connection with the administration of schools. It has conducted strikes to enforce these demands. Its membership is now about 3,000 and comprises about 50 locals.


Wages have been generally higher in Western Canada than in the provinces of Eastern Canada, generally higher in the cities of the province than in the towns and villages. From 1900 to 1913 the average rise in wages in Canada was 42.9% which may be taken as an approximate estimate of the increase in Western Canada and Alberta. The rise in agricultural labor, printing, clothing and building trades during the period referred to was above this average, being over 507c. The highest record reached, however, was in the case of domestic servants. The increase for this class of labor was over 711;lo. The upward trend of wages was most marked in the years 1903, 1906 and 1910 though it continued upward until the break of the land boom and the cessation of railway construction in 1913. The outbreak of the war in 1914 effected a decrease in the trade union membership of Alberta, as it did in other provinces in Canada. In the first year of the war, the number of locals dropped to 149 and the membership to 7,618. At first there was a tendency to reduce wages and reduce staffs. Printers, iron workers, the building trades, civic employees and school teachers were among the sufferers in this respect. in Medicine Hat the printers suffered a cut of 20% and the iron workers of Calgary were reduced from 45 cents to 40 cents per hour. Civic employees in the latter city were cut from 5 to 25% in 1915 and in Edmonton civic officials and school teachers were reduced 10%. The greatest reduction recorded occurred in the case of domestic servants, whose wages were reduced from $25 to $30 per month to $15 and $10 per month.

The paralysis of the industrial and economic life of the nation threw thousands out of work. Alberta felt the shock and unemployment during the first eighteen months of the war was very serious in the principal cities of the province, notwithstanding the great number of workers that joined the colors and the number of skilled mechanics that went to England to assist in war work.

In 1916 these conditions were suddenly reversed. Labor was difficult to obtain. Over 30,000 men had gone overseas from Alberta in the ranks of the army. The result was a uniformly upward trend of wages which condition steadily held until two years after the close of the war. The wages of agricultural laborers rose from $40 per month in 1914 to as high as $86 per month in 1918. The greatest increases, however, were in the coal mines, retail trades and railway services. The railway employees were on the eve of asking for increased wages in 1914 when the war broke out. The war intervened but the sharp rise in the cost of living following two years of war, precipitated the action contemplated in 1914.

Wage disputes arose among the coal miners, although an agreemenL had been made in March, 1915, for a period of two years between the Western Coal Operators Association and District 18 of the United Mine Workers of America. The miners refused in July, 1916, to work any longer under the agreement, basing their action on the increase in the cost of living and demanded an increase of 10% on the rates in force. This dispute was settled in August and increases granted ranging from 5% to 12% with the understanding that the agreement was to continue until March 31st, 1917. In November, 1916, the miners demanded a further increase of 25 to take effect from the first of that month or in the alternative that a war bonus be paid commensurate with the increased cost of living. After a strike of a few days, the Minister of Labor ordered an investigation into the cost of living by an officer of the department. The strike was settled by the Minister of Labor ordering the operators to pay a bonus of $1.75 per week as from November 1, 1916, to March 31, 1917, by which date it was expected a new agreement would be made. It should be noted that the Government agreed to advance the amounts necessary to pay the bonus, the Government endeavoring to recover from the consumers. The parties (that is, the Western Coal Operators Association and District 18 of the U. M. W. A.) failed to reach an agreement in March, 1917, and great unrest followed in the mining camps. The situation became so grave that in June the Government practically took over the operation of the mines in District 18 and appointed a Director of coal operations, Mr. W. H. Armstrong of Vancouver, with power to make enquiries respecting wages, hours of labor, labor conditions and all other matters affecting the production of coal for the duration of the war and for three months after the declaration of peace. A working agreement was effected by the Director providing for an increase of 22½% over the wages of the agreement which expired March 31, 1917, with an adjustment every four months in accordance with the cost of living determined by a Commission comprised of representatives of the Government, the operators and the mines.

Pursuant to this agreement the Commission recommended and Director Armstrong ordered increases as follows:

(a) From August 1, 1917, an increase of 20 cents per day.
(b) From December 1, 1917, an increase of 14 cents a day.
(c) From April 1, 1918, an increase of 20 cents per day.
(d) From August 1, 1918, an increase of 15 cents per day.
(e) From December 1, 1918, an increase of 13 cents per day.

Other increases in 1.917 concerned almost every trade. Carpenters were raised to 55 cents; machinists from $25 to $27 per week of 50 hours; motormen and conductors to 32 cents and 36 cents per hour according to length of service; freight handlers to 33 and 35 cents according to the class of service; laborers from 30 to 35 and 40 cents per hour. New and increased schedules were agreed upon between the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and its maintenance of way employees by a Board of Conciliation. Engineers and Firemen on passenger trains were given an increase of 9% and a reduction of hours to an eight hour day. Engineers and firemen on freight trains were increased 5%. In Edmonton civic employees earning $100 or less per month were restored to the old scale that existed before the. war. Bricklayers, plasterers and masons were paid 77 cents per hour.

The steady rise in the cost of living compelled all classes of labor to appeal for higher wages in 1918, consequently the schedules and rates showed a sharp upward turn. In Alberta there were eighteen local wage disputes as well as several other disputes affecting workers belonging to organizations of wider range than the province, such as the railway brotherhoods. In Calgary painters were raised to 55 cents per hour; barbers to $19 per week plus 60% commission on all earnings over $30; carpenters to 70 cents per hour; Edmonton policemen were raised 10% in the case of married men, while single men were given a bonus of 57c; teamsters and laborers were increased 10%.

The most important wage changes, however, occurred in the railway schedules. The importance of the change lay not only in the measure of the increases awarded but in the manner in which they were enacted. The exigencies of the war taught the Government the necessity of state control if the industries and commerce of the country were to be kept from breaking down. The United States Government had taken over the railroads of that country for the period of the war. The Canadian Northern Railway and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, both of which had been heavily, too heavily, subsidized, by the Government of Canada, were bankrupt and passed into the hands of the Government. The Government of the United States enforced the so-called McAdoo Award and owing, it may be said, to the similarity of economic and working conditions in Canada and the United States and also to the international relations that exist between the Canadian and American railway unions, the McAdoo Award became the logical method of solving the wage disputes pending in Canada among the employees of the Canadian railroads.

During the early months of 1918 almost every class of employees connected with the railways had asked for adjustments of wages and improvement of working conditions. All these claims were finally settled by the Order of the Canadian Railway Board on July 16, 1918. By that order the terms of the McAdoo award affecting wages and hours of labor of railway employees in the United States was enacted in Canada. The order applied to all railway employees whether organized or not, male or female, earning on December 31, 1915, less than 83,000. In general terms the order meant that a flat increase of $25 per month was added to the rates prevailing on January 1, 1918, or increases reaching as high as 43% in the case of lower paid grades of labor over the rates paid this class of labor on December 31, 1915. The Railway Board further ordered after October 15, 1918, that eight hours should constitute a day's work.

Contrary to popular anticipation the cost of living continued to rise after the declaration of peace, at a greater rate than during the war, as the following table prepared from the statistics of the Labor Gazette published by the Federal Department of Labor, shows:

The years 1919-20 witnessed, therefore, numerous upward adjustments among the various trades in the province to counteract the consequences of the shrinking dollar.

The rates for members of the typographical unions in the City of Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Calgary were raised as follows:

In Edmonton hand compositors and distributors were raised to 76 cents per hour in 1919 and to 86 cents per hour in 1920. Night work was rated at $2.00 extra on the day rate.

The typographical union of Medicine Hat secured an agreement to run a year from October 31, 1919, raising proofreaders, ad-men, and hand compositors to 78 cents per hour, machinist-operators to 841 cents per hour; night rates from $1.01 to $1.08 per hour. In Calgary the rates for similar classes of workmen in the printing trades was raised to $37.00 per week.

Civic employees in Lethbridge were increased 147c in 1919 and in Medicine Hat and Calgary a new agreement was made with the city authorities and the various groups of employees granting subsequent increases. Many of the agreements passed provided for the operation of grievance committees on behalf of the workers. Plumbers' wages were raised to 85 cents per hour in 1919 and in the following year the rate was increased to $1.00 per hour. Bakers and confectionery employees were paid $39.25 for foremen, doughmen $37.25 and bakers $34.25 per week with provision for an adjustment depending on the cost of living after thirty days' notice. The coal miners of District 18 received an increase of 14% from April 1, 1920, to March 31, 1922, according to an agreement arrived at in June, 1920. All day wages in the mines were increased 27% over the rates in force October 31, 1919. The agreement further advised that only members of the United Mine Workers of America should be employed in the mines of District 18 thus excluding the O. B. U. miners. Under this agreement the average daily earnings of miners in 40 mines were $9.37 per day.

The highest wages recorded in any trade during the last twenty years in the Province of Alberta were paid to plasterers, masons, bricklayers, in 1920, the rate being $1.25 per hour for journeymen and $1.35 per hour for foremen.

The end of 1920 witnessed the beginning of unemployment and the reaction from the feverish activity of the war. The percentage of unemployment among trade unionists in Alberta rose from .83 in October, 1920, to 9.24 in December of the same year. The cost of living reached its peak in 1920 and a decline, small though it was, was reflected in a tendency to reduce wages. Some of the coal unions suffered a reduction of 16% in 1921 and in July of the same year the rates of the McAdoo Award were cut a minimum of 12%.


Apart from the coal mining industry, industrial disputes have not been serious in Alberta since the advent of trade unionism. But workers have not neglected to use the strike as the final method of obtaining their demands. On the whole, however, the labor leaders of the province have been sane and reasonable in their demands upon the employers. The most serious disputes have occurred among the mines, particularly in the camps of Southern Alberta. There have been four important strikes among the Alberta miners since they became organized in 1903. The first was in 1906. It was the first strike conducted by the United Mine Workers of America in the Province of Alberta. It was really a fight for the recognition of the union. The strike began in Lethbridge March 9, 1916, among the miners of the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company and continued until December 3, of the same year. Over 500 miners were affected. The company attempted to use non-union men but without success. The approach of winter and the fear of a fuel famine on the prairies, particularly in Saskatchewan, made the situation very .serious. Finally a Board of Conciliation was accepted by both parties and a settlement effected whereby the men received an increase of 10% in wages. The company did not concede the recognition of the union, but promised that members of the union should not be discriminated against.

Strikes in the coal mines in normal times usually occur at the termination of the agreements which are generally for two-year periods. These agreements generally terminate at the end of March. On April 1, 1907, the agreement between over 3,500 miners and the several companies corn- prising the Western Coal Operators Association had expired. A conference of the operators and miners was held in Calgary without result. Meanwhile the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act had become law. A Board of Conciliation was established, presided over by Chief Justice Mulock of Ontario. After many tedious negotiations an agreement was reached providing for an increase of wages and also for what was calculated to be the most important from the standpoint of industrial peace,— viz., machinery for the settlement of local and general disputes by establishing a permanent board composed of representatives of both parties.

A strike of two months followed the termination of the 1907-09 agreement. The strike continued from April 28, to June 30, and affected 2,500 men. A Scale Committee consisting of seven operators and seven miners of the United Mine Workers met at Macleod, March 2, 1909, and arranged the terms of an agreement satisfactory to both parties.

The Crows Nest Pass Coal Company withdrew from the Western Coal Operators Association and executed a separate agreement with its employees, giving several new powers to the miners in its employment and an increase in wages. Meanwhile the Macleod agreement drawn up by the Scale Committee had been voted on and approved by the men employed by the companies of the Western Coal Operators Association by a vote of 773 to 573. But the day following the signing of the agreement of the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company the miners who were negotiating with the Western Coal Operators Association suspended work until a new agreement could be reached. The miners applied for a Board of Conciliation which was appointed May 15th. On June 30th an agreement was reached. The agreement signed by the parties was an elaborate and careful statement of the rights and duties of both operators and miners. It may be taken as the first satisfactory definition of such rights and duties in this province. Provision was made for settling such disputes according to their gravity by the pit boss, pit committee, mine superintendent and general superintendent and officers of District 18 or finally by a joint committee composed of three operators and three miners. The miners agreed to continue work while any dispute was under investigation by the proper authorities.

Failure to renew this agreement or substitute a new and satisfactory agreement in March, 1911, led to the greatest strike in the history of the coal mining industry in Alberta, lasting as it did from May 1 to November 20, and affecting 6,000 miners directly, and indirectly an indefinite number. Recourse was had to a Board of Conciliation and Investigation corn- posed of the Rev. C. W. Gordon, Winnipeg, chairman; Mr. Cohn Macleod of Macleod, Alberta, for the operators, and Mr. A. J. Carter for the miners. Early in July the chairman and representative of the operators submitted a majority report, the representative of the miners a minority report. One of the important points of difference between the parties was the matter of a check-off. This is a plan by which the employees agree to collect the dues of the union. It is peculiar to the coal mining industry. It has always been a bone of contention at every conference of miners and their employers. The reason seems to be that it involves the principle of the. open or closed shop, the development and vital existence of the union. The report of the board emphasized the necessity of a living wage and the standardization of wages in the various mines. The average wage for miners for a number of mines through the district showed such variations as indicated in the figures $3.98, $4.62, $5.61 and $6.00 per day. Even in the same mine the earnings varied from an average of $5.61 to a maximum of $10.13 per day. The minimum report complained there were too many men in the field for the market and advised a check on indiscriminate immigration. Continuance of the dispute resulted in an alarming reduction of the stores of coal throughout the West. The advance of winter and the state of public opinion forced both parties to consider the terrible possibilities of their continuing the strike. Late in October the conference was resumed in Lethbridge through the influence of the Minister of the Interior, Hon. Robert Rogers, and an agreement reached on the basis of the majority report. The miners did not win in this dispute the concession of open shop principle but there was to be no discrimination by the companies against union men or by the miners against non-union men. The companies agreed to the check-off where authorized by individual miners. The miners resumed on November 20th, the new agreement continuing in force until the spring of 1915 when an entirely new condition arose in all the coal fields of the province.

Strikes have occurred in the mines in the Edmonton district and the fields west of Edmonton but none of them have ever been so detrimental to public welfare as those above narrated. The same principles have generally been at stake in every strike, viz., wages that could be regarded as a just reward for the hazardous nature of the work of the miner and the cost of living from time to time; a recognition of the union and partnership in determining working conditions. As long as there was a surplus of miners in the field, operators had an advantage over the men, but in 1916-17 when the mines were undermanned the miners were able to secure most of what they had contended for since the advent of the United Mine Workers into the province 17 years ago.

In summing up this chapter, it may be said that the history of labor in Alberta has been marked by a great change in the attitude of employers and even governments towards workers. Though the claims of the organized workers have often been thwarted and sometimes vexatiously delayed, progress has been steady and permanent. The attitude of labor is understood by the public today and the right of organized and collective action is now an undisputed maxim of our social economy.


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