- by James Adair

In 1908, one-hundred-seventy dock workers working for Canadian Pacific Railway in Owen Sounds harbour decided to go on strike for better working conditions and higher pay. The harbour was shut down and shipping throughout the eastern Great Lakes region suffered. CPR decided that instead of negotiating or working with the strikers they would hire scabs from Toronto. As the train rolled into Owen Sound a large crowd of striking workers and their supporters swarmed the station. CPR had ‘forgotten’ to tell the scabs that they would be crossing a picket line. All hundred workers from Toronto joined the strikers.. CPR tried again, this time bringing in two-hundred workers, and once again met by the large mob and told they would be scabs, the two-hundred workers joined the strikers. Over the weekend CPR offered the strikers only minor concessions, but now over four hundred strong the strikers refused.

Early in the morning, CPR brought in seventy scabs. The strikers were unaware that this was happening, instead at a meeting discussing their demands. When they discovered CPR had brought in more scabs they rushed to the docks where a riot broke loose. Fifty CPR constables were sent to protect the dock and the scabs were outnumbered. People threw rocks and coal, and some resorted to fists. At one point constables began firing into the crowd allegedly. After the melee, minor injuries and bruises were reported on both sides, and two strikers had been shot as well as one constable though all survived. By midday, a settlement was reached and workers returned to work.

Owen Sound has a long history of labour organizing, striking, and supporting one another. This year, as inflation, covid, and a tight labour market catch up with workers,  strikes are likely going to be more common than ever. This year already we’ve seen more strikes in recent memory with more likely on the way. It will likely be annoying and at times frustrating but it is important to support workers in our collective fight for fair wages and dignity. Express support for striking workers you see online and in person, and do not cross a picket line if you see one.

Remember the courage of the workers in 1908 who went on strike despite the risk to their livelihoods and in some cases their lives, and the bravery of the men who refused to be scabs and cross a picket line no matter how much CPR offered them.



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