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Waterfront Blues

Waterfront Blues: Labour Strife at the Port of Montreal, 1960-1978

Alexander C. Pathy
Marianne Dufour
Curtis Fahey
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 335
  • Book Info
    Waterfront Blues
    Book Description:

    Waterfront Bluesis the story of the dramatic events surrounding the labour battles at the Port of Montreal in the 1960s and 70s. During that time, the prospect - and reality - of technological change poisoned labour relations, provoking a series of bitter strikes as well as repeated exercises in government intervention. It was not until 1978 that management and labour were able to negotiate a collective agreement without a work stoppage or government intervention.

    In this new study, Alexander Pathy probes deeply into the causes of this labour unrest and charts the efforts made by the parties concerned - management, labour, and government - to resolve the crisis. It draws upon the author's own experiences as a management representative and key figure at the Port of Montreal, as well as extensive research into the records generated by all the parties involved.

    Exploring complicated issues of labour relations clearly and concisely,Waterfront Bluesalso boasts a fascinating cast of characters, including the colourful labour minister Bryce Mackasey; the shrewd shipping industry lawyer and future prime minister Brian Mulroney; the decisive and no-nonsense management spokesperson Arnie Masters; the fiery union leader Jean-Marc St-Onge; and the blunt, brutally effective mediator/arbitrator Judge Alan B. Gold.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8325-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Alan B. Gold

    Plus ça change, plus c′est pareil!The more things change, the more they are the same! The problems we faced on the St Lawrence River ports some thirty-five years ago haunt us to this day, not only on the waterfront but throughout our modern industrial society. Only the language has changed.

    In the turbulent years of the 1960s and 1970s we talked about drastic changes and the shattering effects brought on by M & M - Modernization and Mechanization, not the American confectionary. Today, instead, we talk of outsourcing, contracting out, the sale of a business or enterprise, or in similar...

  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Brian Mulroney

    A request by Alec Pathy to write a brief foreword to this book brought back a flood of memories for me - memories of exciting days as a young lawyer in Montreal in the mid-1960s and memories as well of turbulent times in Canadaʼs ports and the remarkable cast of characters that grappled with and eventually resolved this complex and intractable challenge. Alec Pathy played a leading and constructive role throughout this industrial drama.

    Canadaʼs ports are vital to our economic prosperity. For decades they served us well but in the late 1950s and early 1960s they underwent a dramatic...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
    Alexander C. Pathy
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-25)

    Waterways have always played a vital role in Canadian history. The first explorers and settlers penetrated the wild country by boats and canoes and built their homes along the rivers. Water systems were the only window on the world. They carried everything: goods, hunters, travellers, and news. As decades turned into centuries, ports were built in geographically strategic locations and contributed to the development of large cities. Canadians established themselves farther and farther inland. Roads were constructed, carriages, bicycles, and cars appeared, and the usage of waterways shifted from local or national passenger transportation to the shipping of consumer goods....

  7. CHAPTER ONE ‘A Great National Emergency’
    (pp. 26-48)

    The 1966 negotiations marked a turning point in the process of change on the Montreal waterfront. Through the first half of the 1960s, adaptation to technological change was being resisted because neither party had a clear idea of how the old system could and should be adapted, and because neither had much feeling for the otherʼs concerns. Both wanted it all their way. In the end, the failure of the usual tools of dispute resolution to prevent a lengthy, costly, and bitter strike compelled the government of Canada to intervene. Although the parties would agree upon a settlement through government...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Sound and Fury
    (pp. 49-63)

    Nothing better encapsulates the abysmal state of labour relations on the Montreal waterfront in the 1960s than the controversy over Bill C-125. Following upon the appointment of a commission of inquiry into technological change and related issues at the St Lawrence River ports, this bill specified that whatever recommendations it made were to be binding. The result was a flurry of impassioned arguments over whether or not the government had indicated its intention to introduce just such a measure as part of the settlement ending the bitter strike of 1966, and whether or not the parties had agreed to this...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Picard Commission
    (pp. 64-89)

    Forcing parties to arbitration when they are either reluctant to appear or ill prepared to present a case makes the adjudicatorʼs task difficult. Furthermore, a commission of inquiry is much more complicated than an arbitration hearing, because the former has a mandate to investigate that the latter lacks. In the case of the Picard commission, which was to inquire into and report on various matters related to the system of employment, methods of work, and job security at the St Lawrence River ports, the task was made all the more daunting by the profound lack of trust between the parties...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR After Picard
    (pp. 90-117)

    In August 1967, as the Picard hearings were nearing their end, the Federation took stock of its collective-bargaining agenda. There was a lot of planning to do. With the experience of the Picard commission still fresh in our minds, we now understood the need to have representatives from the independent stevedoring community on the Federationʼs Labour Committee and also to hire full-time French-speaking staff and to create a separate labour-relations office. As a first step, the Federation appointed a new Labour Committee, whose members, besides myself, were Captain John Paul Martin, of Saquenay Shipping, as chairman; Mike Woodall of Furness...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Agreement of 1969
    (pp. 118-136)

    The 1966 agreement, extended on an interim basis, was due to expire on 31 December 1968. Much progress had been made in 1968 to implement the changes recommended by the Picard Report: canteens, washrooms, and rest-benches had been built, as was the first container terminal in Canada, scheduled to go into operation in the spring; a basic dispatch system using tape recorders hooked on a series of telephones (code-a-phones) was being run jointly with the union from Federation premises; and the rotation system had been tightened and improved. Nevertheless, as the time for negotiations approached, tensions started rising and grievances...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Treading Water
    (pp. 137-160)

    The agreement of 8 April 1969 was based on both partiesʼ acceptance of the notion that technological change was acceptable so long as workers did not suffer from it. Afterwards, flying high on their success, management and labour made a serious and sincere effort to negotiate yet unresolved issues. But, while the idea that technological change should not penalize workers was fine in principle, its application was another matter. As the parties attempted to devise solutions to unresolved issues, they ended up designing an extravagantly onerous contract thatdid notfoster increased productivity.

    In the midst of all of this,...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Hope Deferred
    (pp. 161-193)

    The government could not avoid taking a position in the MEA dispute because the issue of control over the association had figured prominently in the report of the Smith commission, which the government itself had created. Convinced that the government would support the reportʼs recommendations, the IASC demanded a restructuring of the MEA board, a demand that the Federation, which was equally convinced that the government would not intervene, rejected. With the lASCʼs withdrawal from the MEA, the parties brought the matter to a head. Mackasey took his time responding. His first concern was the portʼs prosperity and his first...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. CHAPTER EIGHT Strike!
    (pp. 194-209)

    The first indication of trouble ahead came when St-Onge realized that Arnie Masters had not put a letter in the vault at the Department of Labour in Ottawa. I am not certain when or how St-Onge found out that Masters had not kept his promise regarding this matter, nor indeed can I be certain that any such deal was ever made. Masters, for his part, adamantly denied any secret agreement and maintained that the only deal consisted of bringing the issue to arbitration, as provided in the addendum to the collective agreement. He told me that he knew nothing about...

  16. CHAPTER NINE On the Brink
    (pp. 210-226)

    Sophisticated mechanisms can be thrown off balance easily and are expensive to repair, and so it was with the system built into the new collective agreement. The MEAʼs calculation that unlimited job security was sustainable had been based on the assumption that business would be stable and work uninterrupted. The strike had destroyed this assumption and broken down the balance between revenues and expenses necessary for the system to work. The work stoppage caused cargo to be diverted to other ports, some of which would not come back, and the loss of available man-hours coupled with an accelerated shift to...

  17. CHAPTER TEN Hardball
    (pp. 227-242)

    As the three-year collective agreement negotiated in 1972 was drawing to a close in 1974, after an illegal strike that had almost brought the Port of Montreal to its knees and resulted in the buy-out of some nine hundred dockworkers in the three St Lawrence River ports, the MEA was left with a debt approaching $17 million of which $5 million was owed the government. Although Del Taylor had told Masters, on two occasions in 1974, that the NHBʼs financial involvement was conditional upon the MEAʼs commitment never again to agree to the type of job-security plan currently in effect,...

  18. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Force of the Law
    (pp. 243-258)

    On 23 April Labour Minister John Munro introduced Bill C-59 in the House of Commons. The bill sent back to work the longshoremen and checkers and repairmen on legal strike in all three river ports and provided that Judge Goldʼs report would become the collective agreement for the next three years. A referee would decide upon the interpretation to be given to any section of the Gold Report upon which the parties disagreed.¹ Munro declared that the necessity for the government to intervene was brought about by the longshoremenʼs decision to block access to feed grain. He also announced that...

  19. CHAPTER TWELVE Getting to Yes
    (pp. 259-272)

    Pursuant to section 14 of the St Lawrence Ports Operation Act, 1975, Roland Tremblay (no relation to Local 375 president Adrien Tremblay) was appointed as a referee to determine the interpretation to be given to provisions in dispute and the manner in which amendments would be incorporated into the collective agreement.¹ Since the ILA continued to challenge the merits of the agreement, Labour Minister Munro coupled Tremblay’s first appointment with a second mandate as an industrial-inquiry commissioner to investigate the union’s complaints with regard to job security and discipline and report back to him.

    As hearings got under way in...

  20. Conclusion
    (pp. 273-284)

    The late 1970s and early 1980s were a time of optimism and success for the Port of Montreal. Despite the budding recession, container cargo traffic was still on the rise, which allowed the MEA to maintain stable assessments and even to roll them back.¹ The docks, now fenced and well policed, were practically theft-free, making the portʼs reputation, in the words of one shipper, ʻas good as it once was bad - which makes it pretty good indeed.ʼ² As interest rates rose as high as 19 per cent, the fixed interest rate of 10.37 per cent on the MEAʼs loans...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 285-316)
  22. Index
    (pp. 317-329)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)