"CANADIAN LABOUR IN 1951"
An Address by HON. MILTON F. GREGG, P.C., V.C., C.M.G, M.C.
Minister of Labour
Thursday, November 22nd, 1951
CHAIRMAN: The First Vice-President, Brig. Colin Campbell.
MR. GREGG: A year ago last August, just after I had been appointed Minister of Labour, your Speakers' Committee was good enough to invite me to address your Club. I felt then that it would be more in keeping with the fitness of things if I gave myself time to become a little more familiar with my new portfolio before talking too much on labour matters. I expressed the hope that I might have a chance to speak to you at a future date.
That opportunity has now come. I am glad, therefore, to be able, on this occasion, to accept your invitation and to discuss some features of our labour relations in Canada yesterday and today.
As it happened I became Minister of Labour in the year which marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Department of Labour.
It was also the year of the railway strike-a labour stoppage of nine days which resulted in heavy financial loss to everybody concerned.
The stoppage threatened such disruption to the Canadian economy that Parliament was summoned to deal with it.
So, there we had two strange parallels. On the one hand the golden anniversary of the establishment of the Department through which government procedures to deal with labour questions have evolved in Canada and on the other hand, the biggest strike in the country's history.
Although there was no lack of observance of these procedures by the parties involved in the strike thoughtful citizens everywhere were prompted to take a fresh look at what the experience of the half century could show us on labour-management relations. Perhaps, too, we looked for some sign posts for the future.
Fifty years ago when people talked about labour they spoke of "the labour problem", and the accent was on "labour". There was a pathological approach to the study of labour relations, with the stress on low wages, long hours, child labour, illiteracy and bad working conditions. Then, when a dispute arose "Labour" was the problem, not the conditions which created it.
It is difficult for us today to appreciate just what those working conditions were. By modern standards, they were not good.
The labourer of 1900 earned in a week an amount about what a similar worker now is paid in one day.
There was no limit on hours of work; no minimum wage requirements.
He was pretty thoroughly at the mercy of his immediate boss and he had, moreover, no regular means of making grievances known to management.
He was virtually held responsible for the consequences to himself of any accidents on the job. His only recourse in such an event was the common law.
A typical example was the case of a municipal employee in 1900 who was killed when the side of a drainage system he was working on caved in. His widow sued for damages on behalf of herself and five children. She lost because no negligence by the employer could be proved. Nowadays, of course, the widow and family would have received the benefits of the workmen's compensation fund.
The position of labour at the start of the century was one of hardship and insecurity. It was also the time of expansion in Canadian industry. Running through it was a promise of better living standards, coupled with the hope of the breaking down of old 19th Century class barriers.
In 1900 the idea of unions was strange. It was out of tune with the thinking of the times.
Less than thirty years had passed since printers had been jailed for union action, on the grounds of criminal conspiracy.
Many workers seeking employment were required to sign a document known by the inelegant name of "yellow dog contract". This was an agreement in which they promised their employer not to join any union.
In the Senate, a bill was introduced to exclude international organizers from Canada.
The intervening years have brought great changes in our Canadian labour picture.
Standards of living have risen.
The collective agreement was regarded almost as the exception up to the time of the second World War, today more than one-third of the industrial workers in Canada are under collective agreements. Many industries are almost 100 per cent organized.
We all know of the struggles of unions to obtain recognition in the early part of the century. But less, perhaps, is known of the differences among employees over the concept of a union.
Labour unions were by no means universally regarded by them as necessary or as a practical and effective medium through which workers might better their conditions.
It was in the 1930's that the groundwork was laid for the great increase in trade union membership.
Up to that time trade unions were organized for the most part along craft lines, that is in accordance with the skills of the workers.
The growth of large scale industry saw the development of industrial unionism taking in all workers in a particular industry, skilled or unskilled, and led to the organizing of workers in assembly-line or mass-production industries.
From 1939 to the present, trade union membership has tripled, until the figure is now well over the million mark.
Prosperous economic conditions have been favourable to this development. The achievement of unions in one industry helped to convince workers in others of the value of trade unionism.
It was also important to the labour movement that in 1944 the Government of Canada on the recommendation of a Royal Commission passed an Order-in-Council making it compulsory for an employer to recognize and negotiate with a union which had been certified as representing the majority of his employees.
This Order, which established comprehensive and orderly procedures aimed at minimizing labour disputes, was later incorporated into federal legislation. Similar laws were adopted by most of the provinces.
The legislation was generally accepted by management groups. Its existence reflects the prevalent view of management that it is beneficial in the long run to have legislative authority for the orderly settlement of industrial disputes and to give workers the right to select their own bargaining agents. This, of course, reflected a marked advance in management attitude towards unionism.
The fact is that as they have grown large and more firmly established themselves companies have begun to examine more carefully their responsibilities towards their own employees and towards their own communities.
Furthermore, as they have grown larger, companies have specialized the activities of their management officers. By the nature of things, the employer who knew all his men by their first name and felt a paternal attitude towards them, is not as common today as formerly. But likewise the corporation with the "public-be-damned" attitude is, I believe increasingly rare.
Corporations are concerned more and more about behaving in such a way as to deserve good public relations. Above all it is most important that they have good public relations with their own employees.
I am not suggesting that firms are today paying any less attention to business, or that they are more indifferent to the position of the balance sheet. But they are looking more and more towards the welfare of all the men and women who work together to make the business a success and profits possible, and are finding it good business to encourage humane practices.
A similar trend may be observed among unions. When a union is trying to establish itself in a plant, it may be rather single-minded in pursuit of its objective.
There are many cases in which a union does not win its place without a very determined effort.
We hear it said that some labour unions have "matured" in the past decade. What is meant by this?
It means that having established their right to treat with management, they are now going further and are recognizing the problems of the economy as a whole, the problems of their industry and of their employer, as well as their own.
This is taking time, just as it has taken time for other groups in the economy to reach the stage of thinking in terms of the economy as a whole.
Where unions have so developed and where they encounter a responsive attitude from employers, it becomes possible to talk constructively about labour-management co-operation.
More important still, we are able to talk of labour, management and government co-operation for the benefit of the entire economy.
If the earlier revolutionists such as Karl Marx could have listened to such conversation, the future of free people might not now be threatened by a doctrine based on half truths.
They failed to foresee the developments of which I am speaking. Whereas they envisaged constant conflict, we see as the very basis of our society the ability of the representatives of various sections in our community to gather for constructive discussion.
Labour-management relations are an important example of this. Their free and frank discussions, carried on in an organized way, which we know today as collective bargaining, are important expressions of our democratic way of life.
It is a major objective of the Labour Department to foster this type of dynamic and constructive labour-management relationship, based on the recognition by each party of the needs of the other.
Put broadly, the over-all duty of the Labour Department is to assist labour and management, to work together in such a manner that industry will function to the greatest possible advantage of all the people of Canada.
More specifically, most of the functions for which the Federal Minister of Labour is responsible fall into one or other of the following fields:
(1) The encouragement and maintenance of industrial peace;
(2) Assistance to labour and management in matching available workers with available jobs;
(3) Administration of Canada's programme of unemployment benefits;
(4) Assisting, through vocational training, in improving the quality of labour skills;
(5) The collection, analysis, and dis-semination of accurate, objective information on labour matters;
(6) Co-operation with the ten Provincial Departments of Labour and with other countries in dealing with industrial problems.
These six main activities have, of course, developed over the years, and our techniques have changed to meet new conditions.
I would say, for example, that nowadays we more frequently seek advice from people outside of government circles.
Only last week I attended the third session of the National Advisory Council on Manpower. This council was formed early this year to advise the Government on the most effective use of the Canadian working force. It comprises representatives of farmers, employers, workers, consumers, veterans and women, with those of government.
We had good discussions of the current labour situation, of the problem of probable labour shortages of skilled workers, caused by the defence programme, and alongside these shortages the problem of unemployment in certain areas and industries.
The Council urged us to push forward our programme of training workers in the skills required, and also to explore ways and means of facilitating the movement of workers into areas where there are vacant jobs.
The discussions at this and other meetings of our other advisory bodies, comprising non-government personnel are valuable, since they bring a wide variety of experience to the solution of problems we have to meet.
At the moment our defence needs have, of course, heightened the importance to our country of sound labour-management relations.
As a nation, we reject totalitarian methods. We must prove, then, that democratic procedures and the human resources of a free country can be adjusted to meet the stern needs of this period of danger.
When an industrial dispute takes place, it is in the interests of our whole society, as well as the parties to the dispute, that a solution be found.
We hold strongly to the view that labour and management, within the broad framework of collective bargaining, must be encouraged to work out their own difficulties.
It is true, of course, that there should be an adequate balance of power between the two.
In the earlier days the balance usually weighed in favour of the employer. Voices are not wanting today which claim that the balance has shifted.
But so far, I find little evidence to weaken my faith in the efficacy of collective bargaining as a means of reaching sane and fair solutions to labour-management disputes. I look forward to improvements in this relationship as one of our hopes for higher productivity and for a greater unity of purpose within our country.
This cannot be done by legislation or decree. Nor can it be brought about even by the passive acquiescence, however dignified, of one group to the wishes of the other.
Time and again we observe situations where resentment on either side over a previous attitude is the major factor in holding up the settlement of a current dispute.
The ideal labour-management relationship certainly is not one of complete and perpetual agreement. There will always be differences in viewpoints, and these must be recognized and discussed. But, they cannot be discussed with any degree of satisfaction unless both sides feel secure in their relationship, and each feels it is dealing with a party that will adhere to the agreement when it is reached. Mutual respect and mutual confidence must exist here.
The Labour Department has been encouraging this trend by sponsoring the establishment of labour-management production committees. The function of the committees is quite separate and apart from collective bargaining. It is to find ways of improving production by studying a variety of problems such as plant methods and processes, quality of output, and safety and health.
But to the extent that the committees succeed in providing scope for the creative energies of workers they help to perform a larger function-that of improving the psychological, as well as material rewards of industry, of stimulating the growth towards a richer form of human endeavour.
Future production increases will depend largely on how successful we are in finding better and more cordial ways of working together. Mechanical ingenuity has only so much to offer-human relations are paramount.
Thus, today, we approach our problems bearing in mind the creative functions of labour and management in our economic life.
The needs of our times put a great responsibility on the shoulders of both labour and management, as indeed they do on the shoulders of all of us.
It is my conviction that labour has moved farther in meeting its share of responsibility than most of us realize. With dramatic suddenness, after the close of World War II, Canadian labour moved to eject such Communists as were holding high office within its ranks.
This action, was the crystallization of a slowly developing conviction that this was a task which had to be done.
It was not an easy task, nor was it a pleasant one. But it is to the everlasting credit of Canadian labour leaders that, ahead of many sections of the population, they saw the need and had the courage to act with strength, wisdom and speed.
You may ask how it came about that labour was able to see the issues so clearly. There are a number of reasons. I would emphasize the high quality of responsible Canadian labour leaders.
But I think the most important reason of all is that, after the hard years at the start of the century, after the devastating experiences of the nineteen-thirties, labour has developed a stake in the community. And labour knows it. Labour has a stake in Canada.
This is true in economic terms. Labour has shared in the general rise, over the years, in our standard of living. It is also true in terms of our democratic institutions. Labour is aware that it is only under conditions of freedom that industry has been able to make such strides. Labour knows, too, how this Canadian climate of freedom has made it possible for their unions to flourish.
You will find no body of people in this country with a more confident faith in its future than at a Convention of one of the major Canadian labour organizations.
I believe we can reflect with pride on the growth of educational facilities in Canada, the rise in wages, the betterment of working conditions and the improvement in industrial processes.
We can think of the gradual development of responsibility by management for the well-being of its employees and for the general good of the community.
We can reflect that all these developments have helped our working population to achieve a stronger sense of economic and social security, combined with a firmer faith in our Canadian institutions.
At home, I have seen labour resisting the antidemocratic forces which have sought to weaken its organization and Canada from within.
Abroad I have seen Canadian labour extending a helping hand to those of its confreres in other lands who are keeping alive the principles of democracy. In the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions the representatives of labour from Canada have raised their voice for freedom and humanity.
All of these signs convince me that while their are still important issues for all of us in the field of human and labour relations we have moved a long way during the past few decades.
Moreover, we have today throughout Canada a firmer faith than ever before in the democratic process as a means of seeking the solution of the problems of Canada and of the Free World.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. J. B. Metzler, Deputy Minister of Labour, Province of Ontario.