Monday, August 17, 2015

Bitter Labour

When I left off Monday, the year was 1917 and Vancouver was experiencing an economic boom. It was also starting to experience a little labour unrest. Nothing too drastic, most were easily settled strikes, which weren't affecting the city too much. But on June 13, B.C. Electric - public transit - walked off the job. There had been no wage increase in two years.

Trackmen were paid 29 cents an hour and many of the employees made less than $60 a month. The union wanted five cents an hour increase in the lower categories and five percent in the higher, to bring top wages to $84 a month.

The company said they couldn't afford it, the jitney competition had hit it so hard B.C. Electric was losing money on the transit system. The strike lasted eight days and the people of Vancouver rode jitneys or walked to get around, they were siding with the striking workers. The company finally gave in when the city promised to investigate the jitney situation.

Dr. Adam Shortt carried out the investigation. The basic situation though remained unchanged and carried on. B.C. Electric employees again walked out on July 2, 1918. It was a bitter fight.

The company refused to budge, conciliation under Mr. Justice Macdonald failed and the workers refused to accept an arbitration award in favour of the company. The provincial government waded into the fray, bringing pressure against jitney competition, on the strength of Shortt findings.

The strike was settled on July 11 with the men receiving a pay increase, the city granting a one-cent fare increase and abolishing jitney licenses.

The hostility between the workers and B.C. Electric was long-lasting and the repercussions of the two strikes were still apparent nearly two decades later. In 1934, Mayor Taylor was serving his unprecedented 8th term in office and appealed to the company on behalf of the men. He staved off a threatened wage cut by counter-threatening to again license jitneys.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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