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OUR HISTORY (1937 TO 2001)


In 1936, the Congress of Industrial Organizations was born in the United States, a by-product of the internal wrestling with in the American Federation of Labour regarding the proposal to organize mass production industry on an industrial basis. John L. Lewis, of the United Mine Workers, rejected the exclusivity of the anachronistic craft union and withdrew from the ALF to form the CIO.
With in a year, the CIO had crept into Canada in an attempt to organize autoworkers at the General Motors Plant in Oshawa. The premier of Ontario, Mitch Hepburn, declared war on the CIO, using every available tool to squelch the resulting strike at the Oshawa plant - a strike that was to have tremendous ramifications for the country as a whole.
Local labour organizers viewed the events in Oshawa with keen interest and intent. Specifically, a group of employees from the Brantford Carriage Works convened a meeting with UAW representatives at the Trades and Labour Hall. At the end of the meeting, fifty-three workers made the decision to sigh up and on May 4, 1937, Charles Millard, head of the Canadian Region of the UAW, presented Local 397 with a charter. Four days later, a contingent of employees from the Adams Wagon Works indicated their willingness to join the newly-formed union and the seed that would eventually germinate into one of the most powerful forces in the city was planted.
One of the original members of the union, Reg Cooper, later Mayor and city clerk of the municipality, recalled in an interview with the Expositor that local workers were very much influenced the success of the GM strike, particularly in combination with local grievances.
He described the fragility of an almost nonexistent job security in which men with as much as fifty years tenure could be laid off without warning or preparation. In the mid-thirties, wages were cut at the Carriage Works by forty cents an hour. There was no pay for overtime.
The founding nucleus of Local 397, struggled to overcome minority status within their places of employment, meagre funds, token recognition from management and a resulting and predictable diminished interest amongst waning members. In November 1938, President Cameron Jacques, reluctantly surrendered the charter to the UAW regional director, George Burt, Millards successor, who, in a rare show of good faith, kept the charter in his desk, rather than return it to Detroit as he had been instructed. Four years later, the charter was returned to the Local, whose centre of organization was still the Brantford Carriage Works newly named, The Brantford Coach and Body.
The UAW sent a representative, Robert Stacey, who began to organize other local plants in earnest of a successful membership drive, He eventually signed up members of Canada Car and foundry, Robbins and Myers and as many as twenty-five others.
The second UAW local in Brantford, 458, developed from the Markets St. plant of Massey-Harris Co. and the Mohawk St. plant of Cockshutt Farm Equipment. The UAW represented a dynamic departure in labour tradition for the two plants whose "union" were financed by the company and whose functions were primarily as listening posts and petty complaint boxes. Local 458 launched a major membership drive within the two plants on the heels of the expulsion of the "company union" in 1943. Massey-Harris was the first of the two plants to sign up. In fact, Cockshutt workers voted to reject the UAW in a meeting held on May 20, 1943, preferring to adhere to the company union until it was banned later on in the year through provincial legislation.
On August 10, Local 458 was officially chartered by the uaw. The Coach and Body was among the first plants to implement the recommendations of the Rand report which provided that all members of the bargaining unit, union and non-union must have dues deducted from their pay cheques, and the amount turned over to the union. Within ten years, both locals had achieved prominent status within the community, despite the negative catcalls of the press and the reluctance of the local industrial establishment to welcome them with open arms. The UAW was able to make significant gains and won contract benefits that made their plants the envy of the other Brantford factories.
Trailmobile, a member of 397, had a cost of living clause introduced into their contract in the 1950's. Members of Local 458 at Massey and Cockshutt's had a company guarantee to pay supplemental unemployment benefits to laid off workers. The unions also introduced health benefits and insurance policies into their negotiations during the fifties. In the sixties the emphasis was on the inclusion of drug plans and seniority clauses.
The significance of the solidification of the modern industrial trade union in Brantford, as in all of North America, lies in its measurable alteration on the status of the union as equal to the giant corporation. The working man and woman found their most powerful ally in the development of industrial unionism.

 The above excerpt was taken from a book written by Elizabeth Kelly, for Local 397, called "OUR EXPECTATIONS, A HISTORY OF BRANTFORD'S LABOUR MOVEMENT."

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