On this Day in the History of the International Labour Movement

Reesor Siding Strike

On January 14, 1963
Canada saw one of the bloodiest labour disputes in its nation’s history. What has
since gone down in infamy, the Reesor Siding Strike of 1963 involved a contract
dispute between Lumber and Sawmill Workers’ Union (LSWU) and the Spruce Falls
Power and Paper Company. Though reliant on the LSWU’s logs for its operations,
the Company nevertheless sought to impose harsh terms on the union, expecting
the union to accept a wage freeze and to work seven days a week for two
straight months during the Company’s busy season. Of all the companies in the
area dependent on lumber, only the Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company
expected its workers to work seven days a week. When the union rejected the
company’s demands and conciliation failed, 1515 union members walked off the

The strike was
weakened from the start. The union’s bargaining position was compromised by the
fact that about a quarter of the Company’s lumber was supplied by local area
woodcutters. The union asked the woodcutters to join the strike as a way to
increase the pressure on the Company. Not unlike the union, however, the
woodcutters were depending on the revenue from their provision of lumber to the
Company for their own livelihoods. As a result, they refused the union’s
requests. The unfair demands of the Company had effectively created a situation
where the positions of the union and the local woodcutters were opposing and

To remedy their
weakened position, some union members began to sabotage the lumber of the local
woodcutters.  On February 11, in excess
of 400 striking union members arrived to dump logs that had been stockpiled by
the local woodcutters. The woodcutters, however, had anticipated some action
along these lines and had come prepared to face the strikers. When the strikers
arrived they were met by 20 armed woodcutters who began firing on them. Three
of the union members were killed in the violent confrontation. Eight more were
wounded. The tragedy roused the provincial government to intervene and the
strike was then settled through arbitration[2].

This tragedy
demonstrates the grave consequences that can result when there is a lack of
strong anti-scab laws protecting the rights of a worker to his or her job. If
employers are not able to bring in replacement workers the employer must bargain
more earnestly, treat workers with due dignity and respect, and settle
disputes. The labour relations regime is reliant on each side to a dispute
coming to the bargaining table to resolve conflict. An absence of anti-scab
laws provides employers with an obvious disincentive from bargaining and can
create a poisoned labour relations atmosphere that may be prone to violence. Cognizant
of these dangers, in 1993 the Ontario government introduced anti-scab
legislation. Under the Conservative leadership of Mike Harris, however, the
province’s anti-scab laws were repealed a mere two years later[3].

As the Reesor
Siding incident demonstrates with deadly poignancy, the potential for
destruction that such a lack of law brings is too substantial to ignore –
though this hasn’t stopped some employers from trying. Employers
have often argued against anti-scab
legislation, asserting that such laws put a chill on investment. There is
little evidence to support this claim. Indeed, there is strong evidence to the
contrary. For instance, after anti-scab laws were introduced in Ontario, the
province actually saw an increase in investment and employment[4].
It is possible, then, that not only is the protection of workers’ jobs good for
workers it is also good for business.

If even one person
is harmed on either side of a labour dispute the harm is far too great, if only
because the harm could be avoided through responsible legislation and a basic
respect for workers’ rights. 


[1] Osborne, Brian,
“Commemorating Nations’ Workers” The Case of the ‘Reesor Siding Incident’, from
Heritage From Below, ed. Iain JM
Robertson (Ashgate Publishing Company, Vermont, 2012) at p. 183. Online: http://books.google.ca/books?id=zhbexIbWyPYC&pg=PA189&lpg=PA189&dq=reesor+siding+strike&source=bl&ots=fjLHgK7W98&sig=XQnzMzDYFTXFluzsHK-d0zfToSs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qRfuUPOqF8qK2gWo2ID4Aw&ved=0CEIQ6AEwBDgU#v=onepage&q=reesor%20siding%20strike&f=false
[2] Supra 1 at p. 189.

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