Motor Products Corporation picket Ford of Canada
in support of UAW Local 200, 1945
from 99-Days, The Ford Strike In Windsor, 1945, Herb Colling, N.C.
Press, Toronto, 1995
Story by Herb Colling
1946, residents of Walkerville were relieved and happy that the
greatest upheaval in their history was finally over. It wasnt
the war, but the infamous Ford strike of 1945. The 99-day strike
began on September 12th, 1945, and ended on December 19th.
WWII, people who built trucks, guns and ammunition at the Ford plants
in Windsor were suddenly facing insecurity. Troops were coming home
and expected to return to their jobs, as if six years of war never
my book: 99-Days, The Ford Strike In Windsor, 1945, I describe how
those men fought for their democratic freedom overseas and, upon
returning home, how they fought for their economic freedom at the
Ford Company plants. That was over 55 years ago, a significant time
in our labour history.
seeds had already been sown by workers who remained at home during
the war. They unionized the Ford plant in 1941-42 and kept strikes
to a minimum to support the war. For its part, Ford treated the
men better, in recognition of the work they were doing, but also
because workers were scarce and the company needed to encourage
the war over, the workers could see all of their labour gains disappearing.
Ford was getting ready for commercial production. The job market
was flooded, layoffs were threatened and Ford was clamping down,
trying to return to prewar conditions in the plant. And those conditions
were bad for the workers.
boss was the boss. His word was law and if a worker didnt
like it, he could quit. Foremen accepted bribes and picked favourites
from chore boys who cut lawns, shovelled snow and painted
homes to keep their jobs.
one case, Wallace Campbell, the president of the Canadian operation
of Ford, entered the plant, saw a worker dogging it and fired the
man before he found out that the guy didnt even work for Ford.
He was a government inspector. The company felt that workers were
selling their labour like any other commodity, and had little interest
in the product or the company.
negotiations had been underway for 18 months, but an agreement just
couldnt be reached, so the workers voted to strike. Roy England
was President of UAW local 200. He complained that the company was
trying to destroy the union. He declared that workers wanted a real
collective bargaining agreement for the post war and he vowed that
they would not go back to work until they had a new contract.
September 12th, 1945, the history-making strike began at the Ford
Motor Company in Windsor. It was a ground-breaking event, an epic
battle, a struggle for the very survival of UAW local 200. In all,
Ford workers had 24 demands, including layoff pay, security for
veterans, more vacation pay, a better grievance procedure, better
medical benefits and compensation for work on Sundays and holidays.
First and foremost, the workers wanted union security and a check-off
of dues... all union powers that many workers now take for granted.
workers believed in the strike, but some did not. On the first day,
a worker tried to stay on the job and had to be chased around the
plant before he would leave. The crane operator refused to go out,
and strikers threw stones at him. Still others, only served on the
picket line at night, not wanting to get involved in the politics
of the strike.
were nonviolent, but they did block nonunion and non-striking workers
from their jobs. On the second day, picketers marched four abreast
across the front of the Ford buildings, preventing all access to
the plant. When female office workers realized they werent
going in, they placed their lunch bags at curb-side for the pickets
and headed for home.
officials were also refused access. They abandoned the plant and
headed downtown to set up shop on the fifth floor of the Prince
Edward Hotel. Later, union steward, Neil Carruthers was charged
by police for besetting and obstructing
access to the factory, which prompted debate about the legality
of the union actions.
early October and, for the first time in Ford history, the union
shut down the power house, depriving the factory of light, heat
and power. Company officials complained that machinery would rust
in the cold, or that the plant might be destroyed by fire.
response, Windsor police were called in to reopen the plant. They
formed a flying wedge around security guards to protect
them from strikers, and tried to force their way in. A scuffle ensued,
and strikers by sheer force of numbers pushed the
police back. The adrenaline was flowing, but there was no violence
and a black eye was the only injury. To the credit of both strikers
and police, there were few reported injuries for the duration of
most dramatic event of the strike was the blockade of vehicles around
the Ford plant to prevent access by the RCMP and OPP. Strikers feared
that the police would be used to open the plant and break the union
and they set up the barricade to diffuse the situation. It started
about six a.m. on Monday, November 5th, with union members from
Ford and other auto-related companies showing up on the line. The
pickets grew to the thousands as the day progressed.
were quite festive. There was a band, singing, and picketers marching
throughout the day.
the start of the blockade, Joe McBride, a 25-year-old millwright,
hopped the Drouillard Road bus and told the driver to park
it in front of the main gates at plant one. Another bus joined
them. Tommy Maclean was the first union member to drive his
car across the front gates. Other member-cars followed, and
then, union members seized and commandeered cars, trucks and
buses, simply funnelling them into the traffic-jam.