X12493 | Streetcar Strike, Saint John, New Brunswick

Streetcar Strike, Saint John, New Brunswick
Herbert J. Blois
1914, 20th century
Silver print mounted on card
18.4 x 27.8 cm
This artefact belongs to: © New Brunswick Museum
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Keys to History

Unionized workers in the cities regularly succeeded in making their employers accept their salary scales and union rules. Such concessions were only made grudgingly, however, when there was a shortage of manpower. In general the owners avoided official recognition of the unions. With the concentration of economic activity and the establishment of big business, the power of capital increased and clashes increased. Employers went to court more often, and frequently called in strikebreakers. The system of industrial relations in force at the time did not oblige employers to negotiate in good faith. The report was therefore inevitably unfavourable to the unions, and thus prevented pay rises. The result was that the outraged workers sometimes had recourse to violence and vandalism to express their rage.

  • What

    This photograph shows trams overturned by an angry mob. Public transport was paralyzed by a strike at the time. It was the resumption of service by strike breakers that sparked this confrontation.

  • Where

    This incident took place in Saint-Jean, New Brunswick. All the great Canadian cities -- Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver -- then had wide networks of tramways.

  • When

    The violence broke out in 1914, a year marked by unrest in the workplace. Other unions embarked willy-nilly on major industrial action: one such was the six-week strike by 3,000 workers in the footwear industry in Quebec. The province lost a significant number of workdays as a result.

  • Who

    The tramway companies were regularly the source of labour unrest. During a strike it was apparent that many working-class passengers were in sympathy with the unionized workers. From there to helping overturn buses was often a short step and one soon taken.