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The Industrial Disputes Investigation Act of Canada became a law March 22, 1907, following several prior acts—the last a consolidation, made only a year before, of previous statutes—for the voluntary conciliation, investigation, and arbitration of labor difficulties. The immediate occasion of the new law was a strike of great local interest and public importance in the coal mines of southern Alberta, which the previous autumn had threatened to leave the prairie Provinces without a winter's supply of fuel. Consequently the dominant motive of the act was to prevent strikes that seriously and directly affect the general welfare. The method of the law in such disputes is to prohibit a cessation of industry, under adequate penalties, until the public is officially informed of the grounds of the controversy.
The act differs from the compulsory arbitration laws of Australasia in that strikes and lockouts are not prohibited after an investigation of their causes has been made. The power of well-informed public opinion is then relied upon to prevent or shorten such disturbances. Another important difference is that the provisions of the Canadian law extend only to public utilities—such as steam and electric railways, power and lighting plants, and similar industries--and to mines. Coal mines may perhaps be considered as public utilities, but the extension to metal mines is a departure from the leading thecry of the law.
Therefore the act is the logical first step toward government intervention in labor disputes, if a policy of intervention is to be adopted. It recognizes the right of the public to continuous service in industries established primarily for the general convenience, like its right to continuous military and police protection, and at the same time it preserves the right of workingmen and employers to terminate their contracts. It is not, like the compulsory laws of Australasian countries, an attempt to regulate in detail the administration of private business or to control the organization of labor. Yet in requiring a public investigation of certain disputes before permitting a strike, the law goes beyond previous legislation, which became effective only at the option of the parties, and therefore did not constitute true intervention.
The law provides for boards of conciliation and investigation, appointed for each dispute. Each board consists of three members, one selected by the workers, another by the employers, and the third by these two members, or, when they disagree, by the government.
THE LAW AS AN AID TO STRIKE PREVENTION.
As the law is intended to prevent, not to prohibit, strikes and lockouts, and applies to only a limited number of industries, strikes have not ceased entirely in Canada, and occur occasionally even in the industries subject to the act. Four strikes—two in coal mines, one upon a railway, and one among dock laborers-were begun so soon after the act went into force that the workers could fairly plead ignorance of its provisions. In all these cases they resumed work after the law was explained. One lockout in a western coal mine occurred under similar circumstances. The Montreal longshoremen went on a strike in disregard of the act, and the coal miners at Springhill struck after an award had been given. No strikers have been convicted under the penal provisions of the law; but two union officers have been fined for inciting strikes, and one employer has been fined for instituting a lockout.
From March 22, 1907, when the act went into effect, to January 15, 1908, thirty disputes became subject to investigation, though some were settled before a board was appointed or held hearings. One board has been applied for and rendered its decision since the latter date. Five strikes, begun in ignorance or disregard of the law, and one lockout, were ended pending or after investigation, though not in all cases directly by a board. Out of the remaining twenty-five disputes but two resulted in a strike. (a) Friends of the act claim further that some disputes that otherwise might have resulted in a strike have been settled without a board, because the parties did not want a public investigation.
a This includes a three days' strike in British Columbia, at the conclusion of a mine award, not mentioned in the oflicial return. After ceasing work three days the men accepted the board's decision. (See Appendix, p. 731.)
It seems, therefore, a fair conclusion that the act has prevented strikes, some of which might have been serious. Opinion differs as to what disputes would have so resulted without the good offices of the boards, and there is no way of deciding this point. An international officer of a railway union, opposed to the law, writes: “ There is not one single instance during the past thirty-five years, in this country, much less since the enactment of the Railway Labor Disputes Act, 1903 (which provided for voluntary conciliation), wherein the public has been inconvenienced to any appreciable extent, on account of disputes between railway companies and their employees, that would justify the application of the Industrial Disputes. Act, 1907, to them.” Nevertheless, in the case of the Canadian Pacific Railway telegraphers, last summer, a very serious strike was threatened, so that the prospective interference with traffic was a matter of much public concern. In the spring of 1908 a troublesome coal mine dispute in Nova Scotia, involving nearly seven thousand men, which many believed would result in a disastrous strike, was settled amicably. In both these cases a settlement might have been secured had no law been in force. But taking the twenty-six disputes that oecurred after the provisions of the act were generally known—and this includes the Montreal dockers' strike-the law of averages leads to the belief that more strikes would have followed had they been left to the usual methods of settlement.
INFLUENCE OF THE ACT ON CONDITIONS OF
Some things are worse than strikes, and if it were certain that the act had affected adversely conditions of employment for the 25,000 men said to be working under board agreements or had prevented normal improvement in those conditions, then, in spite of the strikes prevented, it might be well to repeal the law. At the outset it should be noted that the Canadian act was put in force just before an industrial depression, on the verge of a period of unemployment and falling wages. Therefore in its natal year it was put to a severer test than have been the Australasian laws in the twelve years of their operation. In some cases wages have been lowered, and in others expected increases have been denied. But most of the agreements made under the auspices of the boards have either increased wages or shortened hours of work, and some of them have done both. Such results go further by implication than appears on the surface and show a flexible treatment of wage relations that has not been possible where compulsory arbitration is in force.
Relatively less success has attended the mediation of the boards in mining disputes than in railway negotiations. Possibly the adjust
ment of piecework rates and the regulation of other conditions peculiar to mines is more difficult for outside authorities than is the adjustment of salaries and wages on railways. Some board decisions have been entirely disregarded by mining companies without bringing on a strike. In more instances the decision of the board has been used as a basis for a settlement by direct negotiation between employers and employees. Indeed, settlements by parties not involved in the original dispute have sometimes been based on board decisions in neighboring mines. In comparatively few cases has a board's decision been accepted without modification by the parties interested. Instead of indicating a weakness of the act, however, this apparent
be a source of strength, for in most such cases it is fair to assume that the board's decision was in some respect defective, as might be expected unless it were made by experts. To enforce such a decision by law would burden both employees and the industry itself with uneconomic regulations.
But the negative result in case of mining disputes is more apparent than real. The recommendations of the boards have favored the demands of the men in most instances, and where the final settlement did not coincide with the recommendation, the latter has usually influenced the terms conceded. Merely by preventing strikes the act has in a sense bettered the condition of mine workers. More decisive have been the cases where an agreement directly improving conditions of employment has been secured through a board. A district president of the United Mine Workers writes: “This result (the satisfactory settlement of three coal-mine disputes) is due to the boards of conciliation and investigation appointed under the Industrial Disputes Act of 1907. Agreements were signed by the respective parties * * *. These agreements give the workmen improved conditions of employment and increases of wages varying from 5 to 174 per cent. I am convinced that the operation of the act, coupled with the tact of [the chairman of the board] averted a serious strike.” These agreements were made just after the financial panic of 1907. The most important case in numbers affected that has been heard under the law was the application of the coal miners of Cape Breton-some 7,000 in all—for an increase of wages in the spring of 1908. The representative of the miners upon the board thus comments on its decision: “ The award amounts to a substantial victory for the men, and this, too, in the face of a demoralized coal trade in the Eastern States and the consequent weakness of the coal trade in Montreal, where during the past two months efforts have been made by American coal interests to place orders in competition with coal from Cape Breton. The award adds about $70,000 to the wages to be paid this year. The amount is based upon last year's business, and will be mostly distributed among the classes of lowest paid labor, who were