In 1945, Ford’s Windsor complex employed 14,000 auto workers, making it Canada’s largest workplace. Times were tough. War-time production was slowing down, and many companies, including Ford, wanted to break some of the gains that had been made by unions for workers since the depression. Union dues were still voluntary – meaning United Auto Workers Local 200 had the near impossible task of collecting dues from 14,000 members each month. The union needed more security if it was going to survive and protect the gains it had made for its members.
Ford announced it was laying off 1,500 workers. Then negotiations broke down over union demands that would have made union membership mandatory, and seen dues automatically deducted from workers’ pay and handed to the union, something Ford had agreed to in another plant. Workers had also demanded a paid two-week annual vacation.
On September 12, 1945, the union struck. It was a new and inexperienced union, but the workers had cultivated community support, and Ford’s confrontational tactics fostered even more solidarity.
The union was able to fend off attempts to break the picket lines with the support of 8,000 members from UAW Local 195, employed at other Windsor auto companies, who stayed off work without strike pay for another month. To prevent a violent confrontation with police, the strikers parked their own cars in streets all around the plant, forming a blockade that lasted three days.
That’s when federal cabinet minister Paul Martin Sr., personally intervened to get bargaining going again, and a tentative settlement, based on the union’s pre-strike offer of binding arbitration on all union security matters, was defeated by the local’s now-militant members. The workers would only go back to work after Martin assured the union he would appoint a “sympathetic” arbitrator. That got the deal passed. On December 9, after 99 days on the picket line, workers voted to return to work.