SOMETIMES YOU WIN
A strike is a staring contest to see who blinks. In the 1967 strike by BC Interior woodworkers, this nerve-wracking process lasted 7 months. The battle was for wages equal to coastal contracts, over a period that expired on the same day – enabling province-wide strikes. Employers resisted fiercely. One company fired union supporters and turned off the heat in the bunkhouse. So the union voted to strike, with picketing and blockades. In Nelson, an employer advertised for “replacement workers,” but a massive rally convinced him otherwise. Still,the strike dragged through winter. In April, a partial offer was rejected by a higher number than the original strike vote. The employers backed down and the strike was settled.
And it was peaceful. No rioting, no violence – just determination and nerve.
In 1937 the founding convention of the International Woodworkers of America occurred in Tacoma Washington with the hope that unification of all those who worked in the industry into one union would strengthen their collective power. Within the year, the IWA moved into British Columbia, trying to organize workers across the province
By the time of the 1967 strike in the interior of British Columbia, the IWA had a strong presence in Canada, from coast to coast. Although there were concerns common to all members, each local context informed the types of struggles workers undertook. For Southern Interior IWA members in BC, it was the difference in pay (they earned 50 cents less per hour than those on the coast) and different dates for settling contracts that spurred on their demands for change. Interior members insisted that these two items be placed at the forefront of negotiations in 1967. When their concerns were not met, members decided to go on strike, bringing operations to a standstill.
Four months into the strike one mill in Castlegar agreed to meet the workers’ demands, raising their wage to meet those of workers on the coast, in addition to syncing their contract expiry date. However, their victory did not spread to other Interior workers, and the strike continued into the winter. And then into spring.
An offer was put on the table. Wage parity could be theirs with the condition that no change would be made to when their contract expired. This offer was rejected, even after the government forced the IWA to put the question before its membership. Indeed, the results were even more emphatically weighted towards continuing the strike than the initial strike vote. The employers realized that they were not going to budge and offered up another compromise: accept pay 14 cents less than the coast, but receive the changed date for the contract to expire. After 224 days, the strike was over.