The First Strike

When the Guild's first major strike came, it was at a small paper, and it was a messy one.

Employees at the Thomson-owned Oshawa Times walked out in 1966 in a two-week strike that became one of the biggest Canadian labour battles of the era. While the strike involved only 35 employees, the courts granted a controversial injunction limiting picketing.

That prompted a rebellion in the strong union town, and picket lines swelled to more than 1,000 with the support of other unions.

When the local sheriff showed up to try to enforce the injunction, he was pelted with snowballs and beat a hasty retreat.

Newspaper publishers were outraged, but the strike was settled soon after. A second strike in Oshawa was also long and difficult in 1995 and created the local union's first strike paper operating in competition with the Times. At the end of the strike neither paper survived.

In 1955 the young local union had to confront the loss of one of its early activists and a former president A.O. (Alf) Tate, a Star photographer who was killed in a work accident. Tate and reporter Doug Cronk were assigned to report on a hurricane off the coast of Florida when their plane went missing. Their bodies were never found.

The union honoured Tate by creating a journalism scholarship in his name. Originally, the scholarship was awarded to a needy grade 11 student who demonstrated ability and was selected by the Toronto School Board. Today the local maintains the A.O. Tate scholarship for a journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Fred Jones followed Tate as local union president. Jones left the local to work for the international union as a Canadian representative where he continued to work with Local 87.

He later returned to the local as Executive Secretary. His contribution to the union has also been recognized with an internal award. Every year a local activist is granted an educational subsidy in Jones' honour.

Co-operation between the Guild and other newspaper unions was one of the keys to the gains at the Toronto dailies in the 1950s, but the solidarity was strained in the wake of a disastrous strike by the printers (members of the International Typographical Union) in 1964. The printers at all three dailies took a stand against technological change, but Guild members continued working, and the papers continued publishing with the help of strikebreakers. The unionized printers never went back to work.

Growth in the 60s, 70s

The late '60s and the 1970s were a more stable period for the union, as the Guild settled into perhaps a too-cosy relationship with the newspaper companies. Organizing of new groups was given little priority. The union, recognizing it was more than just a Toronto organization, changed its name in the late 70s to Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild, but made no serious effort to expand.

The parent union, recognizing it had members outside the United States, changed its name from American Newspaper Guild to The Newspaper Guild. The early 1970s also saw the first major stirrings of Canadian nationalism within the union, as the Toronto Guild pressed with only minimal success for more Canadian autonomy within the international structure.

The local also had stable leadership through these years. Jack Dobson of the Globe and Mail served 8 terms as local president from 1959 through 1966 when he resigned to become a local union staff representative. Later, John Lowe of the Star led the union for 9 terms from 1976 through 1984. While a woman was not president until 1989 when Gail Lem was first elected, women played a key role in the union and its executive from the earliest days.

Star reporter Judith Robinson was part of the 1939 organizing committee and women like Lillian Thain and Nadia Bozinoff also of the Star, Isabel Greenwood and Jean Pakenham of the Telegram and Margaret Daly of the Star all made fundamental contributions to the union's successes.

The 1980s saw a shakeup at SONG, as new officers were elected with a mandate to organize more workplaces and take a more aggressive approach to negotiations.

At the bargaining table this new approach saw the Guild's first strike ever at the Toronto Star, in 1983. The 1,500 SONG members were off the job for only four days, including a weekend, but the strike marked a turning point, and companies got the message that they couldn't take the union for granted.

Meanwhile at the Globe and Mail, Guild employees took their first ever strike vote in 1982, also marking a new era in relations with the company. Those negotiations ended without a strike, and the Globe unit of SONG still has a strike-free record.

Organizing took off in the early '80s, with the Hamilton Spectator newsroom joining SONG and with the landmark organizing drive at Maclean's magazine, where editorial staff went on strike for two weeks in 1983 and gained their first contract. Maclean's part-time employees joined the union in 2005 and these two groups represent the only unionized operations in the Rogers Publishing empire. The Globe and Mail's outside circulation department and advertising staff also went union.

With those successes, news industry workers saw the benefits of unionization. By the mid-80s, editorial employees at the Metroland chain of non-daily papers joined SONG and bargained a contract that is seen as the pace-setter in the community newspaper sector. Soon employees of other non-dailies sought out SONG, and the union was expanding rapidly.

In the late 1980s, two of the largest non-union newsrooms in the province, the London Free Press and Kitchener-Waterloo Record, joined SONG. This was followed by organizing at a number of small Thomson-owned papers. Following long and bitter, but successful, first-contract strikes at Thomson papers in Guelph and Cambridge, SONG was able to organize employees at Thomson outlets in Belleville, Chatham, Niagara Falls and Midland. Contracts at all these papers made major improvements in wages.

The 1980s also saw a move for the Guild offices to its current home at 1253 Queen St. E., just east of Leslie St. In 1984, SONG purchased the two-storey former Target air conditioning and heating contractor building for $170,000. With the rapid expansion of membership and units, the former quarters on the ground floor and basement of a townhouse at 219 Jarvis St. had become cramped.

Despite layoffs and hiring freezes at many papers during the 1990s, SONG's membership continued to grow through organizing.

Next: Going Canadian