The first strike in Dundas?

In June 1879, the True Banner reported on a strike at the Dundas Cotton Mills Company. In the weeks before, at least 18 families totalling 95 people had arrived in Dundas from England to work at the Cotton Mills, the company having paid their passage. After an initial warm welcome in Dundas, the workers soon found there was not enough work for them and the wages for those who did get work were lower than they expected. This led to the whole group, who were called the “Stockport Cotton Operatives,” to go on strike in early June.

B.B. Osler, counsel for the Cotton Company, sent the True Banner copies of the February 1879 requisition for workers sent to the Government Agent in England, the Company’s formal proposal to the striking workers, and the worker’s reply, which the paper published on June 19th, 1879. The Company’s position was that they had not offered what the workers were expecting. The published February request for workers specified they were looking for young women and girls to work in the Card Room and Weaving Room, with potential for work for young children aged 11-13 if they arrived with the families. The end of the job ad reads: “if in order to procure the hands we require we would require to take men the heads of families, we would endeavor to find them suitable employment and in this direction would prefer, if possible, an experienced weaver overlooker”. It appears that most of the workers who arrived in Dundas expecting work at the Cotton Mill were the male heads of families who had been deceived. Interestingly, the response by the striking workers provides some of the names of those affected.

As reported on June 19th in the True Banner, Town Council held a special meeting on Saturday, June 14th to determine how to support these families who, by this time, were unable to afford food. Council passed a motion to provide temporary support to the affected workers. They also formed a committee to investigate who was at fault for the workers’ deception. If the committee found the company to be at fault, they would be responsible for repaying the Town for supporting the workers. The True Banner does not publish updates on the strike past June 19th. Nearly 100 years later, Roy Woodhouse writes in his Historical Dundas column that, within a year, the Cotton Mill’s business had improved and all were employed.

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