Asbestos Strike: Labour Rights in Quebec

Laurent Bernatchez bloodied by police in the asbestos labour dispute, 1949. Some see this as the most violent strike in Canadian history. Photo: The Montreal Gazette Photo Archives

In 1949, 5,000 asbestos miners in Quebec went on strike. The mainly French-speaking workforce demanded better wages and working conditions from their English-speaking employers. They also opposed provincial Premier Maurice Duplessis’ anti-union policies. The dispute continued for four long months with violence on both sides. Hundreds of picketers were arrested in one major clash with police. At strike’s end, the workers won few of their demands. But the episode marked a milestone in Quebec’s labour history. Never before had Francophone workers stood up so forcefully to industry owners and government. Some historians argue that this strike helped lead the way to the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, when the province’s Francophone majority began to claim economic and political power.

Men stoically demonstrating in front of a mine with the majority holding signs.

Angry picketers protesting the hiring of replacement workers to break the asbestos strike, Thetford Mines, Quebec, 1949. Centre d'archives de la région de Thetford, Fonds Famille Gérard Chamberland

Adults and youth standing below a truck baring a large sign that reads Provisons des syndiques de Quebec pour les femmes et enfants de Thetford Mines on ne les affamera pas!

Food depot, Thetford Mines, Quebec, 1949. Supporters provided food and other necessities for striking miners and their families. Photo: Centre d'archives de la région de Thetford, Fonds Les Célébrations du centenaire de Thetford Mines 1992