Asbestos Strike

The seminal 1949 Quebec labour confrontation that is credited with planting the seeds of both the Quiet Revolution and the political consciousness of eventual Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Premier Maurice Duplessis had perfected his iron hold on Quebec society through an alliance with the mostly anglophone business class and the deeply conservative Roman Catholic clergy in Quebec. The Asbestos Strike marked the first crack in the alliance, as Archbishop Joseph Charbonneau of Montreal backed the strikers, who had shut down asbestos mining operations in the province over serious health and wage grievances.

While a negotiated settlement was eventually reached (with few gains for the workers and Archbishop Charbonneau quietly shuffled off to a chaplaincy in BC), the strike and the popular support it received marked a turning point in creating the conditions for the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.

It also in many ways launched the ambitions of Pierre Trudeau, who joined with strikers and began to develop his political voice. It was during the Asbestos Strike that Trudeau first worked side-by-side with labour leader Jean Marchand and journalist Gérard Pelletier – the first collaboration of the future “Three Wise Men” of Canadian politics. It also established Trudeau’s political bona fides, as he edited a book about the strike in its aftermath.

Image source: Wikimedia

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