Premier Davis Orders Toronto Transit Workers Back to Work

September 1 st 1984

Much to the annoyance of the trade union leadership, Premier William Davis of Ontario has enacted back-to-work legislation even before the strike threatened by the Toronto transit workers began. The 7,000-member transit workers' union had voted to go on strike on September 12, just two days prior to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Toronto. A massive increase of commuters is anticipated during the papal visit, and a strike by Toronto's bus drivers would create chaos in the city, not to mention the embarrassment to Canada. The anti-strike legislation provides that an arbitrator will settle all outstanding issues, including wages. Drivers who defy the legislation will be fined $1,000 per day and the Amalgamated Transit Workers' Union up to $10,000 per day.

Predictably, the reaction to this move was mixed. A popular criticism was that if workers were not allowed to exercise their right to strike, they should be made subject to strike-banning legislation and be declared essential public servants. This argument has a great deal of merit. The right of transit workers to free collective bargaining cannot be separated from the rights and needs of the population of a large modern city. The sooner the provincial government faces up to its task of protecting the public against the disruption of essential services, such as the Toronto transit system, the better. However, it is safe to assume that the Davis government finds it easier to deal with this strike in a crisis situation than to face the strong opposition that would no doubt emerge against a ban on the right of transit workers to strike.


Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.