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The 1973 strike, an industry in decline

Huge crane dismantling a black wooden water tower with the inscription Bruck Mills Limited.

Dismantling of the water tower, 1964

The 1960s and 1970s see many labour disputes in Quebec and Bruck Mills is no exception. A major strike breaks out in 1973, mainly over wages and hours of work. The textile industry, already facing the challenge of foreign competition, is suffering.

The walkout
Production is paralyzed in the three plants operated by the company in Quebec and the strike affects more than 1 100 employees. It lasts seven weeks at the Cowansville and Saint-Jean-sur Richelieu plants and 10 weeks in Sherbrooke. Bruck suffers considerable financial losses.

Black and white photo of the Bruck factory in winter with a train passing nearby on the right.

The Bruck Mills factory near the railway line, circa 1955

Employee payslip with columns of numbers and dates

A worker’s pay slip showing the evolution of the hourly wage from 1956 to 1975

Strikes and unionization are experienced painfully by both leaders and workers. The strikers push hard, so much so that one former company executive talks about intimidation when he describes the “half-dozen thugs with baseball bats” who broke into his office. Tensions rise. Yet, he says, the strike resulted in narrowing inequitable wage gaps and putting an end to certain unjustified privileges.

A mixed result
After the conflict, some gains are made to raise wages. While the strike has left its mark, the return to work is relatively peaceful. However, the company must compensate for the wage increase, which has an impact on production costs. It decides to invest in machinery, inevitably reducing the number of workers in the plant.

Two cover pages of the 1969 employment contracts in French and in English.

Unionization and employment contract in 1967

Promotion of French as a workplace language
The linguistic debates of the 1960s and 1970s in Quebec lead to the implementation of measures to promote French as a language of work, and the Office de la langue française organizes meetings with representatives of various industries. The questionnaire filled out by the personnel manager of Bruck Mills reported that in 1970, although 90% of the company’s employees understand and speak French, English is still widely used in administration and sales. French is primarily spoken inside the factory and employee communications are bilingual. The company does not have a lexicon of technical terms in French and English terms are often used by French speakers.

The entrance to the Bruck Silk Mills factory with 1970s automobiles parked in front.

Factory entrance on Willard Street in Cowansville, circa 1970