The Weston Family: A century of union-busting and price-fixing
By Doug Nesbitt
The current Newfoundland grocery strike against Loblaws & billionaire Galen Weston Jr. is the latest fight in a 100+ year war against the Weston family greed. In 1897, Galen's great grandfather George Weston opened his "model bakery" in Toronto, and got busy fixing prices and breaking unions.
I found the bakery workers' strike advert reprinted in several 1905-1906 issues of The Tribune, "The Official Organ of the Toronto District Labor Council". Seeing "Weston" in the advert, I began to search for more information about the strike. What I found was much more. Here are some of the actions and views of George Weston between 1905 and 1908:
In the spring of 1905, the 2-year union agreement with Toronto's "master bakers" was expiring. The master bakers chose not to meet collectively with the union as they had in 1903. Individual agreements were signed with all but three master bakers. George Weston was one of the three holdouts.
The significance of Weston's decision was not lost on the union. Weston's "Model Bakery" factory was the largest in Canada, and he was considered the most powerful master baker in the country. Yet, Weston demanded wage cuts of $13 to $10 a week and a 1:1 helper-worker ratio designed to push down wages and "dilute" skills. Helpers were akin to apprentices. The union wanted a ratio of 1 helper for every 3 bakery workers.
The Tribune, September 9 1905:
In early June 1905, the Toronto Bakery Workers Local 204 launched a strike against Weston and the two other holdouts. George Weston immediately committed himself to breaking the strike and the union. "We will not consider taking back any of the men who have gone out," said Weston to the press.
Toronto World, June 6 1905:
During the strike, the Canadian Association of Master Bakers met in Ottawa. George Weston, treasurer of the association, presented a paper entitled "The Open Shop" describing unions "a disturber, destroying competition and favoring monopoly."
Toronto World, Aug 9, 1905:
Yet, when it came to competition, Weston and the other master bakers clamped down on a "rate war" (price war) which had erupted in December 1905. The master bakers resolved the price war in the spring of 1906 using their previous standard practice of price-fixing. Such practices are now illegal, in great part because of the anti-collusion and anti-monopoly laws created in response to this corporate behaviour. But in 2018, it was revealed George Weston Ltd., a subsidiary of Loblaws, was colluding in fixing bread prices for 14+ years. Loblaws is Canada's largest grocer. Other corporations named in the price-fixing cartel include Sobeys (Canada's second largest grocer), Metro (third largest grocer), Walmart, the Canada Bread Company, and Giant Tiger.
Toronto Star May 1, 1906:
At this point, I exhausted the limited resources at my disposal in finding out how the strike ended. Who won? Who lost? It appears to have ended at some point after February 1906. More research is required. At least we know the union survived. It helped win a strike of Jewish bakery workers in mid-August.
Toronto Star August 14, 1906:
Toronto Star September 1, 1906:
As 1906 came to a close, nine of Toronto's master bakers came under municipal prosecution for selling underweight loaves of bread. Among those identified was none other than George Weston.
Toronto Star, December 20, 1906:
Toronto Star, January 18, 1907:
Thomas Chisholm, president of the Borthwick Baking Co., was a test case for the law and found guilty. He appealed the case to a higher court, but it seems the appeal was thrown out as more master bakers were found guilty and fined in late 1907 and early 1908. Weston's case was repeatedly adjourned until Jan 7 1908.
Toronto Star, Jan 25, 1907:
Toronto World, Dec 12, 1907:
Toronto Star, Jan 3, 1908:
George Weston finally took the stand on January 7, 1908. The Toronto Star provided an entire page of verbatim coverage. Weston claimed his bread was in fact overweight, but in the end was found guilty and fined $30.
Toronto Star, January 9, 1908:
Today, the 3rd richest Canadian is Galen Weston Jr., CEO of George Weston Ltd. and Executive Chair of Loblaw Companies Ltd. George Weston's wealth has been passed down through four generations of Westons, along with his penchant for price-fixing and union-busting.
Galen Weston and Galen Weston Jr.:
1,400 Newfoundland grocery workers have been on strike at Loblaws-brand Dominion supermarkets for 8 weeks now. They're fighting cuts to full-time jobs, low pay for part-timers, and the elimination of pandemic pay. Loblaws is gushing profits.
Victory to Unifor Local 597!
Strike photo (from @Unifor597 Twitter account):
Doug Nesbitt is a Rankandfile.ca editor and a Kingston-based historian.