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Guelph Industries: Northern Rubber

Northern Rubber opened shop on the corner of Metcalfe (now Huron) and Alice Streets in April 1920 with 60 employees. The building, constructed of reinforced concrete rose five storeys factory. It began to produce what  was its main product – rubber footwear, at the rate of 25-pairs a day. These were originally sold locally. At that time, the management was purely local. In 1923, Fred E. Partridge was President and Manager. He was also  president of the F.E. Partridge Rubber Co. and Live Wire Co.

 A Growing Concern

Over the years, the workforce grew. Northern Rubber hired locally. Most of the employees lived nearby in the Ward. Many were Italian immigrants, such as the Valeriotes and the Tessaros. However, other nationalities found  work there as well including Julius Broeau, Peter Hendry Jr, Reginald Henshaw, Carl R. McDiarmid, Theodore A. Kieswater and Edward O’Brien. Over the years the company was existent, the workforce fluctuated between 300 and 750. The market for the product also expanded. By 1932, the workforce of 750 now manufactured 7,000-pairs of rubber footwear including running shoes, toe rubbers, galoshes and, later, women’s velour slippers in a  wide variety of colours. Their markets included all of Canada and places abroad.

    Organization and Strikes

Originally, like many factories, the workers at Northern Rubber were not members of a union. This was to change during the 1930s. In 1939, two groups vied for the right to represent the 325 workers. These were the United Rubber Workers of America (affiliated with the then outlaw CIO) and a to-be-named AFL affiliated union.

 In the end, at a rally to organize, with John Noble an organizer for the AFL supported by the presence of the then president of the Guelph Trades and Labour Council – O. B. Atkinson, the workers made their choice (although some say it was heavily influenced by comments made from the local Catholic Church pulpits). The employees, backed the factory council’s choice. They opted for the AFL/CFL group stating:

“We will have nothing whatever to do with the CIO,” one official stated, “We are connected with the American Federation of Labor only.”

At the same meeting, a temporary organization came into being. E. C. Groves, became President. However, the executive council for this group and, therefore, in charge of the strike, included two females: Mrs. M. Berridge   and Mrs. Mary Tessaro. The other members were:                              

  • Alderman Harry Woods
  •  C. Davison
  • Albert Pettifer

The strike lasted from July 6th to the 19th 1939. The employees returned to work on a compromise. Wages were  decreased by five and not the original 12.5 per cent. More importantly, the employees and company agreed   Northern Rubber was now a closed union shop.

The next strike happened the following year. The now unionized shop was faced with the change in attitude towards workers. The Second World War altered the perspective of industrial output and companies often took   advantage of it to take liberties with union contracts including the wage rates. The owners of Norther Rubber  decided to ignore certain articles within the 1939 agreement.

The employees went out for 4 days from July 15th to July 18th. The Union applied to the Board of Conciliation and Investigations under the Industrial Disputes Act. The employees returned to work under the old agreement.  It was the last strike to be held by the workers of Northern Rubber.

  The End of Northern Rubber

In the early 1940s, the company underwent a management and name change. The company ceased production. The building, at that point was taken over by Dominion Rubber, a company that produced similar products. Later it became home to Uniroyal then fell under the ownership of the American multinational chemical producer, Chemtura Corporation.

All pictures are courtesy of the Guelph Civic Museum.

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