On the Line: Exploring the Strikes of 1970s Ontario through the IRHR Library's Collection

Artistic Woodwork: From Small Strike to Violent Clash

Author: Romina Campanella, MMSt Candidate

The 1973 strike at Artistic Woodwork is one of the most prominent examples of the impact of New Leftist ideologies on Ontario’s labour movement. Artistic Woodwork was a picture frame manufacturing plant in North York that employed mostly male workers. The majority of their workers were also immigrants, mainly from southern Europe. Despite strong anti-unionism at the company, workers joined the Canadian Textile and Chemical Union (CTCU), the same union that represented the Texpack workers during their 1971 strike.1  Organizing was initially challenging due to the diversity of languages amongst the workers. During the first contract arbitration, issues of pay and benefit increases were resolved with management agreeing to a 65 cent raise over two years.2  Although this increase was considered sizeable, issues related to seniority, job security, and management quickly became the focus.3  Before unionization, the company allowed managers to change rules for workers at any time and dismissed employees without any grievance procedures.4  On August 20, 1973, Artistic Woodwork employees went on strike. Many supporters of the New Left, especially university students, joined the picket. Supporters viewed the strike as an anti-capitalist movement that fought against the exploitation of new immigrants.5

The picket line quickly became violent as Artistic Woodwork attempted to bring in strike-breakers and strikers attempted to block them. Metro Toronto Police got involved to control the picket line. Violence continued on both sides, with injuries and arrests becoming common. Many employees left to find better jobs elsewhere, deciding that Artistic Woodwork was not worth the fight.6 As a result, the remaining picket line was mostly comprised of non-employees, who also served as organizers and leaders. By November, the number of arrests made was higher than the number of actual employees on strike.7 There were also internal struggles between the union and its supporters, with disagreements over strategy and ideologies becoming common.8

The conflict on the picket line came to a head on November 12th when a video showcasing extreme police violence against picketers was released. In the video, police were seen repeatedly punching one picketer, slamming the head of another against a door, dragging yet another by her hair, and more.9  Public outrage over this video led Artistic Woodwork to cave on some of the CTCU’s demands, resulting in a victory for the union over management rights, but not the rehiring of arrested employees.10  Despite this victory, employees voted to decertify their union due to slow proceedings and questions over whether the strike was even worth it. Although the union was decertified, the strike at Artistic Woodwork is remembered as a fight for immigrant workers and an example of New Left involvement in the Canadian labour movement.

Back to Top


  1. Ian Milligan, “The Force of All Our Numbers: New Leftists, Labour, and the 1973 Artistic Woodwork Strike,” Labour (Halifax), 66, (2010): 46.
  2. J. A. Frank, “The ‘Ingredients’ in Violent Labour Conflict: Patterns in Four Case Studies,” Labour (Halifax), 12, (1983): 105.
  3. David Lipton, “Pay isn’t issue at Artistic,” The Varsity 95 no. 4 (1973): 3.
  4. Eric Mills, “Workers at Artistic want bargaining rights,” The Varsity vol 95 no 3 (1973): 9.
  5. Frank, “The ‘Ingredients’ in Violent Labour Conflict”, 109.
  6. Milligan, “The Force of All Our Numbers”, 54.
  7. Milligan, “The Force of All Our Numbers”, 58. 
  8. Frank, “The ‘Ingredients’ in Violent Labour Conflict”, 108.
  9. Milligan, “The Force of All Our Numbers”, 62.
  10. The Globe and Mail, “No Jobs at Artistic for Arrested Strikers Unless Court Acquits Them, Company Says,” 1973.

Back to Top

Additional Resources

Below are a variety of resources that provide information on issues surrounding the Artistic Woodwork strike.

Back to Top