Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office Strike of 1948

In 1944 the new Co-operative Commonwealth Federation government of T.C. Douglas introduced and passed the Trade Union Act, which guaranteed for the first time anywhere in North America the right of government employees to organize into trade unions and to bargain collectively with their employer. Public employees in the civil service, mental hospitals and Crown corporations would quickly take advantage of the new legislation to organize themselves into the labour movement. One of the new Crown corporations established by the CCF government was the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office (SGIO), which was given a monopoly on providing automobile insurance throughout the province. The workers had organized into the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Employees’ Union (SGIOEU)—later to become part of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, a component of the Canadian Congress of Labour.

The low wages at the Office put the new CCF government’s support of the labour movement to the test. When management at SGIO refused to deal with a new higher pay scale for their employees, the members of SGIOEU voted to strike and walked off the job in November 1948. After strong lobbying from the provincial labour movement and even the national CCF, the government intervened; a new pay scale was offered, and the strike was settled. This would be the last provincial government employees strike until the 1970s, and it foretold the rise of militancy among public sector unions thirty years later.

Doug Taylor