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Pierre Trudeau: Political stirrings

The Story

Pierre Trudeau returns from abroad to one of nastiest strikes in Quebec history. On Feb. 13, 1949, miners at four asbestos mines walk off their jobs. The mostly francophone miners demand better working conditions from the American and English Canadian mine owners. Energized from his travels abroad, an idealistic Trudeau passionately lends his support to the miners. Using his legal knowledge, he advises the unions of their rights. Trudeau's passion even surprises labour leader Jean Marchand, as described in this TV footage. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: June 6, 1986
Guest: Jean Marchand
Duration: 1:07

Did You know?

• Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis sided with the mining companies in the illegal strike. The strike quickly became violent when Duplessis sent in squads of police to protect the mines. During the four-month strike, owners kept mines in operation by hiring replacement workers. This led to more violent clashes. Many, including Trudeau, were detained before the strike ended in June. The miners managed to get a small pay increase but many did not get their jobs back.

• Trudeau first got involved in the asbestos strike because of his friend Gérard Pelletier. Pelletier reported on the strike for Le Devoir.
• The miners called Trudeau "St. Joseph" because of the long blond beard he had grown during his travels.

• Quebec union leader Jean Marchand was impressed by Trudeau's involvement in the asbestos strike. Marchand and Trudeau, along with Pelletier, would later come to be dubbed the "Three Wise Men" (les trois colombes) when they tried their hand at politics in Prime Minister Pearson's cabinet.

• Trudeau edited a book on the asbestos strike called La grève de l'amiante, which was published in 1956.
• Trudeau described the asbestos strike as "a turning point in the entire religious, political, social, and economic history of the Province of Quebec." (Trudeau and Our Times, 1990 p. 54) This view was later questioned by modern historians who argued the strikers were merely fighting for better conditions, not a change in society.


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