Norflicks Productions Ltd. - Library



Editor: Marta Nielsen
Composer: Aaron Davis, John Lang
Writer: Richard Nielsen, David Wesley
Producers: David Wesley, Marta Nielsen
Director: Marta Nielsen


On July 14, 1946 a group of steelworkers poured out of Hamilton's Playhouse Theater and set up pickets around the country's largest steel mill. Their action sparked one of the most important strikes in Canada's history - a strike which many believe to mark the birth of the modern Canadian labour movement.

On the previous Friday, the steel industry had been put under government control, and all employees threatened with imprisonment were they to strike. Defying the Law, an account of that long summer, charts the historic struggle for union recognition against both government and an historically powerful industry. Since its airing across Southern Ontario on ONTV, the show has received much critical acclaim.

The war had brought full employment to Canadian workers and, as a result of labour shortages, a reluctant acceptance of unions by management. This short lived acceptance no longer applied once peace was restored. Returning servicemen, along with the men and women who had worked on the home front, were nevertheless determined not to go back to the exploitative labour conditions of the 30's.

When the United Steel Workers of America set out to challenge Stelco and the government, fewer than 20% of the employees were paid union members, but more than half the workers went out on strike. The others, in exchange for triple pay, food and lodging, stayed on the job. The result was one of the most bitter strikes in Canadian history, with many Hamilton residents supporting the strike, and other unions providing vital help.

Defying the Law is a personal film for two of the people responsible for putting this film together. Co-producer and co-writer, Dave Wesley, is a Hamilton native who has been involved with labour for many years, while co-writer and interviewee, Richard Nielsen, was an 18-year-old striker at the time. "We wanted to concentrate on the underlying issues and events of the strike, and on ordinary working people in Hamilton and their impact on its outcome" says Wesley, who is a former Hamilton newspaper writer and Labour Council member.

Nielsen, the writer of No Price Too High, Oh What a Night! and Balls Up!, and producer of The Newcomers and The Wars, was a young man caught up in the strike in 1946. By taking us back through the events and issues of that particularly hot summer, he shows us how crucially they framed the dynamics of our current economic, social and labour challenges.