Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
November 2005

Documents of Quebec History / Documents de l'histoire du Québec


La loi du cadenas

The Padlock Law


Clerical Fascism in Quebec



[This text was written by Eugene Forsey; for the full citation, see the end of the document.]

QUEBEC has been for some time the scene of a formidable, carefully organized campaign to transform the province into a clerical-Fascist state. A little over a year ago the St. Jean Baptiste Society set up a Committee of Economic Defence. The members of this committee had already decided that, if French-Canadians were to become masters of their own economic fate ("keep our own money and attract that of the other peoples"), they must "group themselves together . . . by creating social corporations". Then it would be possible to "keep their capital for themselves". Thus "the people which for a hundred years has built the number of churches which we possess will certainly be able, under a national direction, to build factories to make the essentials of what we consume".


This was the "project elaborated in 1935". In 1936, the members of the committee "ripened it in the light of the teachings of the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. After having verified the conclusions, M. Esdras Minville submitted them to the Semaine sociale of Three Rivers (an annual gathering devoted to this sort of thing, under the patronage of the hierarchy) "where they received the warmest welcome. Among several testimonies of approval we shall mention only that of la Semaine religieuse of the diocese of Montreal".


Thus the printed report of the committee, adopted by the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Mont-real on January 14, 1937. The report proceeds: "For 1937 we ask you to be kind enough to continue your confidence and to authorize us to realize corporative organization. This work will necessitate the formation of groups for study and action in each region and parish. We must proceed to the census which we have already discussed with you, Once the compilation of the names by occupations have been made, we shall call together our compatriots according to their trade or profession and try to persuade them to organize themselves in corporations. Meanwhile, section committees will organize the economic-social action of the parish, attacking the problem of unemployment and lending aid to the young. Where circumstances are propitious, we propose to organize competitions in literary composition with prizes, on subjects related to our program. Thus, while those of our generation constitute themselves in corporations, the young will acquire the knowledge necessary to the realization of corporatism. They will make themselves its propagandists and prepare themselves to complete the work we have begun".


In the prosecution of this holy work the St. Jean Baptiste Society has not been letting the grass grow under its feet. One of the initiators of the project, M. Valmore Gratton, has become chief of the Industrial Commission of the City of Montreal, in which position he busies himself spreading reports that industry keeps away from Montreal because of labor troubles(!) The "census" referred to above is apparently already under way. A very complete and detailed organization is being set up, a hierarchy of "committees", "directors" and "centurions". Each centurion has charge of a hundred families, with an assistant centurion for each fifty families. Everyone concerned is told to keep mum.


How far has the campaign got? La Presse, in a single issue (February 24) reports: (1) The opening of new quarters in St. Eusèbe ward (2126 Fullum Street, 2125 Harmony Street) by "zone 3" of "l'Action corporative nationale", with regular meetings to be held every Wednesday; (2) The list of lectures on "Social Corporatism" arranged by the Alliance of Catholic Teachers of Montreal, with the help of l'Ecole Sociale Populaire (which has been spreading this propaganda for some time) ; (3) A speech by M. Victor Barbeau, professor at the School of Higher Commercial Studies of the University of Montreal and one of the initiators of the Committee of Economic Defence, to the junior Chambre de Commerce. At the head table were, among others: "MM Rodolphe Laplante, publiciste da la Banque Provinciale; Maurice Trudeau, président de la Fédération des Chambres de Commerce cadettes de la province de Québec; M. Boucher, président de la Chambre de Commerce cadette de Joliette; Rosario Gaudry, chef du secrétariat de la Chambre de Commerce du district de Montreal". M. Barbeau's subject was: "If democracy does not die". He described our existing society as "from the political point of view a mass of braggarts, and from the national point of view a body without a soul. Are we going to bow our heads before destiny; are we going to continue to be gnawed by anaemia and rickets? Several countries of Europe have changed their regime, that is to say, have made a new skin. We must, in our day, indoctrinate the people just as one cures a tubercular patient or a criminal. It is by evolution that our civilization will recover its equilibrium. A world is falling to pieces, a new order is arising, for the spirit is renewing itself and the liberation of the spirit brings with it that of institutions. We must drown Communists in the flood of our speeches, and that is the strongest solution of our difficulties. Let us interrogate ourselves on the fate of democracy and its most lamentable expression, liberalism, and one can say as much of conservatism. We have played out trumps under these two colors and they have lost their colors in our minds. Liberalism and conservatism embrace beliefs which render impossible the solution of our grave problems. What is the remedy for the ills from which we suffer if it is not professional organization, or in other words corporatism. Professional organization stimulates private initiative, protects the rights of individuals, substitutes order for mess in production and distribution and humanizes the relations between capital and labor. When we have succeeded in setting up corporatism in our social relations we must then establish it in the domain of public affairs under the form of a professional parliament".


Far more significant than any of this is the fact that the Cardinal (who, Mr. Duplessis tells us, inspired the Padlock Act) has now placed himself openly at the head of the "corporatist" campaign. On April 17, at a dinner of the A.C.J.C. (Association Canadienne de la Jeunesse Catholique), the federation of French-Canadian Catholic Youth organizations, he lamented at some length the rise of anti-clericalism and the growing lack of respect for the directions of the bishops, and demanded "full corporatism". This is to be the antidote to "Communism", which, as the church well knows, is of negligible importance in Canada, and to anticlericalism, which, on the contrary, has become strong enough to frighten the hierarchy nearly out of its wits.


The spearhead of the clerical-Fascist attack, however, is not speeches or lectures. It is the organization of "Catholic trade unions". These. which claim about 38,000 members in Quebec, which already count more members in Quebec than any other type of union, "answer exactly", says Father Archambault, "to the desires of the Sovereign Pontiff". Small wonder! they are completely under the control of the clergy. By a happy coincidence they also answer very nicely to the desires of the employers. Again small wonder, for they are based on the proposition that workers should "love and agree with" their employers and should strike only as a last resort (whatever that may mean), and never in public services or public util­ities. (See the Dominion Department of Labor's Report on Labor Organization, 1932, and other years. Some recent issues of the report omit this interesting information). Father Archambault also speaks of "collective labor agreements" (i.e., those made binding in law) as a "stage in the establishment of the corporative system".


The technique is to organize a Catholic union (numbers unspecified), make an "agreement" with the employers, and have this made binding under the Collective Labor Agreements Extension Act. Any international union is then faced with a fait accompli. The industry has a union (and a Canadian one at that; no foreign "agitators"!); the employers have recognized it and bargained collectively with it, reaching an agreement with which they are perfectly satisfied (like a shark with a herring) ; and wages and hours are fixed by law for a definite period, often several years. Any attempt to organize a genuine union is represented as at best superfluous; a strike becomes of doubtful legality.


Recent events in the dress industry in Montreal exhibit an improved version of this technique. On April 10 the Quebec Official Gazette published an agreement between the Dress Manufacturers' Guild and La Ligue Catholique des Ouvrières de l'Industrie de l'Aiguille de la Province de Québec and La Fédération Nationale du Vêtement. On April 15 the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union called a strike. The Dress Manufacturers' Guild promptly burst into the usual hysterics about the C.I.O. and "foreign agitators", and made clear its preference for the Catholic unions. Such a display of Catholic piety in such a quarter (most of the dress manufacturers are Jewish), could not go unrewarded.


Church authorities intervened publicly to give their support to the Catholic unions, suggesting that the international unions are hostile to Catholicism and that the I.L.G.W.U. has communistic tendencies. They appear to have overlooked the trifling fact that the Catholic unions had made an agreement which violated the law of the province. Order number 10a of the Minimum Wage Commission decreed for the whole province minimum wages of $7 a week for 15 per cent. of the employees, $10 for 20 per cent., and $12.50 for 65 per cent. The agreement between the employers and the Catholic unions (Quebec Official Gazette, April 10, 1937, p. 1410) sets, in the Montreal district, wages of $8 for 20 per cent. of the workers, $10.50 for 20 per cent., $12.50 for 30 per cent., and $14 for 30 per cent.; in the rest of the province $7.20 for 20 per cent., $9.45 for 20 per cent., $11.25 for 30 per cent., and $12.50 for 30 per cent. Press statements add that where the Catholic unions ask $8 to $14, the U.L.G.W.U. asks $12.50 to $30. This is the "efficacious protection" of the workers' "material interests" which Cardinal Villeneuve approves ! This, however, is less surprising than it may seem, for French-Canadian clerical literature is full of admonitions against "luxurious" living among the working class.


On April 28, the provincial government took a hand in the game. The Minister of Labor telegraphed Raoul Trepanier, president of the Montreal Trades and Labor Council and chairman of the strike committee, "requesting" "acceptance of arbitration within twenty-four hours and return of employees to work. Your refusal will justify the department in considering seriously all acts of conspiracy in view of creating intolerable disorders". The I.L.G.W.U. was willing to arbitrate on everything except the closed shop, and said so. Next day the deputy minister of labor gave assurances that the telegram had not been an "ultimatum" but only a "warning". On April 30, representatives of the I.L.G.W.U., the Catholic unions and the provincial department of labor met in conference. The Catholic and international unions agreed that a closed shop was essential, and the international union said it was willing to see a fair representation of the Catholic unions on the joint committee set up to administer any collective contract made binding under the Collective Labor Agreements Extension Act. It proposed a ballot of all workers employed before the strike, under the supervision of a board of three (one from the I.L.G.W.U., one from the Catholic union, one from the department of labor), to decide which union the workers wished to be represented by. The Catholic unions did not take the bet. They insisted they had a contract with the Dress Manufacturers' Guild, and all the workers in guild shops must be treated as belonging to the Catholic unions. The conference accordingly broke down, and a few hours later the province was electrified to hear that the prime minister had ordered the arrest, "without bail", of Bernard Shane, manager of the I.L.G.W.U., and Raoul Trepanier, on four counts of conspiracy against public order. Mr. Duplessis has since explained that he did not "order" the judges not to grant bail (which, of course, he has no legal right to do), but merely "requested" them to act in this way. It took five days for him to produce this explanation. He is also reported to have said that "We will not stand for any Communistic influence". After a week-end of rumors and protests, it was sud­denly announced that the order for the arrests had been rescinded for lack of evidence. The same day a similar charge against seven officials of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, by a private firm, was withdrawn for the same reason.


The international unions in Quebec have been fighting for their lives, fighting not only the power of the employers but also the immense prestige and influence of the hierarchy in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic community, with the provincial government playing a rather equivocal part. Hap­pily, the I.L.G.W.U. has won the first round, with its victory in the strike. But the danger is not yet over. The rest of Canada will do well to watch the later stages of this struggle in Quebec. For the victory or defeat of international trade unionism may decide the fate of democracy in this province for some years to come.

Source: Eugene FORSEY, "Clerical Fascism in Quebec", in Canadian Forum, Vol. XVII, No 197 (June 1937): 90-92.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College