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National Film Board

Defying the Law

Marta Nielsen-Hastings / Canada / 1997 / 48 ' / English


Marta Nielsen-Hastings, David Wesley & Michael Allder

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A film that charts this historic struggle for union recognition against a government and an industry.


On July 14, 1946, a group of steelworkers poured out of Hamilton's Playhouse Theatre and set up pickets around the country's largest steel mill. Their action sparked one of the most important strikes in our country's history--a strike which many consider to be the birth of the modern Canadian labor movement. On the previous Friday, the steel industry had been put under government control and all employees were threatened with imprisonment.Defying the Law provides an account of all these events. 

World War II had brought full employment to Canadian workers and a reluctant acceptance of unions on the part of management--an acceptance that no longer applied once peace was restored. Returning servicemen, along with the men and women who had worked on the home front, were determined not to go back to the exploitative labor conditions of the '30s. When the United Steel Workers of America set out to challenge Stelco and the government, fewer than twenty percent of the employees were paid union members, but more than half went on strike. The remainder, 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 strikers, and other unions providing vital help. Acclaimed filmmaker Richard Nielsen was one of the strikers. He provides an account of the dramatic e


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