Angella MacEwen | CUPE Staff
Pierre Ducasse | CUPE Staff

Whether it was 1975 or 2022, the federal government has always tried to push the cost of inflation onto workers, and CUPE was there to fight back. CUPE still argues that workers don’t cause inflation, so they shouldn’t be forced to bear the brunt of the cost.

Inflation went above 10% in 1974 and 1975. This prompted Prime Minister Trudeau (Pierre Elliott, that time) and his government to adopt the federal Anti-Inflation Act in 1975, aimed at controlling the increase of prices and wages. The Liberal government passed the Act despite having campaigned explicitly against such a proposal in the 1974 election just a few months before. The Act established an Anti-Inflation Board (AIB) to enforce a three-year cap on wage increases for companies with more than 500 employees and all federal employees. Most provinces signed an agreement with the federal government to apply the wage cap to public sector workers in their jurisdictions.

Grace Hartman

By the beginning of 1976, workers saw that while their wages were being held back, prices were continuing to increase – especially for necessities, like food and energy. Sounds familiar?

Big private sector employers were bragging about how the savings from wage controls were padding their profits. At the same time, executives were able to avoid wage controls by re-writing job descriptions, engineering promotions, and deferring profit sharing. The wage and price controls hit the workers who could least afford it the hardest.

In response, CUPE organized 100 anti-wage control meetings to hear from members. CUPE argued that the AIB didn’t understand the complexity of collective bargaining or the equity concerns that might justify larger wage increases for some workers.

In October 1976, one million workers, including 100,000 CUPE members, participated in a one-day general strike against wage and price controls. Within six months, provinces started withdrawing from their agreements with the AIB, and the federal government ended the program eight months before originally scheduled.

Learn more about this historic moment in the 1976 CUPE Journal.

1976 CUPE Cost-of-Living Calendar

In 2023, we have Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem discouraging employers from giving their workers pay increases and giving arbitrators ammunition to decide against wage increases on the grounds that it might cause a wage-price spiral. CUPE disagrees with the Bank of Canada’s narrative that workers are to blame. This is a real class war. We advocate against austerity and we will keep supporting our locals to obtain real wage increases at the bargaining table.

We’ve seen inflation before. Workers should not have to pay the price for bad policy.

Check out our Inflation Calculator to see whether your wage will keep up with inflation.