The WUL organized the women employed at the Swift's meat-packing plant on Erie Street, and before long they were on strike, leaving 11,000 live chickens trapped in the plant. Soon, the chicken-pluckers were joined on the picket line by the furniture workers. After a series of disturbances, a hose was trained on the workers, power and telephone lines were cut, and outside police reserves were brought in.
The Beaco- Herald reported that a crowd of 2,000 curious onlookers had gathered on Erie Street. A doctor's car, enroute to help an injured policeman, was stoned. A Toronto photographer was attacked and beaten. Blinding security lights were directed at the Swift plant as police were backed against the wall by a hail of stones and bricks. Trucks and boxcars were smashed and looted as residents gathered armloads of butter and squawking chickens.
When Mayor Graff decided things had gone far enough, through the police commission he called for military help from the attorney general of Ontario. It was the first time since 1925 that a large number of troops had been called out in peace time. It was a black mark against Stratford for decades. The troops, from the Royal Canadian Regiment in London, arrived in Stratford in green steel helmets and full battle dress, armed with wartime equipment, and backed up by a company brought from Toronto.
The story persists that armoured tanks were used to control the strikers in Stratford. When the clanking treads of the tank-like vehicles rolled along Ontario Street and stationed themselves in front of the armouries at 80 Waterloo St. S., they were grim reminders of military law and order. They were not real army tanks, but everybody called them tanks. They were actually machine-gun carriers, each with two men armed with machine guns. Not a friendly look.
Stratford was occupied by armed troops. People were frightened, upset and outraged. A huge rally of the workers was held in Lakeside Park. More than 4,000 pledged their support for the workers, sought the resignation of Mayor Graff, and called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all troops and military forces from the city and its environs. They denounced the military action as intimidation against the striking workers: "We, the assembled mass, consider his (Mayor Graff's) action in this matter proves his alliance with the employers to further lower the standard of living of the workers of Stratford." More than 1,500 citizens staged a protest parade with mock "soldiers" and a big mock gun which carried a painted sign bearing a jackass and the words, "Mayor Graff and his jackass militia."
Though the tanks pulled out on Oct. 27, some troops stayed until November, when agreements were signed in all the plants. The decision to bring in the military was not popular in Stratford, Toronto or anywhere else. Locally, Mayor Graff bore the brunt of the consequences and he resigned from office. Ald. Oliver James Kerr, became the new mayor, with a predominantly labour-endorsed council. Graff was elected to that council, but he resigned at the inaugural meeting, early in 1934, because of what he called a legal technicality. He said some of the houses which he owned were being rented by the city to shelter relief tenants and, rather than prolong any controversy over the question of his eligibility to serve, he resigned. He went on to serve on the Public Utility Commission, of which he was the chair in 1938 and 1939. George Graff lived at 101 Huron St., where he died at the age of 62. His had been a crowded and strenuous life, which contributed in no small measure to Stratford’s progress. With notes from Stanford Dingman. Picture : Stratford-Perth Archives
James Reaney, (see St. Patrick Street) who had witnessed the strike first-hand as a seven-year-old, turned it into a play, titled King Whistle!, in 1979. He was recorded to have claimed, jokingly, that the reason Tom Patterson started the Stratford Festival was to get rid of the shame caused by the strike. That strike was one of several factors, including rumours of a second world war, and the end of the steam-powered railway era that caused a decline in Stratford's fortunes. There was a sense of gloom in the city over the next couple of decades that Patterson sought to dispel. Source : Wikipedia