ATU Local 583 (then called “Division” 583) was formed at a time when the world was going through one of the greatest conflicts in recorded history: World War I (otherwise known as “the Great War”). The Local stood the test of time not only through the war, but in what followed after; the Great Depression.
Times were extremely tough were even the City of Calgary was struggling month to month to pay its employees. A consequence of which was the deterioration of the Railway System.
By the time World War II ended the railway system underwent a total and complete change. Street cars were abandoned and rails torn up. Old car barns were displaced and a new garage in a new part of the City sprang up. Operators and “Barnmen” were required to retrain to understand and work a new system, one that was designed for rubber instead of steel.
With this new system came negotiations for wages and below is a table of how wages looked in 1915 compared to 1965.
(Table above is from the 50th Anniversary booklet for “Division” 583)
Not included in the table but also of interest would be the hourly wage for Motormen and Conductors in 1915 – 35 cents an hour! In 1917 they went up to 37 cents per hour.
The Union itself flourished membership-wise. Going from approximately 25 Members in 1915 to over 400 by 1965.
Interestingly, in 1918, some Members of “Division” 583 felt that membership should transfer to “One Big Union” during its quick and widespread development in Western Canada. However Amalgamated Transit Union’s (then called Amalgamated Association Street Electric Railway- Motor Coach Employees of America) charter withstood this test and time has shown this was indeed the right decision. One Big Union no longer exists and ATU is one of the oldest Unions in North America.
It is also worth noting that as technology changed, as a trade, the Blacksmith and Car Repairers became redundant and were replaced in part by trades such as Machinists, Autobody, Auto Mechanics and Tiremen. No doubt, twenty-five years from now, the Heavy Equipment Tech of today is going to look very different from the Heavy Equipment Tech of tomorrow.
With the help of the ATU International, work is well underway on how to ensure our current Members maintain the skills required to successfully “retrain to understand and work a new system,” one that is green and relies on power systems very different from today.
From 400 members in 1965 to today, where we are approximately 3700 strong, the importance of Local 583 has not changed we continue to fight for our Members daily.