Auto worker, union organizer, husband, father. Born May 4, 1918, in Windsor, Ont., died Dec. 12, 2012, in Windsor of natural causes, aged 94.
Lyle Dotzert carried a union card for more than 70 years.
He was still a boy when he began his working career at the Drouillard Road welfare yard in Windsor, Ont., splitting wood for his father, who was sick that day. His father, who was of Mennonite background, became a labour activist, organizing butchers in Windsor for the American Federation of Labour to support his children and his disabled wife.
The poverty and scars of Lyle’s early life, as well as his father’s example, led Lyle to take an active part in forming the union at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Windsor, the birthplace of Canada’s automobile industry. Ford’s plant is still located and producing on Drouillard Road.
At the critical point of the 99-day organizing strike at the plant in 1945, it looked like the state was preparing to moved in mounted officers from the RCMP and OPP, since the Windsor police force was seen as unreliable for the task of breaking the strike.
Lyle, who had a silver tongue, had the heavy responsibility of going across Ontario to raise support for the striking workers and prevent a potentially bloody confrontation with police.
As a result of campaigning by Lyle and others, an outpouring of support and industrial action across the province stayed the hand of the police. The union and company agreed to have Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand come in and knock heads together to get a first agreement.
The compromise was that all workers had to pay dues whether they wished to join the union or not and that the union could not strike during the course of a signed collective agreement. This became the basis of union security in Canada, known as the Rand Formula.
The terms of the collective agreement were not always observed by the company, or the union.
In 1952, after what was termed an illegal strike, Walter Reuther, the head of the United Auto Workers and CCF national secretary David Lewis were sent to Windsor to deal with the stewards, who were termed “Mexican generals.”
Lyle had received a tip-off and was not one of the 50 stewards fired that day.
He continued his advocacy within the Ford Motor Co. and the city of Windsor. He was also a founding member of the Council of Canadians.
Lyle’s silver voice was stilled on Dec. 12, when he died peacefully in Windsor of old age. He is mourned by his wife Florence Pare, daughters Kerry and Karin and sons Wayne and Gary (Lyle’s son Roger predeceased him), as well as life-long friends. He is remembered in labour circles and even by his labour-relations adversaries as a principled representative of workers.
Mike Longmoore is Lyle’s long-term friend and co-worker.