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Friday, April 21, 2017

The Communist Chocolate Bar Plot

      In 1947, life in Canada was changing. Much like in the USA, the economy was transitioning away from the wartime model and back to normal. In many ways this was a truly positive thing. As the war contracts ran out, many manufacturers started producing goods for the civilian market again in large numbers. Automobile makers had their first new models in years, rationing of goods like sugar, gasoline, rubber tires, and nylon were phased out. Life looked on the surface to be getting back to the normalcy people knew before the Germans marched into Poland in 1939. However for quite a few, the transition was hurting them in the one place people hate the most, in their pocketbook.  

     During the wartime years it was well understood by many governments that supplying the troops as well as the homefront with goods would cause shortages. Simple supply and demand economics dictates a sharp rise in prices when there are shortages. Governments were eager to keep the populace actively supporting the war both in spirit and with things like war bonds. If there were price spikes for everyday products, both forms of support would like suffer drastically. So the government of Canada, like others, made sure to take an active roll in the market when it came to prices. Many products simply saw their price fixed at what they were the last day there was peace. And while some producers groaned and complained about lower or no profits, they more than often made up for that with their healthy government contracts. Well the war was over and so were those juicy profitable contracts. It was only logical that as the price regulations expired, the cost of certain goods would rise for the first time in many years. And they did...drastically. The war had righted the flagging economies in North America and the Great Depression, like the Axis, stood in the rear-view mirror. Costs were going up across the board, both in labor and materials. Add in the profit margin and some goods jumped well over 50 percent in price over a short time. One of those products were candy bars. And the children of Canada would have none of it. 

     Most children in 1947 Canada barely remembered the peacetime before the war if they did remember it at all. The entire time the raged on, the price of most candy bars stood at 5 cents because of the price control legislation. For nearly two years following VE day, the price stood stagnant at 5 cents as well and the children could easily find the money to buy their candy at the local shops. Then almost over night the price jumped to 8 cents, a trivial amount to us in 2017, but that was a massive jump in 1947. Some local kids in Toronto decided they were going to take the fight to the streets, so in April they organized, gathered some sign making materials, and went on strike outside a store called the Wigwam.

 
Children protesting 8 cent bars outside the Wigwam



     Well naturally the locals found this endearing and a local Toronto paper ran the story. Well that story spread across Canada like a wildfire and in short order sister strikes started popping up all over that nation. Soon candy bar makers started worrying and took out ads in papers explaining why it was necessary to raise the price because of high costs hurting them too. But the kids were not listening and pressed onward with their demands for 5 cent bars, and support for the children was growing. By May, the largest protest yet was scheduled...but then things got ugly. 

Children found interesting ways of protesting across Canada. This young lady has affixed the sign to her bike.


     You see, other things were changing besides the economy in 1947, and one of those was the birth of the Cold War. Since the defeat of the Axis in 1945, the alliance between the West and the Soviet Union had been deteriorating at an amazing pace. Some world leaders like Winston Churchill, the man who had warned everyone about Hitler, were now saying similar things about Stalin. There was a resurgence of the "Red Scare", a anti communist hysteria not seen since the 1920's when the Russian Civil War ended with a Bolshevik victory. People were seeing communists everywhere, and one of those places were in liberal movements and organizations. So on the eve of the next big march, the Toronto Telegram, a conservative leaning paper,  ran a story stating that a source informed a reporter that the National Federation of Labour Youth, an organization helping the kids, was rife with communists. The narrative spread across Canada that the children were being co-opted by Soviet agents. Fearing being found guilty by association, many abandoned all support for the candy strikers and some completely switched sides. Again, much like in the United States, being affiliated with anything and anyone labeled communist was a great way to find oneself blacklisted in Canada. With support dropping substantially, the strikes withered on the vine and faded into history. The 8 cent bar was not going anywhere.


If you are interested in this tale, and want to know more look up "The Five Cent War", an excellent little documentary containing interviews with surviving strikers.


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