Michael Hillard, a University of Southern Maine Economics professor, returned to Northern Maine recently to share some of his research into a 1971 paper mill strike that became known as the “Madawaska Rebellion.”
Hillard’s talk, held at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, was covered by the reporter Jessica Potila for the Fiddlehead Focus.
“Hillard learned of the rebellion from Valley students attending his classes at USM,” Potila wrote. “He found the story so intriguing that he extensively studied the events surrounding the Madawaska strike.”
“People know all about Ford and the assembly workers in Detroit, but people don’t know about this story,” Hillard said.
The conflict culminated in a stand-off with Fraser Paper Company leader John Heuer — who wanted to move 27 boxcars of finished paper to market — and the workers. Workers and townspeople blocked the tracks, littering them with pulp wood, tearing them up in spots and finally laying on the tracks with their spouses, children and even their pets, Hillard said.
Law enforcement tried to break them up with tear gas, but they fought back.
During his research, Hillard recorded first-person accounts of a strike by hundreds of unionized workers against their managers at the Fraser Paper Company.
The recordings formed the basis of a Maine Public radio program titled “Madawaska Rebellion.”
Hillard interviewed witnesses, who described prejudice that worsened the conflict.
“They talked about the divide between the English and the French,” Hillard said at the Fort Kent discussion.
“One English manager, who workers referred to as “the cockroach” would stand behind workers while holding a stopwatch in what appeared to be an attempt to intimidate them into moving faster,” Potila wrote. “The man would also kick the workers in their behinds.”
“The workers got the sense that the lack of respect was because they were French,” Hillard said.