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Labour Activism





Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004

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  • 90 percent of the workers in the Pass were immigrants
  • 34 percent were British
  • 23 percent were Slovak
  • 14.5 percent were Italian
  • 7 percent were French and Belgian
  • 2 percent were Russian
  • 8.5 percent were "other European"
  • 1 percent were American 3

The testimony of union leaders and individual miners, union supporters makes riveting reading. I am citing two passages because of what they reveal about the conditions of miners and the tense nature of the relationship between workers and bosses. They are from the Lethbridge and Edmonton hearings.

J. Hillary, President, Rosedale Local, United Mine Workers of America, is asked about miners' accommodation, and the following exchange takes place. Initial questions are put by W. F. McNeill, an American-born mine manager who came to Alberta in 1895 and managed the McNeill Brothers Coal Mines in Canmore and was appointed in 1912 as commissioner (executive secretary) of the Western Coal Operators Association.

Q: There's no sleeping accommodation in this place? 
A: There are only two or three rooms.

Q: Where do the men sleep who eat in this place? 
A: In the bunkhouse.

Q: What do you mean by the bunkhouse? What sort of a house is it? A: Where there's about 40 or 50 all in one building.

Q: What kind of accommodation is there? 
A: Just small cots for them to sleep in. That's a poor accommodation for a miner.

Q: He hasn't very much privacy there: 
A: He has no privacy at all.

Q: Is the bed satisfactory? You speak of a cot. 
A: It has a spring and a small straw mattress on it, and either two or three blankets.

Q: They don't have to bring their own blankets? A: No, they don't have to. It would be better for them to get more clothes and get them warm.

Questions by Henry Shaw, another mine owner who came to Edmonton from the US in 1913 and established the North West Biscuit Company. Bercuson notes that he was active in the Board of Trade.

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