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Labour Activism





Year of the Coal Miner September 2003 - 2004

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Q: Are you a married man, Mr. Hillary? 
A: Yes.

Q: And you live in one of these houses? 
A: Yes.

Q: What would happen if a man put up an apartment house - if he had a nice room to accommodate two, and have it furnished neatly and heated properly, and surroundings good and effort made to make it as pleasant when you are out of the mine - would it be an inducement for man to come there, or would they not appreciate it? A: They would appreciate it.

Q: Would foreigners appreciate it? 
A: Now it's pretty hard work driving anything into these foreigners. You are up against something trying to deal with those fellows.

Q: By W. F. McNeil: As a matter of fact, wouldn't a foreigner rather live in a hack and batch for himself? 
A: Yes, any old dugout satisfies those fellows.

Q: By H. Shaw: Couldn't he be kind of educated to these things and eventually make a better man and a better citizen? 
A: Providing these men are willing to be educated. The majority of them you can't teach them anything.

Bercuson's book includes testimony from an Italian miner, S. Centazzo, who is listed as an unemployed miner from Edmonton. He is 23 years old and single and he indicates that he has worked in the mines in different parts of Alberta for 15 years. He arrived in Canada in 1913 from London England and says that he is not a member of the united Mine Workers of America but is a member of the One Big Union. He states that he has been locked out of mining jobs because of his union activities including being Chairman of the Humberstone miners. He appears very articulate and knowledgeable and would certainly have been viewed as a dangerous militant and says himself that he cannot get employment because the bosses consider him an agitator.5

Centazzo, when asked by Chairman J.R. Stirling if he has anything further to say, states: "Well, I don't know; according to the previous speaker I shouldn't be allowed to speak for the simple reason I'm not English speaking. I don't know if you will allow me to." He is giving his testimony after G.S. Montgomery, General Manager, Alberta Coal Mining Co. Ltd., Edmonton, who has indicated that foreign workers should not be allowed to become union members and has made an issue of citizenship and speaking English. Centazzo, I believe, is speaking tongue-in-cheek. He is challenging authority but then proceeds to deal with concrete miners' concerns about what they are entitled to but do not get, for example, hot water to wash themselves, heated washhouses as they come off shift and drying boxes to dry their clothes. He is challenged to state which mine he is referring to and he replies: "I will not take just one mine. I take in general. Because it's not fair to ask one fellow and leave the other out." He also makes recommendations with respect to safety lamps requesting that miners be allowed to carry small electric lamps in their pockets as a safety precaution in case of an explosion:

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