[R-G] Needing help on musical project
aaron at istop.com
aaron at istop.com
Sun May 16 22:05:21 MDT 2004
Recently Danny Shur wrote a musical about 1919 gerneral strike which has done
alot to build solidarity in Winnipeg. There were a hadful of stikes in the
late teens and early 20's that were important to the labour movment in
Canada. One of those strikes occured in New Waterford Cape Breton Nova
Scotia, A coal mining town.to make a long story short, the company,who owned
the town, tried to break the strike by shutting off the power to the town.
the company thugs also went around on drunken rampages beating anyone they
could find. The workers united to march to the power plant to turn the power
back on. The following article says it much better then I. so before I go I
was wondering if anyone can help me get in contact with danny shur to either
help me write a play about this Cape Breton Working class struggle or to see
if he would write the play based on the events of 1925. The following article
is from UMWA.org. I feel it is very important that communities find festival-
like was in which to celabrate there labour history
A Piece of Cape Breton
IN MARCH OF 1925, Cape Breton coal miners were receiving $3.65 in daily wages
and had been working part-time for more than three years. They burned company
coal to heat company houses illuminated by company electricity. Their
families drank company water, were indebted to the company "Pluck Me" store
and were financially destitute as evidenced by the company "Bob Tailed
Sheet". Local clergy spoke of children clothed in flour sacks and dying of
starvation from the infamous "four cent meal". The miners had fought
continuously since 1909 for decent working conditions, an eight hour day as
well as a living wage.
The British Empire Steel Corporation (BESCO) was controlled by President Roy
M. Wolvin and Vice-President J.E. McClurg who defended these conditions by
frankly stating, "Coal must be produced cheaper in Cape Breton, poor market
conditions and increasing competition make this an absolute necessity. If the
miners require more work, then the United Mine Workers of America District 26
Executive must recommend acceptance of a 20 per cent wage reduction." The
stage had been set for a sequence of events which would lead to the tragic
death of a union brother and father of 10 children, William Davis.
In the early days of March 1925, J.E. McClurg added insult to injury by
eliminating credit for miners at the company "Pluck Me" store and further
reducing days of work at the collieries. On March 6, 1925, U.M.W.A.
strategist, J. B. McLachlan, left with few options, called for the removal of
all maintenance men from the collieries; a 100 per cent strike was necessary
to do battle with BESCO. If the company would not negotiate an end to this
deprivation and hunger the mines would slowly fill with floodwater and die.
The company response was brief and derogatory, "We hold the cards, they will
crawl back to work, THEY CAN'T STAND THE GAFF."
The next two months were filled with grief and hardship; BESCO cut off the
sale of coal to miners houses and mounted a vigorous, public relations
campaign to blame the miners for their own predicament. The U.M.W.A. lobbied
for intervention from the Liberal Provincial and Federal Governments to no
avail; this prompted the unions most difficult decision to date. On June 3,
1925, the U.M.W.A. withdrew the last maintenance men from BESCO's power plant
at Waterford Lake. In retaliation, the company cut off electricity and water
to the town of New Waterford which included the town hospital filled with
extremely sick children. For more than a week the town mayor, P.G. Muise,
literally begged company officials to restore electricity and water to his
townspeopleBESCO ignored his requests. On June 11, 1925 drunken company
police charged down Plummer Avenue on horseback beating all who stood in
their path. They rode through the school yards, knocking down innocent
children while joking that the miners were at home hiding under their beds.
It was the last straw.
At 10:00 a.m. in New Waterford, the U.M.W.A. was organizing an army of angry
miners. They were determined to restore electricity and water to their homes
and families; they marched on the Waterford Lake power plant and were met by
a wall of armed company thugs on horseback. Before the miners could state
their demands, the riders charged the front line firing wildly into the
crowd. Michael O'Handley was wounded and trampled by horses. Gilbert Watson
was shot in the stomach; he carried the bullet until the day he died in 1958.
William Davis, an active member of the U.M.W.A. had been fatally shot through
the heart by a British Empire Steel Company thug. The miners reaction was
swift and decisive. They swarmed the power plant, overpowered the company
police and marched them off to the town jail. For several nights afterward,
the coal towns were under a state of seige by the miners. They raided the
company stores to feed their starving families and then burned the stores to
the ground to eliminate the last symbol of corporate greed and servitude in
the Cape Breton coal fields. The company stores never re-opened after the
coal wars of 1925.
The miners promised that no man would ever again work the black seam on Davis
Day. They have kept their promise to this day. In local coal mining
communities, many store owners still close their doors in respect for
deceased coal miners and our children take time from their studies to reflect
with their families.
The history of the mine workers is filled with memories of class struggle and
of brotherhood. It is summed up in the words of District 26 President,
Stephen J. Drake"There is no finer person on this planet than the working
man who carries his lunch can deep into the bowels of the earth. Far beneath
the ocean he works the black seam; an endless ribbon of steel his only link
to fresh air and blue skies. The steel rails symbolize a miners life, half
buried underground, half reaching toward his final reward. William Davis
epitomized a miners' life, it was filled with simple pleasures, family,
friends, and sunshine. He will always be one of us, he will never be
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