Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Conditions for workers one hundred years ago were horrible. But the oppression hasn't gone away. The wolves still prey on good and honest workers today, just as they did back then.
June 11 is a little known holiday in the mining towns of Cape Breton. In these towns it is known as Davis Day. Here, there is a history of conflict between miners and the coal company. The coal company enjoyed complete and unquestioned support from the Canadian state and the Prime Minister, a slave to the crystal ball named MacKenzie King. This local history is rife with revolutionary passion and bloody struggles between miners, steelworkers and capitalist tyranny.
It is a history that is sufficiently shameful that few, if any, students have learned about it in school. This history is spelled out in the town square of the town of New Waterford under the title, "Standing the Gaff", and under a statue of a man named William Davis. This title is a defiant reference to a comment made by mine vice president, J.E. McLurg, and is often attributed to his boss, BESCO President Roy Wolvin, known locally as Roy the Wolf. He said of the striking miners, "They won't stand the gaff".
He was referring of course, to starvation.
The reason for the holiday is because William Davis was one of three coal miners that was shot on June 11, 1925 at New Waterford Lake by a gang of goons/company police. William Davis died of his wounds. This 'police' force was supported by and worked with the Canadian military.
In the 1920's the miners went on strike as a result of wage cuts. The mine owners had cut their meager wages. Before the cuts, 90% of wages went to food and rent for the average miner and datal employees spent more on food and rent than they earned.
During the strikes the Canadian military were dispatched to Cape Breton equipped with guns, bayonets and machine guns. On June 11, 1925, miners decided to reconnect power to the town from the power plant. In the neighbouring town, Glace Bay, the soldiers placed a machine gun on the steps of a church and defied the miners of Glace Bay to cross a line. The miners from Glace Bay were marching to help their brothers in New Waterford.
These sadistic goons routinely rode on horseback through the streets of New Waterford terrorizing the people. Most of these goons were recruited from outside of Cape Breton where the ideological bent and character of the people was less militant.
These paid goons were beholden to their bosses who wanted the power and water cut off to the people of the New Waterford area. They had to take on the miners and Cape Bretoners being what they are, soon had the quisling company goons terrified. They began to panic and in the violence, they began shooting, jumping in New Waterford Lake and trying to escape on horseback. Many of these cowards were pulled off the horses and beaten by the miners. A local priest had to intervene to save the life of one of these men who was in the hands of the miners.
The miners were understandably angry. The company controlled their water and had cut the supply. They were there to take back the water and to take back the electricity to make life somewhat less unbearable than it had been for them and their families.
The leader of the union was a native of Scotland who had been politically seasoned in his native land. His name was J.B. McLaughlin. McLaughlin was a firey leader who understood the nature of capitalism. He had gained a good deal of his education from the brutality he had witnessed before he had come to Canada.
McLaughlin was eventually thrown into the penitentary for reporting on an incident he witnessed in nearby Whitney Pier where he watched the soldiers beat women and men in the streets. The Steel Workers there were on strike against the same ruthless privateers that owned and ruled the industry and the people of Cape Breton Island. He was convicted on trumped up charges of siditious libel and sentenced to two years in the penetentary. The real reason for his imprisonment was that he represented a threat to not only the mine owners, but to the capitalist system in Canada. They were afraid that he would become an MP (a member of Parliament). McLaughlin said, "Under capitalism the working class has but two courses to follow: crawl - or fight."
A significant part of this history was the power of the Company Store and the control that it had won for the owners (Besco) - over the miners. Many contemporary Cape Bretoners grew up in company houses and back in the day, the miners owed their wages, and as the song says, their souls, to the Company Store.
They would work all week in the dangerous coal mines deep beneath the ocean and at the end of the week the company would "check off" all that was owed. The miners often had little or nothing to show for their work because they were so hoplessly indebted to the company. The company controlled everything. The check off deducted medical bills, water, rent, food, the tools the miners needed to do their jobs; pretty much all the necessities of life. The company however did not gain control over the air the people had to breathe but the steel plant was and still is responsible for Cape Bretoners having the highest cancer rates in Canada.
Miners burned company coal to heat their company homes. They clothed their children and bought their food at the company store. They drank company water and used company electricity.
The struggles in Cape Breton against capitalist tyranny were struggles for basic subsistence and human dignity.The essential problem was that the capitalists had control of everything.
Now Paul Wolfowitz is president of the World Bank. The World Bank and the IMF operate in essentially the same way as the company store did. If you want to understand what's going on in the world today, ask a Cape Bretoner - preferably an old one, about the Company Store. What the neo-cons are doing to the working classes and the poor in the world has been done to Cape Bretoners a few generations ago.
Paul Wolfowitz is in charge of economic policy for about one hundred countries that are struggling to survive economically. His right wing neo con policies have proven to be disastrous for the working class and their methods of strangulation are similar to the old company store on Cape Breton Island. Essentially the idea is to take control of the vital necessities of life and force the people into wage slavery to pay for them.
The World Bank has pushed hard for privatization, even of the water, and Wolfowitz presided over the most extreme privatization binge in history in the embattled and now destroyed nation of Iraq. This neo con tyranny is a very real crisis for the poor and the workers of countries under the rule of the of the World Bank. The World Bank will put an extra strong effort into modernizing developing countries through what they will call free market policies (which in fact are always controlled) and they will privatize the water, the medicine, the electricity - everything. The air may remain free but it will be deadly if the neo cons have their way.
The history of Cape Breton Island as well as many other oppressed regions of the world should not be hidden from school children. It is a history that repeats itself and a history that will continue to repeat itself until we have the courage to put a stop to it. The marriage of the capitalist state to private capital is far more complete now in 2005 than it was in 1925.
Unfortunately, the mindset and the mass media fall heavily under the spell of the wolves that prey upon the innocent. Roy the Wolf terrorized Cape Bretoners in the 1920's and now Paul the Wolf is doing the same thing on a much larger scale.
It is up to the contributors to Indymedia, Usenet, and the internet in general to present the truth to those that have not heard it. The wolves do not have control of it, at least not yet.
We have a lot of work to do.
I believe in education for action. I believe in telling children the truth about the history of the world, that it does not consist of the history of kings, or lords or cabinets. It consists of the history of the mass of the workers, a thing that is not taught in the schools. I believe in telling children how to measure value, a thing that is not taught in any school. - J.B. McLachlan
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