Page 28 - From 'Company Town' to 'Labour Town'
ISSUE : Issue 37
Published by Ronald Caplan on 1984/8/1
lage of homeowners." Other studies have al? so noted a further episode in the life of the company town: some communities have en? joyed new stability as a result of chang? ing resource demands, economic diversifica? tion, or government policy. Like many single-Industry communities, the Cape Breton coal towns also experienced this general pattern of growth and expan? sion, decline and stabilization. But the history of the Cape Breton coal towns in the 1920s also suggests the importance of a neglected theme in the life of the sin? gle-industry community: the transition from "company town" to "labour town." By the 1920s the Cape'Breton coal towns could no longer be regarded as company towns. "Glace Bay is a labour town," declared the Maritime Labor Herald in 1922. In the la- bour town community life was influenced less by the paternalism of a predominant employer than by the demands of working- class institutions such as the trade union and the labour party. The rise of the labour town reflected a general change in the balance of power in coal mining society. In the years at the end of the First World War the residents of the coal towns successfully challenged the power of the coal companies in several ways. Established in 1917, the Amalgamated Mine Workers of Nova Scotia won union rec? ognition, wage increases and the eight- hour day. The union also began to call for public ownership of the coal industry. When the British Empire Steel Corporation attempted to introduce large wage reduc? tions, several years of bitter industrial conflict followed. The coal miners' strikes enjoyed strong support in the coal towns and the miners were able to defeat some of the wage reductions and preserve their union. These were also years of po? litical transformation. Under the banner of the Independent Labor Party, labour can? didates achieved unprecedented success in the coal towns, where they led the polls in federal and provincial elections; in 1920 the labour ticket captured more than sixty-five percent of the coal miners' vote and returned four members to the pro? vincial assembly. Changes in the realm of local government provided a significant illustration of the growth of working-class influence in the coal towns. In three of the towns labour candidates won control of the town council, an institution which in the past had often been dominated by company officials. At the town hall the labour mayors and labour councillors pursued policies which distin? guished clearly between the interests of the community and those of the company. The labour towns challenged the coal com? panies on numerous issues, including the use of company police and the assessment of taxes; in the industrial conflict of the time they repudiated the corporation and gave their support to the coal miners. Persistently, the labour towns eroded the traditional authority of the coal company in the mining towns. Although the coal min? ers ' search for power did not begin or end at the town hall, the history of local gov? ernment in the coal towns in the 1920s pro? vides insight 'into the close connection be? tween industrial conflict and community life in the single-Industry town. By the time of the First World War, the days had long passed in the Cape Breton coalfield when, as one writer recalled, "every colliery was a kingdom of its own, with the mine manager the big boss." Since the 1890s the enlarged scale of mining op? erations and the rapid growth of popula? tion had created communities which tran? scended the old colliery kingdoms. The rap? id expansion of Dominion Coal and Nova Sco? tia Steel and Coal ended the pattern of seasonal operations and economic marginal- ity associated with the nineteenth-century industry. Economic, geographic and cultur? al factors contributed to the growth of large centralized communities in which the Best Western Claymore Inn p. 0. Box 1720, Antigonish, Nova Scotia B2G 2ME Phone 863-1050 - Telex 019-36567 Licensed Dining Room and Lounge 52 Modem Rooms Treasure Cove Gifts and Handcrafts BRASS GLASS HANDCRAFTS CHINA TOYS WOOLENS LEATHER GOODS TARTANS A SELECTION OF QUALITY BOOKS Phone 564-8158 Corner Charlotte St. & Townsend St. Sydney (28) 199 Townsend St., Sydney American Red & Black Plaid Lumber Shirts Women's Amber Gapes Ladies' & Men's Pea Jackets Wool-Lined Mountain Parkas Gor Tex Parkas Also: Royal Robin Ocean Pacific Ditrani Ski la Vasque Hiking Shoes & Boots New Balance Hiking Boots Phone 539-7165
Cape Breton's Magazine