Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)
Mr. CLARENCE GILLIS (Cape Breton South):
The resolution moved by the Minister of Labour (Mr. McLarty) asks for an appropriation of moneys for the purpose of alleviating unemployment; and as I have the honour to represent in this parliament a constituency that is badly affected by unemployment and potential unemployment, I
would ask the indulgence of the committee for a sufficient time to draw the minister's attention to conditions as they exist in Nova Scotia, particularly in the mining industry. In listening to hon. members for the past several days discussing the unfortunate situation in Europe, there were times when I felt they were describing conditions in some sections of Nova Scotia that I have the difficult task of representing in this parliament.
This being my first time to view the machinery of government at close range, I hope that my present impressions are due to strained world conditions. As a worker, I look on parliament as the place where my problems and the problems of my fellow workers should be solved and not as a place where political advantage is the main interest to the destruction of Canada and the confusion of our people-with the dominant factor uppermost, that power overrides justice. I trust my impressions are wrong.
I am going to be as brief and explicit as possible in what I have to say, because I realize that the members of the government are charged with the responsibility of planning and carrying out the details in the operation of the machinery necessary to the proper prosecution of the war. The only comment I intend to offer at this time on the question of the prosecution of the war is that I should like to draw the hon. minister's attention to the condition of industry, particularly coal and steel, from the worker's point of view.
During the past few weeks I listened with a great deal of interest to the government's planned war effort, and every phase of the necessities for an organized effort was gone into, except, in my opinion, the most important one, which was never mentioned. I refer to the workers in industry, who will, in the final analysis, have to produce the sinews of war, and what is their position to-day? In the mining and steel industry from Ontario to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, there is not a section of the workers but are at war with the operators at the present time, trying to put into operation the laws of the country as laid down by the federal government-the right to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. Coal and steel are two industries that are absolutely necessary to a proper prosecution of the war. In the steel industry the operators take the position that they will not recognize a union regardless of the efforts made by the workers to bring them together through the departments of government, both federal and provincial.
In the mining industry in Nova Scotia where they have established collective bargaining for the past thirty years, the operators, taking
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advantage of the war and the War Measures Act, have refused and retarded negotiations for the past eighteen months, and to-day in Nova Scotia there is not a section in the mining industry that is under contract with the operators. This also applies to the steel industry of Nova Scotia. 1 see in this situation, with all the planning of government to speed up industry, work twenty-four hours a day and so forth, the possibility of the workers in these industries being placed in a false position, because I think the time is coming, regardless of the war, when they are going to demand from the operators the treatment to which they are entitled, namely, the right to exercise their citizenship. I think it is the prerogative of the Department of Labour, because that department is, in my opinion, a department of labour, to function one hundred per cent for the purpose of ironing out the problems of labour as they arise.
I am calling this to the minister's attention, because I think one phase of our war effort that is absolutely necessary at the present time is that labour should be given the right to organize and bargain collectively and that employers should be forced to sign contracts setting out wages and conditions, and in this way the worker's mind will be set to rest. He can go to work, budget on what income he has, and pay the necessary attention to cooperating with the government in prosecuting the war. On the other hand, if he is not treated as a human being and accorded full citizenship rights, the only thing for him to do is to fight back, and we do not want to be forced in the present situation into a position in which we may have to wage an industrial war in order to establish industrial democracy in Canada. I trust that the Department of Labour will immediately take into consideration the enforcement of that legislation which gives the right to organize and bargain collectively and to strengthen that legislation by compelling operators to sign collective agreements, because where there are no collective agreements, there is not collective bargaining.
I should like, for the benefit of the Department of Labour, to give over briefly the set-up as it exists in Nova Scotia, particularly in the mining industry.
I would draw the attention of the hon. Minister of Labour to a war that is being waged in Nova Scotia, between the operators of the mining industry and the people who are the owners, but who were dispossessed of their birthright by act of government, when the coal leases were placed in private hands to be exploited for profit. There are approximately 10,000 miners in Nova Scotia all employed, in my opinion, by the one company,
the Dominion Iron, Steel and Coal Company linked up by a merger approved in the nineteen-twenties. The Acadia Coal Company, the Dominion Coal Company and the Cumberland railway were tied into what was then known as the British Empire Steel Company. This later was changed to Dominion Iron, Steel and Coal Company. That merger, on paper at least, has been broken and the Scotia and Acadia companies went through the process of liquidation. But the Dominion Iron, Steel and Coal Company still directs them. This corporation alone employs approximately one-quarter of Nova Scotia's working population. The coal company also operates a railway from Glace Bay to Louisburg. That road comes under the Maritimes Freight Rates Act and receives all the concessions enjoyed by the Canadian National Railways. It also operates a machine shop at Glace Bay. The men employed are paid by the coal company. There are two departments of this shop that perform railroad work only. The wages paid to the men engaged on this work are nineteen cents an hour below the railway rates paid by the other railways including the Sydney and Louisburg railway.
The federal government subsidizes this railway to a considerable extent, and in qualifying under the Maritime Freight Rates Act the railway, I understand, is supposed to maintain a first-class carrier service. The function this road performs at the present time, and has performed for a considerable time, is to transport the company's coal back and forth between Glace Bay and the piers in Louisburg, and it maintains practically no carrier service. In that area there are approximately 60,000 people who are without any decent train facilities whatever. In the past twelve years the federal government has subsidized this short road to carry on the work of the Dominion Iron, Steel and Coal Company, to the extent of $2,608,000, and at the 6ame time the workers employed in the auxiliary shops doing railway work one hundred per cent are paid very much lower than the regular railway rates. That is a matter which should be checked up.
My conception of the subsidy is that it is paid for the purpose of maintaining the railway, keeping the rolling stock in repair and assisting in paying the wages of the employees, and so far as I can see, that company is not carrying out that part of the arrangement. There has been considerable friction in connection with that end of the company's operations. A conciliation board has been applied for by the men to whom I have referred particularly, but so far it has not materialized. We hope that something
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will come out of it when it does function. These two departments of the railway employees have made application through the United Mine Workers of America for a board of conciliation to determine their status, but to date no reply has been received from the Department of Labour as to whether such a board would be granted or not.
The coal situation is briefly this: In Nova Scotia in the past ten years several mines have been closed, affecting about 1,000 men. The solution has been to transfer the men displaced to operating collieries which were already overcrowded. As shown by a recent statement by Doctor F. H. Sexton, president of the Nova Scotia technical college, there were 15,000 unemployed youth in Nova Scotia who never had a job. In transferring these men they only aggravated the conditions in the other collieries, the result being that a large number of men reported for work and then returned home again. At present we have the assurance that there are two more mines scheduled to close-one at Reserve being partly closed now, with the other in the Glace Bay area being gradually closed. The closing of these two mines will affect some 1,500 men and their families. The coal company has been promising the opening of a new mine, but to date this has not happened.
That was the situation until I left for Ottawa. They are working slack time on account of the fact that a large number of the boats used to transport coal to the Quebec market were transferred to carrying war material overseas, necessitating the moving of coal to Montreal by rail, and this, being a very slow process, results in the curtailment of operations in the mines. The miners of Nova Scotia feel that they have been robbed of their birthright because coal being a natural resource belongs to the people, and when it is placed in private hands the tendency is to take the cream and leave the skim milk to the people. This is exemplified in Inverness county, where, in our opinion, the coal field was worked as long as it could be profitably, and when profits could no longer be made, it was left to the people, who for the past number of years have been eking out an existence on a relief basis with the local government carrying on the operation. The miners feel that the federal government has an equity in the Nova Scotia coal industry and that the time has arrived when an investigation should be made, because slowly but surely the province is becoming a place of ghost towns and demoralized people.
In addition we have about forty thousand fishermen in the maritimes who are in an even worse position than the miners, their average 95826-33
income being between $200 and $300 a year. These people are not asking for relief or charity but are demanding that the responsible authorities see that the industries are so organized and planned that the workers have an opportunity to live as decent, respectable citizens. The miners appreciate the assistance given the industry by way of subventions, but we feel that the government should make sure that this assistance is used for the purpose for which it was intended, namely, to assist in providing a better standard of living for the people who produce.
The people of Nova Scotia are making a wonderful effort to solve their own economic problems by cooperative, efforts. They have already established 180 credit unions, 43 stores, 17 lobster factories, 7 fish plants, 8 community industries and some 10 other cooperatives. The total number of cooperative organizations in the maritimes is 422. The volume of business done by them runs into the millions of dollars. Other cooperative organizations are hospitalization schemes and housing groups. I should like to make this clear, that the efforts of the people themselves to solve their own economic problems give proof positive that they are not looking for relief or charity, but they are in that position, and kept there, by a system which obliges them to accept relief. I have just described the cooperative set-up whereby the workers themselves are working out their own problems in trying to take over the services of the organizations that have been exploiting them for generations, but they are in this position that, regardless of how well organized that movement is or how successful it is in taking over retail and wholesale business, by reason of the fact that the British Empire Steel Corporation controls the pay envelope of a great majority of the people engaged in that endeavour, the movement is in jeopardy because the company, controlling that envelope, makes the position such that if there is a shut-down of a month or two, these undertakings are crippled, the purchasing power of the people who operate these movements is taken away, and the movement can be wiped out of existence. The people who are working along cooperative lines in Nova Scotia believe that it should be the obligation of the federal government to see that they are given a chance to develop that movement.
I have heard many statements and have read editorials in the press, characterizing this Cooperative Commonwealth Federation group as Sunday school socialists, camouflaged communists, and everything of that kind, and saying that they largely draw on their imagination for many of the statements they make with respect to the problems of the people
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they represent. In order that I may not be charged with making statements without good authority, I should like to read something for the information of the minister. I draw this to his attention because he is the Minister of Labour, and I represent in this parliament chiefly labour. I look upon the Department of Labour as the department of government to which I should appeal for redress of many of the problems to find the solution of which I have been sent here. This is a telegram I received from the machine shop workers organization in Glace Bay. There was a fire there which threw approximately 200 men out of employment. That occurred since I came here. The telegram, which is from the president of the Mechanics Local, United Mine Workers of America, reads:
Entire machine shop in ruins, disastrous fire swept large building Sunday, apnroximately two hundred men thrown out of work, we are waiting decisions of locals re levy to relieve distress twenty men at work others idle.
Gordon Livingston, President Mechanics Local United Mine Workers.
The mechanics local of the mine workers did not appeal first to the government for relief; they appealed to the members of their own organization. It has been the practice in the past as far as the mine workers are concerned that as an organization they have carried thousands of dollars of their own relief in the way of distress money, and as I said, they are not looking for charity or relief.
I call attention to another item from the town of Glace Bay, dated May 8, relating to relief. The town of Glace Bay has a population of about 26,000, and approximately 7,000 of the 12,000 miners of Nova Scotia are centred in and around that town. This is the section in which two mines are threatened with closure. It affects not only the miners directly but also the business people and the institutions that have been built up in that community in the past thirty years. This dispatch, dated Glace Bay, May 8, reads: Decision of the town council in session tonight was that the case of miners being unable to get work was a responsibility of the provincial government, as the town of Glace Bay could not provide for the men who are unable to get further employment at collieries where they have been employed in the past.
Two of these mines are being gradually closed; men are being added to the ranks of the unemployed; the mines that are operating are overcrowded, and so many men report for work, go into the mines, stand in the bottom two or three hours and then wend their way home, spending probably four or five hours, and earning absolutely nothing. The situation in that area with respect to
coal mining is becoming very serious. Just before I left for Ottawa I was called from section to section of that constituency, and the people themselves, without any solicitation from any political organization or union, met as citizens and prepared briefs to be presented to the different governments.
I should like to read something I have before me which sets out the situation in the area in question. The document I have before me is from Morien, in Cape Breton. It is dated May 5, 1940, is drawn up by a citizens' committee, and reads:
At your request your committee has compiled a brief resume of the adverse conditions under which the people of Morien and Birch Grove have been labouring for the past ten years and some suggestions as to how they may be remedied.
When the colliery at Birch Grove closed down in 1929, all those employed there were compelled to seek employment elsewhere, the most of whom obtained employment in the collieries in Glace Bay.
A workmen's train leaves Morien daily at 5 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m. conveying the men back and forth to their work, this means that they are twelve hours away from home, have to spend long hours on the train leaving no time for leisure or to take any interest in the affairs of the community.
Since the colliery closed at Birch Grove ten years ago, very few of the young men that became of age during this period were able to obtain jobs of any kind, the result is that there are now over 200 young men in these two communities between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six years who have never had any steady employment of any kind.
Morien at one time was a thriving, prosperous mining town with a population of three thousand people who earned their living in the mines that were in operation here. The population has now decreased to about one thousand people who are mostly dependent for a living on what work they can obtain in the Glace Bay collieries.
The town as a whole is slowly decaying. The workers are all in the "low income group" and do not obtain enough in wages to maintain their homes properly, and are not able to contribute very much for the support of the school, churches or any civic improvements.
The solution to our problems is to have a coal mine opened in this district and place all the men from Morien and Birch Grove who work in collieries Nos. 2, 4, 11 and 24 at work in the new mine. All the unemployed young men could be placed at work as the mine was developed and our community would take on a new lease of life.
All the coal areas within this district are owned or controlled by the Dominion Coal Company, a large section being held under the ninety-nine year or blanket lease.
In 1923 a geologist in the employ of the Canadian geological survey made a thorough examination of this district and his report is published in "memoir No. 133" of the federal department of mines. This report deals in
reat detail with the coal seams in the Morien
asin and sets forth plainly that there are fourworkable seams of coal in the Morien areas,containing millions of tons that can be easilymined, and readily sold in the markets of the
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world, for in the days when the Blockhouse and Gowrie seams were being mined by Belloni and Archibald, these coals established a reputation that was second to none.
Subtopic: ALLEVIATION OF UNEMPLOYMENT AND AGRICULTURAL DISTRESS