The enormous war time demands for the metal ensured that the men working underground would be pushed to their very limits. For the ones who stayed at the mines, absenteeism was becoming a major issue. In the fall of 1942, the International Nickel Company of Canada sponsored a local CKSO radio program called “The Victory Parade.”
The following three radio spots were written by W.J. Woodill. The radio ads were used to encourage the general public to buy Victory Bonds as well as attempt to combat miner burnout with guilt.
“Mrs. Housewife! Are you one of those women who does her part by encouraging her husband to do his part in this war? Or are you “A Worry bird”, one of those girl friends of Hitler and Company? You know, even if that husband of yours doesn’t bring home a full war kit and rifle, he’s still doing his part if he’s doing his full eight hours of work every day. That Nickel or copper he’s turning out is mighty important these days.”
“Yes this is a critical time! Your husband is working not for so many cents an hour, but working for Victory. Working to put the metal into the hands of industry so there may be tools of war available. It’s vital that he does his job with his full heart in it. That husband of yours needs a clear head and his full attention to his job. Do your part, look after his health and his peace of mind. Remember he is needed on the job every minute of his shift.”
“That cheer of the crew is partially for you Mr. Miner, Mr. Smelter or Refinery worker. It’s also for the Nickel that makes the steel in the hulls of those shops stronger for the Nickel that gives the boilers the ability to stand the extra pounds of pressure. For the guns aboard that are stronger, more accurate, more reliable, thanks for the Nickel in them. It’s for the copper that goes into the electrical apparatus, it’s for the hundreds of tons of metal you are turning out for every branch of the armed forces. Yours is a mighty important job these days.”
But radio propaganda was not enough and the company had to turn to other groups of people that would ultimately save the day. In addition, due to the close working relationship between the Canadian federal government and Inco Limited, no one wanted to talk about the “elephant in the room” – the company’s notorious labour relations and anti-union activities.
American Gold Mines and Remember Kirkland Lake
The Americans had good reason to be upset with the labour shortages in Sudbury’s nickel mines. The United States entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. By October of the following year, the War Production Board issued Order L-208 to suspend all gold mining in the United States. The gold mines were considered non-essential and scarce equipment and manpower were redirected to vital copper and iron ore facilities.
In Canada, the gold mining industry experienced a mini-boom at the beginning of the war to help pay for much needed American dollars used to acquire war supplies. With the passage of the Lend-Lease bill in the spring of 1941, gold mining became a non-essential industry. Production levels significantly decreased but a total ban on gold mining was not implemented on this side of the border.
The Canadian government hoped that unemployed Timmins and Kirkland Lake miners would migrate to the nickel operations only a few hundred miles away in Sudbury. Some came, however, wartime housing shortages and better working conditions in other industries kept many away.
For about three months in late 1941 and early 1942, the Kirkland Lake gold miners had witnessed one of the most bitter union strikes in Canadian labour history. The strike was largely over union recognition and ended in absolute defeat for the miners. “Remember Kirkland Lake” became a rallying cry for the country’s growing labour movement who wanted union legislation similar to the United States.
In 1935, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Wagner Act was enacted.This progressive labour legislation protected the rights of most workers in the private sector to organize labour unions, take part in strikes and collective bargaining. It also barred employers from firing workers who particpated in union organizing.
As a result of the broad public support for the short-lived gold miner’s strike in Kirkland Lake and concerned about declining labour support, the Ontario Liberal government which was shortly facing a election, passed the Ontario Collective Bargaining Act, in April 1943. It was modeled on the Wagner Act and forced all employers in Ontario to recognize unions supported by the majority of workers.
Four months later the Conservatives won a minority government in the provincial election with the CCF – a left wing labour party – as the official opposition. Bob Carlin, a Mine Mill union organizer won the Sudbury riding with one of the biggest majorities in the province.
Finally on February 17, 1944, federal government, also worried about declining political support from labour and recent by-election losses, passed PC 1003 which mandated “compulsory recognition of trade unions with majority support.”
For the Kirkland Lake gold miners, the provincial and federal legislation came too late. War time priorities for base metal mines as well as declining gold reserves caused many of the mines to close. The workers scattered throughout southern Ontario where they helped organize unions in many different industries.
Inco and Falconbridge were wary of hiring the Kirkland Lake gold miners due to their union militancy. Both companies were severely criticized as “unpatriotic” in the union media for taking on only a small number of departing Kirkland Lake gold miners for fear of importing active union members.
Sudbury vital nickel mines and well paid workforce ensured that the community prospered greatly during the war years. However the rapid expansion and limited resources for any non war related activity like home building had its price. In December 1943 the community experienced a diphtheria epidemic due to the over crowded and poor housing conditions.