The so-called “Great Strike” really was a lockout, part 2 – by T.W. Paterson (The Citizen – September 11, 2013) [Cowichan Valley Citizen]

Premier Richard McBride, who doubled as Minister of Mines, thought it “intolerable” that the strikers should make demands upon the mine owners. Coal mining is a dangerous business at best. But Vancouver Island mines were said to be among the most dangerous in the world for cave-ins, explosions, floods and fires.

The human cost, over 90 years of operation, was appalling: 640 miners killed in Nanaimo-area mines, almost 300 more in the Cumberland colliery. Those who died of their injuries later, sometimes much later, went unrecorded.

The B.C. government had recognized these hazards, particularly that of gas explosion, when it passed the Coal Mines Act of 1911 which stated that, upon the presence of gas or other life threatening hazards being reported to management, the mine, or the section of the mine in question, was to be closed until the problem was rectified.

When Oscar Mottishaw and Isaac Portrey, members of a gas committee, reported five gas emissions in Extension No. 2 Mine on June 15, 1912, it cost Mottishaw, who was known to be an organizer for the newly arrived United Mine Workers of America, his job and he sought employment with a contractor in another Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. mine in Cumberland. When CC(D) – the same owners who’d fired him at Extension – learned of his new job they ordered the contractor to pay him off, claiming that Mottishaw was being paid more by the contractor than was stipulated by company policy. The company then rebuffed two attempts by miners’ committees to discuss his case.

After the miners protested by declaring “a general holiday at all the mines in Cumberland” for Monday, Sept. 16, 1912, management posted notices that they draw their tools, that there would be no work for them unless they signed, individually, a “yellow-dog” contract agreeing to work under terms of the existing agreement for two years. This drama was repeated at Extension where CC(D) miners had also taken a “holiday” “to discuss the situation as it applied to them,” in the words of an officer of the B.C. Labour Federation. Upon returning to work they, too, found themselves to be locked out as did, by month end, almost 1,600 miners on the CC(D) payroll.

Mines Insp. John Newton’s report for 1913 takes the government’s position: “…A strike was declared on Sept. 16th, 1912, at the mines in Cumberland, and on Sept. 18th, 1912, at Extension… On May 1st, 1913, a strike was called by the United Mine Workers of America…which includes the mines of the Western Fuel Co. [operators of the Nanaimo No. 1 Esplanade, Protection Island, No. 4 Northfield and Reserve Mines, and the Douglas Slope], the Pacific Coast Coal Co., and the Vancouver-Nanaimo Coal Co.

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