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diaryland: entry for 2001-06-12 (22:27:00)
In which our plucky young hero used to get a half-day holiday.

Yesterday was Davis Day.

This is almost certainly meaningless to most of you, but to me, it's a link to the past, and maybe a sign of why my politics and worldview are what they are.

Cape Breton Island, in the 1920s, was not a good place to live. The island's major employer was the British Empire Steel Corporation, which ran the island's coal mines and paid the miners $3.65 a day. That $3.65 went toward buying food from stores owned by the British Empire Steel Corporation, it went to paying rent on houses owned by the British Empire Steel Corporation, and it went to buying water provided by the British Empire Steel Corporation.

For decades, the miners had been fighting for full-time work and a living wage (no, the McJob is far from a recent invention), and the company had been resolute in denying it. What would the miners do, anyway? Shop at some other store? Live in some other house? Stop drinking water?

Finally, in the month of June, 1925, the workers staged a work stoppage at the power plant in the town of New Waterford.

In response, the company shut off all electricity and water to the entire town, including the hospital.

Because, you know, the workers can't stand the gaff.

Over the next few days, tensions escalated, until finally the miners marched on the power and water works, intent on reactivating them at whatever cost was necessary. Private company police met them in a pitched battle, where many were injured, and one man, a miner named William Davis, was shot through the heart. He died instantly.

Private police forces armed and ready to kill. Towns held hostage to corporate whims, denied water and electricity because workers dare to ask for eight hours of work a day. Sounds like something from a bad Mad Max ripoff, doesn't it? But it happened only 76 years (and one day) ago, in Canada.

That's why we have unions. Not to cripple the economy; not to breed mediocrity; not to insulate the stupid and lazy from the realities of the world economy. We have unions because they were the only way to get the necessities of life when you owned nothing but your labor.

The coal dust in my blood remembers William Davis, and it remembers why June 11 is called Davis Day.

I guess you could call it solidarity.

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