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Excerpt - The Badger Riot

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Chapter 17

 In 1958, union organizers started coming into Rod Anderson’s camp to talk to the loggers, to tell them what their working life should be like.
     The first time was on a fine Sunday in late summer. The men were hove back for the day having a rest. A rest just meant that there was no cutting on Sunday. They used the time to file their saws and sharpen their axes. Some of them washed both their clothes and themselves in a nearby brook or lake. The cooks were working flat out. Besides having to feed the men their Sunday dinner, bigger than other days, they had to catch up as well with the usual making of bread, molasses buns and, perhaps, some pies.
     Into this scene walked two strangers. They introduced themselves as organizers from the International Woodworkers of America, the IWA.
     “We’re here, boys, to tell you about logging camps in British Columbia. Now, you might think that is pretty far away and has nothing to do with you fellas, but you’re wrong. It is far away, but Newfoundland is part of Canada now and has been for the past nine years. It’s time for Newfoundland loggers to be treated like other Canadian loggers. Do you know that camps on the mainland have showers, indoor toilets and central heating?”
     This got the men’s attention. Most of them didn’t even have those kinds of things in their homes. They were from small isolated outports still struggling to become part of the twentieth century.
     “Now, gentlemen, we propose to change all that. We propose to give you a new union that will improve your working life and give you a better wage to pass on to your families. We’re asking you right now to sign up with us. Membership dues are one dollar. If you haven’t got the fee right now, you can pay us later.”
     Rod listened to what the union organizers told the men. Perhaps they had a point. So he said they could have supper with the men and stay overnight. It being Sunday, the meal was boiled dinner: salt meat, pease pudding, doughboys, potatoes and turnip. Then the organizers bedded down in a spare bunk with the loggers.
     The recruiters’ hair and clothing became lousy that night, and in the morning their arms and legs were covered with red welts that the men told them were bites from bedbugs. This was part of the life of a logger. Rod had slept on the same bunks and eaten the same food when he worked for his father and he had accepted it.
     He mentioned, in passing, to other contractors that maybe they should see about building better bunkhouses, but they had laughed him into the ground. “My son,” they said, “if we was to improve anything, our profits are gone. The Company won’t give an inch on any upgrading, you know that. Besides, what do we care? It’s not our property; it belongs to the Company.”


 Sometime later, on a trip across the River to Badger, Rod was called into the A.N.D. Company manager’s office. Mr. Cole was long gone and had been replaced several times by managers brought in from England, St. John’s and mainland Canada.
     “Well, Rod. I hear you’re allowing union men to take over your camp.”
     For a moment Rod was too astonished to answer. Take over his camp? What was this all about? “Well, sir, I wouldn’t say they are taking over anyone’s camp,” he said. “They’re trying to organize a union. What’s wrong with that?”
     “The Company doesn’t want the IWA, that’s what’s wrong with that. We’ve been getting along fine here for fifty years. So, my advice to you is: no more being friendly with the union organizers. There are lots of contractors willing to take your place and you know it.”
     Rod passed along word to Bill, his foreman. “If the union fellas come back wanting to stay overnight or have a meal, just say you’re sorry, but we have no room. And say the Company has said they can’t be fed.”
     Other contractors did the same, some with more forcefulness than Rod. But it was too late. The IWA had made serious inroads into the camps. Every logger had signed up on the spot. They were all focused on the new union’s promise of better camp conditions, a shorter work week and a wage increase.
     The IWA began broadcasting a radio program called Green Gold, aimed at informing the loggers of the current happenings. In the camps at night, after supper, the men gathered around battery radios to listen to news of the union’s progress. Rod turned a blind eye to the activities of his men. If they signed up, he didn’t want to know about it. All he wanted from life was to do his job, look after his family, and live in peace....


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Tuesday, 19 January 2010