Alberta Federation of Labour Founded in Lethbridge
Labour Day gives us pause to recall the history of labour in Alberta, and the origins of the Alberta Federation of Labour in Lethbridge.
The Galt family and several British investors began the first large scale coal extraction operation in Lethbridge in the 1880s. The company hired miners who came from countries around the world, including England, Scotland, Ireland, America, Austria, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Asia, as well as eastern Canada.
By 1906, the miners joined the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to give them a stronger voice during negotiations with the company. When the company rejected their demands, the miners called a strike on March 9th. It lingered through the summer with tempers flaring more each month. As winter approached, local and federal governments worried about a coal famine in Alberta and Saskatchewan that would be hard on the western population, and might undermine the government’s settlement program.
Coal to drive the railway locomotives was critically important to the economy of the country. With mediation from Deputy Minister of Labour, William Lyon Mackenzie King, the strike ended with the miners’ receiving a small wage increase. The union could hire a weighman to monitor the company’s coal weight, calculations upon which the men’s pay depended, and the labourers earned the right to collective bargaining.
Many subsequent social reforms resulted from this protracted strike. A Royal Commission recommended the establishment of a Workman’s Compensation Act in 1907. That same year, the federal Industrial Disputes Investigation Act was created, providing a model for collective bargaining laws in other provinces. The Alberta government legislated an 8-hour work day in 1909. At a 1912 convention in Lethbridge chaired by Labour Party MLA Donald McNabb, labourers and farmers joined forces to form the Alberta Federation of Labour, an organization focused on protecting working conditions and improving salaries and benefits for people in this province.
The Labour Day long weekend brings a number of changes to the Galt’s program schedule – look for the new fall Calendar of Events throughout the city, stop into the Galt to pick up a copy, or see what’s coming up at www.galtmuseum.com.