Tag Archives: history

Murder, They Wrote


I have previously articulated that today’s society is blissfully oblivious of how a five-day week, an eight-hour working day, holidays, maternity leave, healthcare, and the simple right to organize (along with many other benefits) transpired. The perceived value of these has become minimized, and the desire to maintain the required solidarity has been lost, because we lack the personal experiences and connection to the intense struggles that paved the way. 

No, these things were not gifts born of the generosity of employers. 

No, they were not the realized dreams of politicians. 

They were literally the spoils of war—inch by inch, extracted from greedy, politically connected employers through solidarity, protest, perseverance, and maintained resistance, even under threat of imminent death. These were not just words to those who lived it. They paid a prohibitive price, sometimes with their lives.

Let’s try to imagine today’s venue owners/employers using their wealth and political connections to exert total control over your life. What if your meager residence was owned by that same employer, who charged exorbitant rent? What if it was only two rooms with sparse furniture, a leaky roof, and overrun with insects and vermin? What if you had no choice but to live there? What if that same employer also owned the stores where you purchased all your food, clothing, and necessities? What if the workplace was unsafe, unhealthy, and filthy, with starvation wages? What if complaints led to beatings by the employer’s thugs, and abrupt firing? What if when you finally joined together with the other employees to stand up for yourselves as a group, some are shot by police in cold-blooded murder to set an example? Does all this sound implausible?

Well, it happened. On September 29, 1931, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) murdered three miners in Estevan, Saskatchewan, because the miners and their families were striking for union recognition against one of the most notorious coal mine operators in the country.

The Western Dominion Collieries employed more than 600 miners in the Souris coal fields of southeast Saskatchewan. The region’s mining work was seasonal; during the rest of the year, between April and August, miners would work in the fields to supplement wages before they returned to the mines. But droughts on the prairies made that impossible, leading to an increasing number of men looking for work in the mines, giving the companies the ability to wield tremendous power over desperate workers. 

The employer wouldn’t replace rotting frames, which resulted in frequent cave-ins. Inadequate ventilation caused high levels of sickness. Shifts were 10 hours. The miners and their families lived in company housing, essentially uninsulated tar-paper shacks where lice and bedbugs cavorted unchecked. Employees were required to use company stores to buy all necessities. And, adding further insult to injury, in 1931 the company imposed wage cuts to deepen their profits and extend their control.

Devastated, the miners organized and joined the Mine Workers’ Union of Canada. After mass meetings of more than 1,000 miners and their families in Taylorton and Estevan, 100% union card sign-up was secured in late August 1931. However, the mine operators refused to recognize the union, even though in neighbouring Alberta, operators had already negotiated with the Mine Workers’ Union of Canada (MWUC). In response, the miners voted to strike on September 7. The employer promptly brought in scabs to re-open, but the mining community was able to muster hundreds of locals in support and picketing again shut down the mines.

September 29 saw the miners, with their wives and children, gather together as a caravan to travel the countryside and gather public support. In Estevan, when they tried to peacefully march with banners reading “We Will Not Work for Starvation Wages,” they were blockaded by police, who ordered them to disperse. When the protestors refused, one was assaulted by the chief of police, and a shoving match ensued. Arrests were ordered, but the miners and their families resisted.

What happened next was unconscionable. The RCMP, their presence requested by the municipal government, began firing their guns wildly into the crowd. Eight unarmed strikers were wounded, along with one of the RCMP’s own officers and four bystanders. In the end, three miners lay murdered. Mislabelled a “riot,” police raided the miners’ homes and made numerous arrests that resulted in several workers being convicted and sentenced to hard labour.

Despite this bloody tragedy, the miners held their strike. A week later, the mining company conceded to an eight-hour day, better wages, rent cuts, and an end to the company store monopolies—but only if the miners dropped their demand for a union. In fact, they did not win recognition until the mid-1940s. To mark the one-year anniversary of the RCMP murders, a local memorial was erected to the three fallen miners.

It’s difficult to relate to the wretchedness that led those workers to that kind of desperation, or to the terrible toll they paid. While we are far removed from those events with no connection to those involved, a debt is owed to those miners, along with thousands of others in the labour movement, who paved the way for the relative comfort we now enjoy.

This piece of our history may not appear relevant, but the pandemic that has brought an almost complete work stoppage for musicians is now poised to bestow one more injury. Lack of work will most certainly trigger an “every man/woman for themselves” attitude, along with wholesale abandonment of solidarity. This is the perfect environment for employers to take full advantage, pit one musician against another, and hire those who will play for whatever is offered, or more precisely, who will most readily demean themselves. 

While the temptation to comply is almost irresistible, remember that what are labelled as “temporary” concessions are anything but. There will be no eagerness to restore wage levels when the virus has retreated, but an expectation to maintain them is certain. If allowed to unfold in that manner, it would be years until restoration to pre-pandemic levels is achieved—which, in most cases, were insufficient to begin with. 

As members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, we have the best chance of staying strong, staying together, and weathering the storm. There is no value, or future, in “going it alone.” Now, more than ever, is a time to be an AFM member, and conduct ourselves as one.

Ils ont écrit au meurtre

par Alan Willaert, vice-président de la FAM pour le Canada

J’ai déjà parlé du fait que la société actuelle est parfaitement inconsciente de ce qui a donné naissance à la semaine de cinq jours, à la journée de huit heures de travail, aux congés fériés et de maternité, aux assurances pour les soins de santé, et tout simplement au droit de se syndiquer — ainsi qu’à plusieurs autres bénéfices. On les tient pour acquis, et le désir de maintenir une essentielle solidarité a été perdu parce que nous n’avons pas d’expérience ou de connexion personnelle avec les âpres luttes qui ont ouvert la voie à ces acquis. 

Non, ces réalités ne sont pas des cadeaux de généreux employeurs. 

Non, ils ne constituent pas l’aboutissement de désirs de politiciens. 

Ce sont littéralement des butins de guerre — arrachés de peine et de misère à des employeurs gourmands et bien connectés politiquement — grâce à la solidarité des travailleurs, à leur persévérance, et à la résistance qu’ils ont maintenue même devant la menace d’une mort imminente. Ce n’étaient pas que des mots pour eux. Ils ont payé très cher ce qu’ils ont gagné, y laissant parfois même leur vie. 

Essayons d’imaginer les employeurs et les propriétaires de salle d’aujourd’hui utilisant leur prospérité et leurs connexions politiques pour exercer une emprise totale sur votre vie. Si, par exemple, votre modeste résidence était la propriété de votre employeur, et qu’il exigeait un loyer exorbitant? Et s’il ne s’agissait que d’un deux pièces pauvrement meublé, infesté de vermine et dont le toit coule? Et si vous n’aviez pas d’autre choix que d’y vivre? Et si ce même employeur était également propriétaire des magasins où vous vous procurez tous vos aliments, vos vêtements et vos nécessités de base? Et si vos lieux de travail étaient dangereux, malsains et sales, et que vous gagniez un salaire de misère? Et si les plaintes menaient au tabassage par les hommes de main de votre employeur et à un congédiement abrupt. Et si, lorsque vous vous joigniez enfin à d’autres employés pour défendre vos intérêts comme groupe, certains d’entre vous étiez abattus de sang-froid par la police? Est-ce que tout cela paraît invraisemblable? 

Pourtant, cela s’est produit. Le 29 septembre 1931, la Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC) a assassiné trois mineurs à Estevan, en Saskatchewan, parce que l’ensemble des mineurs et leurs familles faisaient la grève contre un des exploitants de mines de charbon les plus notoires du pays pour lui arracher la reconnaissance syndicale. 

En effet, la Western Dominion Collieries employait plus de 600 mineurs dans les gisements de charbon de Souris, dans le sud-est de la Saskatchewan. Dans la région, le travail dans les mines était saisonnier; pendant le reste de l’année, entre avril et août, les mineurs travaillaient aux champs pour compléter leurs revenus. Mais les sécheresses dans les prairies ont rendu cela impossible, augmentant le nombre d’hommes à la recherche de travail dans les mines et donnant par le fait même une énorme emprise aux sociétés minières sur ces travailleurs désespérés. 

L’employeur ne remplaçait pas les structures qui pourrissaient dans les mines, ce qui entraînait de fréquents effondrements. La ventilation inadéquate causait beaucoup de maladies. Les quarts de travail duraient dix heures. Les mineurs et leurs familles habitaient des logements qui appartenaient à l’employeur, essentiellement des cabanes en papier goudronné sans isolation, infestées de poux et de punaises de lit. Les employés étaient tenus de combler tous leurs besoins essentiels dans les magasins de l’employeur. Et pour comble, la société minière a imposé des baisses de salaires pour augmenter ses profits et son emprise.

Atterrés, les mineurs se sont organisés et se sont joints au syndicat des travailleurs des mines du Canada. Après des réunions de plus de 1000 mineurs et de leurs familles à Taylorton et à Estevan, tous ont adhéré au syndicat à la fin août 1931. Toutefois, les exploitants des mines ont refusé de reconnaître le syndicat même si en Alberta, la province voisine, leurs homologues avaient négocié avec le Mine Workers’ Union of Canada. Les mineurs ont réagi en votant une grève pour le 7 septembre. L’employeur a promptement fait appel à des briseurs de grève. Toutefois la communauté des mineurs a réussi à obtenir l’appui de centaines de locaux, et le piquetage a permis de fermer les mines de nouveau. 

Le 29 septembre, les mineurs, avec femmes et enfants, ont formé une caravane pour parcourir le pays et obtenir l’appui du public. À Estevan, lorsqu’ils ont essayé de tenir une marche pacifique exhibant des banderoles de protestation contre leurs salaires de famine, ils se sont fait bloquer par la police, qui leur a ordonné de se disperser. Lorsque les protestataires ont refusé, l’un d’eux a été assailli par le chef de la police, et une bousculade s’en est suivie. Le chef a ordonné des arrestations, mais les mineurs et leurs familles ont résisté.  

Ce qui s’est produit ensuite est proprement révoltant. La GRC, dont la présence a été réclamée par la municipalité, s’est mise à tirer sauvagement dans la foule. Huit grévistes non armés ont été blessés de même qu’un des officiers de la Gendarmerie et quatre badauds. À la fin, trois mineurs gisaient au sol, assassinés. La police a prétexté cette marche, qu’elle a faussement qualifiée d’« émeute », pour fouiller les maisons des mineurs et procéder à de nombreuses arrestations. Plusieurs travailleurs ont par la suite été déclarés coupables et condamnés aux travaux forcés. 

En dépit de cette sanglante tragédie, les mineurs ont maintenu leur grève. Une semaine plus tard, l’employeur a concédé des journées de travail de huit heures, de meilleurs salaires, des réductions de loyers et la fin de son monopole des magasins, mais à condition que les mineurs renoncent à leur demande de reconnaissance syndicale. De fait, ce n’est qu’au milieu des années 1940 qu’ils l’ont obtenue, cette reconnaissance. Pour souligner le premier anniversaire des meurtres commis par la GRC, un mémorial a été érigé sur les lieux de la tragédie en l’honneur des trois mineurs décédés.

Il est difficile pour nous d’imaginer la misère qui a poussé les travailleurs à tant de désespoir ou à payer si cher leurs revendications. Ces événements et ceux qui les ont vécus sont bien loin de nous, mais nous sommes tout de même redevables aux mineurs et aux milliers d’autres travailleurs du mouvement syndical qui ont pavé la voie au confort relatif que nous connaissons aujourd’hui. 

Ce moment de notre histoire ne semble peut-être pas pertinent actuellement, mais en réalité, la pandémie, qui a provoqué un arrêt de travail presque complet pour les musiciens risque fort de nous infliger encore un autre préjudice. En effet, le manque de travail suscitera presque certainement une attitude de chacun pour soi et un abandon à large échelle de la solidarité. Voilà le contexte parfait pour permettre aux employeurs d’établir leur mainmise sur les musiciens, de les monter les uns contre les autres et d’engager ceux qui acceptent de travailler pour ce qu’on veut bien leur offrir ou, plus précisément, ceux qui sont le plus enclins à se déprécier. 

Bien que la tentation d’obtempérer soit presqu’irrésistible, n’oubliez pas que ce qui est qualifié de concessions « temporaires » constitue justement tout sauf ça. Il n’y aura pas d’empressement à rétablir les cachets quand le virus aura reculé, mais plutôt une volonté certaine de maintenir ce qui aura été concédé. Si les choses se passent de la sorte, il faudra des années pour ramener les cachets à leurs valeurs d’avant la pandémie — qui étaient déjà insuffisantes dans la plupart des cas. 

Comme membres de la Fédération américaine des États-Unis et du Canada, c’est en restant unis que nous avons le plus de chances de résister à la tempête. Il n’y a aucun intérêt, ni avenir à faire cavalier seul. C’est le moment ou jamais d’être membre de la FAM et de se comporter comme tel.

Detroit Symphony Gift Ties with Largest in Its History

Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) has received a $15 million gift from the William Davidson Foundation. Of that pledge, $5 million comes in the form of a challenge grant to grow the orchestra’s endowment. Three other foundations—Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Foundation, and Dresner Foundation—have already pledged
$3.5 million toward the challenge. DSO’s endowment has increased significantly over the past five years. If fully matched, the challenge grant will bring it to $56.3 million.

The Davidson Foundation has a long history of supporting DSO, and has sponsored DSO’s neighborhood concert series for seven years. The gift ties with one from the Fisher family as the largest single donation in DSO history. The atrium at Fisher Music Center will be named the William Davidson Atrium. Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are members of Local 5 (Detroit, MI).

Albany Symphony Honors Donor

On November 18, Albany Symphony held a special ceremony to dedicate its top artistic post to long-time patron Dr. Heinrich Medicus. When Medicus passed away in February, leaving a $7 million bequest, plus a portion of his estate’s residuary, it represented the largest financial gift in the symphony’s history.

Medicus was a close friend to Albany Symphony Music Director David Alan Miller. “We will miss him terribly, but his spirit will be with us every time we make music together,” says Miller. Albany Symphony musicians are members of Local 14 (Albany, NY).

Opera Inspired by Little Rock Nine

Sixty years to the day after nine African-American teenagers integrated Little Rock High School protected by the 101st Airborne Division, the eight surviving former students, President Bill Clinton, and other dignitaries gathered at Central High School. After a day of commemorations and sharing memories, an announcement was made that the story of the Little Rock Nine is being turned into an opera by composer Tania León, a member of Local 802 (New York City), and librettist Thulani Davis.

León told The New York Times that hearing their stories was invaluable. “It’s important to see them,” she says. “To hear their syntax, to feel their personalities.” Born and raised in Cuba, since coming to New York City in 1967, León has become an important figure in American music.

Smithsonian Rock

Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen

Between December 2015 and August 2017 the Smithsonian called upon rock and roll lovers around the world to submit photos and stories of their favorite moments in music. This coffee table book is the result of mostly crowd-sourced rock and roll photography of some of rock’s most iconic artists both onstage and behind the scenes. Featuring 142 artists, spanning more than six decades of music industry, the book creates a unique viewpoint of music history, perfect for music lovers of all ages.

Smithsonian Rock and Roll Live and Unseen, by Bill Bentley,

The Bass Book

The Bass Book: A Complete Illustrated History of Bass Guitars

The Bass BookWhen Fender introduced the world’s first electric bass guitar in the early ’50s they couldn’t have foreseen the impact the Precision Bass would have on the world of music. It would help start a revolution in the sound of popular music. Bass guitar has provided the solid foundation on which much of modern music is built. This third edition of The Bass Book follows the evolution of bass guitar from its introduction to today with a full lowdown of the most important bass players and makers. Brands featured in the book include Alembic, Danelectro, Epiphone, Fender, Fodera, Gibson, Hofner, Ibanez, Lakland, Line 6, Music Man, Peavey, Rickenbacker, Sadowsky, Spector, Squier, Steinberger, Warwick, and Yamaha. There are exclusive interviews with bass guitar makers and players, including Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Stanley Clarke, John Entwistle, James Jamerson, and Jaco Pastorius. The book includes dozens of high quality photos of rarely seen basses plus reference section.

The Bass Book: A Complete Illustrated History of Bass Guitars, 3rd Edition, by Tony Bacon and Barry Moorhouse, Backbeat Books,

Memphis Local 71 Headquarters Listed on National Register of Historic Places

This building, 54-year home to Local 71 (Memphis,TN), which included members Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and B.B. King, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Officers and members of Local 71 (Memphis, TN) are proud that their building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May. According to an announcement from the director of the National Park Service, it was designated under Criterion A in the areas of Entertainment/Recreation and Ethnic Heritage: Black for its association with the “Memphis sound,” the Southern strain of soul music that entered into pop culture in the early 1960s.

“The modest union building exemplifies this world-famous era because its membership included Stax Recording Studio musicians who produced the original austere style, featuring melodic unison horn lines, organ, bass, and a driving beat on the drums,” the announcement says.

Local 71 opened its doors to black musicians in 1949, more than a decade before some of the other AFM locals integrated. The brick building, designed by federation member, trumpet player, and architect Bill Gaskill, has been home to the local for more than 54 years.

Longtime Local 71 member and violist Karen Casey first came up with the idea of pursuing a historic designation for the building. Looking into its history, she discovered that the union is the oldest continuously operated musicians’ union in the country.

Local 71 President John Sprott hopes that the building’s designation as a historic place will help finance needed repairs. As a historic place, for-profit partners could earn tax credits in exchange for help with renovations. Local 71 Secretary-Treasurer Laurie Pratt hopes the building will one day be a tourist destination with a small museum inside.

History of Canadian Rock ‘n’ Roll

The History of Canadian Rock ‘n’ Roll

Over the years, a huge number of Canadian bands such as Arcade Fire; The Band, Rush, and Nickelback; and other artists like Diana Krall of Locals 149 (Toronto, ON) and 802 (New York City); Gordon Lightfoot of Local 149; Tegan and Sara Quin and Sarah McLachlan of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC); Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Alanis Morissette of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA); and Paul Anka of Local 6; and many others have made invaluable contributions to rock ’n’ roll. Yet, the story of Canada’s rock  History of Canadian Rock ‘n’ Rollevolution is largely untold. This book traces the country’s music history from the folk rock and psychedelic rock of the 1960s through Canada’s indie-rock renaissance of the 2000s.

The History of Canadian Rock ’n’ Roll, by Bob Mersereau, Backbeat Books, www.backbeatbooks.com.