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The Smelter Poets – A History Essay

April 23, 2013

The Inspiring Role of Worker Poetry in a BC Labour Newspaper


Blaylock gets the jitters cartoon appeared in the Commentator in the late 1930s

Blaylock gets the jitters cartoon appeared in the Commentator in the late 1930s

When celebrated Wobbly troubadour Joe Hill purportedly visited the Rossland Miners’ Hall in the early 1900s to lend his support to the first Canadian local of the rugged Western Federation of Miners (WFM), he no doubt shared some of his inspired verses with the mine workers who are said to have protected him.[1] Claims of his visit are unsubstantiated, but if he did get to Rossland, British Columbia, he likely would have sung them some of his most popular tunes about struggle, resistance, and the dream of a workers’ paradise, and in so doing he would have been performing the same service that poets and songwriters had rendered working people since the earliest days of the trade union movement. This paper explores examples of that historical literary tradition through a study of smelter worker poetry found in the pages of The Commentator, a trade union newspaper published in Trail by Local 480 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (Mine Mill) in the late 1930s and early 1940s as labour activists were striving to rekindle the union spirit at the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada (CM&S Company), then the world’s largest lead and zinc smelter and a key munitions manufacturer during the First and Second World Wars.
[1] Jeremy Mouat, Roaring Days: Rossland’s Mines and the History of British Columbia(Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995), p. 71, notes that Rossland miners formed Local 38 of the Western Federation of Miners in 1895. The WFM was instrumental in the founding of the IWW ten years later.

This article appeared in BC Studies #177, Spring 2013

Smelter Poets – BC Studies 177 – Spring 2013

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