The Heritage Corner, Springhill Record

January 18, 2006

Jan. 18, 2006–The PWA

In the 1870’s the working conditions in the mines were poor. They worked long shifts for very little pay. At that time, the very experienced miner, received 9 cents an hour for a ten hour day for a six day week. The lowly trapper was paid 25 cents a day or $1.50 a week for the same number of working hours. These trappers could work their way up until they made 90 cents a day, if they worked very hard. The mine conditions got worse as the mines went deeper and the earth’s pressure was greater.

The men of Springhill, under the leadership of Robert Drummond, an official of the Springhill Mining Company, and William Madden, later inspector of Mines for Nova Scotia , organized the first legalized trade union in Canadian collieries. The Provincial Workingman’s Association or PWA, as it was called, was organized in September of 1879 and was in effect for 40 years.

With the formation of the union many regulations were put into effect to better the security and safety working conditions of the miners. After eighteen months of its organization they presented a Bill entitled “An act to Amend Chapter 10, the Revised Statutes of the Regulation of Mines”. James B. Wilson and Robert Drummond were sponsors of the bill and the Chairman of the Committee was Sir John Thompson. The Bill passed both the Assembly and the Legislative Council and the PWA received legal standing in Nova Scotia . These regulations were amended from time to time to better the work safety and improved conditions of the miners.

Some of these regulations were: To have an inspector of mines and he was to visit the mines every three months. Workers could appoint a committee from among themselves to examine the mines every three months. In 1882, an amendment stating, no one be employed as a miner without a mining certificate. If working in places with safety lamps no powder was to be used. All lamps were to be the property of the owners of the mines. In 1923 the amendment stated: “(1) No boy under the age of sixteen years shall be employed in or about any mine. (2) Every person who contravenes or fails to comply with or permits any to contravene or fail to comply with this section, shall be guilty of an offense against this Chapter, and in case of any such contravention or non-compliance by any person, whomsoever, the owner and agent will both be guilty of an offence against this Chapter, unless he proves he has taken all reasonable means to prevent such contravention or non- compliance by publishing, and to the best of his power enforcing, the next preceding sub-section. 1923 c.54 s1.

Robert Drummond who was the first secretary of the PWA, started the “Trade’s Journal” Springhill’s first newspaper, Jan. 1, 1880 . He also was instrumental in getting the first Mining School and the Miner’s Benefit fund.

The PWA started their own store call the Pioneer Store and also a Pioneer Hall which was where the Miner’s Hall and Library are today. The land was purchased from William Hall for $180.00.

When the 22 month strike occurred in Springhill in 1907-1911 it saw the United Mine Workers of America in Springhill and Nova Scotia . Since that time there was a rivalry between the two unions. In 1917 this rivalry was ended with the formation of the Amalgamated Mine Workers of Nova Scotia. Two years later, the UMWA became the popular union of the coal miners of Nova Scotia .

The Provincial Workingman’s Association was instrumental in the uniting of miners to protect themselves against things as wage cuts and unsafe working conditions.

In 1984 a memorial cairn was erected to the right of the “White Miner” in the Upper Main St. Park. It is inscribed “The Provincial Workmen’s Association First Legalized Trade Union in Canada ”