The Estevan strike and riot, 1931
Hanson, Stanley Duane
Having organized as a local of the Mine Workers' Union of Canada (MWUC) only a few days previously, the miners ot the Souris coalfield walked off the job on September 8, 1931 to reinforce their demands for increased wages and improved working conditions. The seasonal and fluctuating nature of the Saskatchewan industry, the reduction in realization by operators from the sale of lignite, wage reductions in late 1930 and early 1931, and certain unsatisfactory working and living conditions may be identified as underlying causes of the dispute. Three factors ultimately precipitated the wildcat strike: the absence of any established grievance mechanism, the coal operators' refusal to recognize the MWUC, and the refusal of James Sloan, MWUC president, to accede to demands for the establishment of a conciliation board under The Industrial Disputes Investigation Act. On September 29 some 300 to 400 striking miners and their families clashed with police on the streets of Estevan, Saskatchewan in a bloody riot resulting in three deaths, a number of injuries, and the conviction of several participants on charges arising out of the confrontation. The tragic events of "Black Tuesday" helped bring about a settlement, but not an altogether desirable one. The authorities, it would seem, beginning in early October, launched a campaign aimed at placing the bulk of responsibility for affairs on "outside agitators," at depriving the miners of the support and assistance of anyone from outside the district, at undermining unity among the miners, and at bringing the parties together under their scarcely impartial auspicies. The result was a settlement which, while granting some concessions to the miners, was violated in varying degrees at once by the operators. Not surprisingly, before a royal commission set up to examine the causes of the strike had completed its report, there was talk among miners of further strike action. It is also not altogether surprising that there was no official inquiry into the riot itself.