More than two dozen people turned their backs on a provincial cabinet minister on Tuesday at a ceremony commemorating William Davis Miners’ Memorial Day in Glace Bay, N.S.
The miners, widows and their supporters said Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan, the area’s MLA, should be doing more to support their fight for extended workers’ compensation benefits.
Bobby Gillis, a retired miner who speaks for a group of about 120 former Devco coal miners, said the federal government has confirmed it will pay to have the miners’ benefits extended past age 65.
But he said the provincial government is holding that up.
Demonstrators say minister abandoned them
MacLellan has supported the group in the past, but Gillis said the minister is a hypocrite for abandoning them now.
That’s why the group turned its back during the Liberal MLA’s speech, said Gillis.
Davis Day is observed every June 11 in honour of William Davis, a New Waterford coal miner who was shot and killed by company police while on strike in 1925.
“We’re just here doing the same thing,” said Gillis. “We’re fighting for the same rights that William Davis fought for.”
Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, drew the loudest applause during the Davis Day speeches, which were held outside the Cape Breton Miners Museum.
Cavanagh drew a direct parallel between the struggles William Davis and his union colleagues faced and the fight Gillis and his group are in.
“We hear the politicians talk about how they support the workers and workers’ rights,” he said.
“Workers know that most of the time, these words are simply sound bites, and that the politicians’ ears are turned off when it comes to workers’ concerns.”
MacLellan said he could see the miners’ backs from the podium during his speech, and it hurt.
“I obviously don’t feel like I’m a hypocrite,” he said. “I support miners and families. I support Glace Bay, because it’s who I am.”
MacLellan has deep family ties to coal mining in the area.
He said the day should be reserved for honouring Davis and other miners who lost their lives working underground.
“Davis Day will matter to me long after I’m a politician,” MacLellan said. “It’s in my blood.”
‘The fight since 1925 is still here’
Gillis said only one person in the crowd approached him afterwards to complain about the snub.
Gillis said he told that person that he didn’t understand that the fight that started with William Davis’s death 94 years ago isn’t over yet.
“The fight since 1925 is still here,” he said. “We’re still doing it, and the company police is now the Liberal government.”