Hard rock mining: The battles for hearts and minds

Hard rock miners extracting nickel, gold, copper, zinc, diamonds and other minerals in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Northern Ontario or Northern Manitoba, as well as many other places in Canada and around the world, along with those working in milling, smelting and refining, know something about stoicism and steadfastness amidst the battles for hearts and minds.

Jeff Mcinnes puts it his way in his "Thompson Talk" column today in the space adjacent to this at left: "Thompson people are a certain sort of folk. We come from all walks of life here. Some were born here and always knew what this town was to them: a place to live, to work and to raise a family. You worked at the mine, day-in and day-out, trying to make a living to support your family. Early, dark mornings drinking coffee while your truck warmed up under a blanket of snow, trying to wake up for a dozen-hour workday that seemed insurmountable, a mountain of mining to be climbed every day."

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Two historic hard rock mining events back in the news - one connected to Sudbury, the other to Yellowknife - have their own connections to and resonance right here in Thompson.

Author Mick Lowe's The Raids, his fictionalized work centred around the epic battle in Sudbury in the 1950s and 1960s in relation to the Cold War, international politics, McCarthyism, Communism, and the inter-union rivalry between the United Steel Workers (USW) and the International Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers, published by Robin Philpot of Baraka Books in Montreal, was launched May 25 at the Local 6500 Steelworkers' Hall.

Lowe was a fine investigative journalist in his day. He worked at the Lincoln Daily Star and Daily Nebraskan before moving to Canada in 1970. He has lived in Sudbury since 1974. His 1988 non-fiction book, Conspiracy of Brothers: A True Story of Murder, Bikers and the Law, about motorcycle gangs in small town Ontario in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly Satan's Choice, which has since been absorbed into Hells Angels, won the Arthur B. Ellis Award for best non-fiction crime book that year from the Crime Writers of Canada. Lowe is 67 now. He suffered a stroke in 2008, restricting his mobility, which is why he was limited to writing a fictionalized account of events.

Here in Thompson there is a still partially untold story of that same inter-union rivalry between the Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers and United Steelworkers of America between 1960 and 1962. Mine-Mill was the first bargaining agent here in Thompson when Inco workers unionized and had negotiated a contract with Inco that ran through 1964. But the USW was certified by the Manitoba Labour Board as the bargaining agent for Inco employees in Thompson on May 31, 1962.

Because the USW itself went on to merge five years later with the United States section of the International Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers in Tucson, Arizona in January 1967, a lot of that nastiness has been papered over, at least publicly.

USW Local 6166 President Murray Nychyporuk says he is looking forward to seeing Lowe's book and obtaining some copies of The Raids for the local.

Meanwhile, a day parole hearing is set for next week on June 17 for 70-year-old Roger Warren, convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder in the Sept. 18, 1992 Giant Mine bombing in Yellowknife, which killed Josef Pandev, Shane Riggs, Robert Rowsell, Arnold Russell, Malcolm Sawler, David Vodnoski, Chris Neill, Vern Fullowka and Norman Hourie in an instant when a bomb ripped through the 750-foot level.

In 1993, after 16 interviews and two lie detector tests, Warren confessed to planting the bomb on an underground rail-track that killed the workers riding a man-car. The blast shook the territorial capital in the midst of a bitter strike that pitted neighbour against neighbour after the mine's management broke a 50-year-old unwritten mining rule by hiring replacement workers. The strike lasted 17 months.

A striking miner at the time, Warren is serving a life sentence with a 20-year minimum parole eligibility date at Ferndale Institution, a minimum-security federal prison three kilometres north of Mission, British Columbia in the central Fraser Valley, and about 80 kilometres east of Vancouver. He served an earlier part of his sentence at Stony Mountain medium-security federal penitentiary north of Winnipeg. Warren became eligible for day parole in October 2010 and full parole last year, but hadn't applied for either until recently.

Nychyporuk said June 5 there have been several miners over the years, including at least one currently, who work for Vale's Manitoba Operations here and belong to USW Local 6166, who worked in Yellowknife at Giant Mine at the time of the bombing in 1992.

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