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The Shutdown

This song, The Shutdown, appeared in the Maritime Labour Herald on August 30, 1924. Working class people have had to contend with companies shutting down their places of work- coal mines, steel mills and pulp and paper mills- sometimes for short periods, sometimes forever. Cape Bretoners have had much experience with these kinds of closures.


The mill’s shut down three months they say
It may be more but anyway
We’re out of luck they’ll be no pay
Now…how about the eats

Vacations are all very nice
They add to life a little spice
But when you haven’t got the price
It’s … quite another tale

The family needs this and that
A pair of shoes, a shirt, a hat
We’ve not enough to feed a cat
And … how about the rent

But we’ll pull through somehow no doubt
No use our misery to spout
And should the landlord throw us out
We’ll … camp upon the street

Thank God the company’s alright
The dividend is safe and tight
The stockholder can sleep at night
Tho’ … we feel rather blue

God feeds the little bumble bees
The birds that flit among the trees
The flies, mosquitoes and the fleas
And we … well we can starve

Now charity will do its part
Soup kitchens will be on the mart
And when the mills again do start
We’ll … have our load of debts

So they’ve shut down, they might as well
They’ve been curtailing quite a spell
It seems the country’s going to hell
Small loss … then we’ll go to.

MLH, 30 August 1924.



About Garry Leech

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and lecturer in Political Science at CBU. He is the author of several books, including Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2008) and Crude Interventions: The United States, Oil and the New World (Dis)Order (Zed Books, 2006). He is also the co-author of The People Behind Colombian Coal: Mining, Multinationals and Human Rights (Pisando Callos, 2007). Most recently he helped to establish Cape Breton Independent, an online news source that presents coverage of local, national and global issues of political, social and economic significance that are often ignored by the mainstream media and Canada’s dominant political parties. The Cape Breton Independent is published by the J. B. McLachlan Media Collective, which was established in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 2013. The Collective is a democratic organization in which all members have an equal voice. It is named after Cape Breton union leader James Bryson McLachlan who was at the forefront of the struggle for social justice during the early decades of the 20th century. 
Before becoming an academic and journalist, Garry kicked around New York City playing in punk rock bands.

Dealing with shutdowns is something that working class families have had to contend with for generations. In the late 1930s, with the shutting down of coal mines in Inverness, many families moved to Scotchtown near the coal mining community of New Waterford to make new homes and find employment in the Number 12 and 16 collieries. The history of Cape Breton’s coal fields is filled with the shutting down of mines, sometimes because of disasters. In 1973, an explosion rocked the Number 12 colliery in New Waterford causing an underground fire. One man was left underground when the mine was sealed to extinguish the fire and another member of the rescue crew died of a heart attack. One of the best known shutdowns in Cape Breton Island is known as “Black Friday” when, on October 13th, 1967, the British Hawker Siddeley corporation announced it was closing the Sydney Steel Plant as of August 1968. The Cape Breton Island coal and steel community rallied against this and formed a “Parade of Concern” that forced the provincial government to create a Crown corporation to continue operating the plant. However, on May 22, 2000, the last rail was rolled at the Sydney Steel Plant. In September 2011, the New Page pulp and paper mill in Port Hawkesbury shut down, causing hardship for many working class families in that region of the Island. The anonymous composer of this song expresses a universal working class concern that their workplace is being shut down. The composer discusses topics such as the hardships associated with a shut down, not knowing how long it will last, concern for food and family, and the possibility of seeking charity to get by.

NewPage paper mill in Nova Scotia shuts down, marking end of an era

POINT TUPPER, N.S. – The NewPage paper mill in Nova Scotia has completed an indefinite shutdown of its two paper machines, marking the end of an era for the 49-year-old operation. A spokeswoman for the Point Tupper mill said the second of the company’s two paper machines stopped running at 8 a.m. Friday. Patricia Dietz said most of the mill’s 600 employees will be laid off after finishing shifts in the next 10 days. She said that for the next week, the remaining employees will be cleaning up the facility and working their final shifts.

It was Dietz’s last day at her job, but she said she hoped to return if a new buyer is found. “I wouldn’t mind at all being the person to provide some good news for a change,” she said in an interview. She said by Oct. 1, a skeleton crew of 50 people will be left to maintain the plant while a new buyer is sought.

NewPage is blaming high power costs, a strong Canadian dollar and rising shipping costs for the closure. Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean said the shutdown is a sad moment in the region’s history. “It’s a historic day. I happened to be there on the day the mill started up…. It makes me sad that the greatest industry to hit the province of Nova Scotia stopped today,” he said. But he said he’s hopeful that a buyer will be found for the mill, which has lost US$50 million over the last year, according to an affidavit NewPage filed with the province’s Supreme Court.

Negotiations are underway between potential buyers and the New York investment banker Sanabe and Associates, with Ernst & Young, the court-appointed monitor for the mill, supervising the talks. “Let’s hope the shutdown is short-lived,” said MacLean. The mill has the capacity to produce 545,000 tonnes of paper a year, and has been an economic mainstay for the community on the Strait of Canso for the past five decades. The company also owns about 20,000 hectares of land and its woodlands operations have provided employment to about 400 forestry workers.

MacLean said he’s very concerned about pensioners in the community who could see their incomes fall sharply if four troubled pension funds are wound up. He recently spoke to two pensioners who faced reductions of 20 to 25 per cent of their incomes in that scenario. “I think it’s a number 1 concern from all residents in the Strait region.

It affects many families that have been retired 10 or 15 years who have left the mill and who looked forward to half-decent lives after working 35 years,” he said. — Story by Michael Tutton in Halifax

Michael Tutton, NewPage paper mill in Nova Scotia shuts down, marking end of an era. Winnipeg Free Press 16 September 2011. Accessed on-line 20 September 2011.


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