Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Rita Bedard

The Taste of Oppression

First Published: Alive Magazine, No 103, December 3, 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The whistle had blown, the shift was over.
Carefully, quickly and quietly, the men gathered
their shovels, picks and drills to put them
into storage. Their safety-hat lights casting eerie
shadows along the walls of the gallery, the men emerged
in teams from various tunnels. The hundreds of feet
below the surface, they marched towards the main
shaft, which lead to the main elevator pit. For Stan
and others, it was a day filled with many contradicting
emotions. Their last day. INCO was laying-off men in the

The raw edge of anxiety has caused him a couple of times
during the previous days to come close to death. Lessons
well-learned through fifteen years of working under, had been
put to an all-out test. You didn’t bring your personal problems
into this job, for any mistake could cost you as well as others
a high price. So he had been even more careful in his drilling,
watching and scanning for faults in the walls of the tunnel.

And now he was marching with the others for the last time.
Yes, he’d be ’going down’ again, but in another mine.
And to do that he’d have to stand in line at Manpower,
day after day, waiting and hoping for a piece of work. Perhaps
he would even have to hope for an accident. He lifted his goggles,
seemingly brushing that idea away. But he knew it was true.
That’s what these bastard owners and managers did to them.

His father and grandfather had both worked in the mines
in Wales. The mines there had been petering out, work had been
hard to find and so his father had emigrated to Canada. Stan know
of no other work he had ever wanted to do. He had always
loved to hear the stories of the comradeship and heroic
actions of the miners. There had been no arguing when he had
chosen to go down, as so many others sons had chosen to do
over the years. His had not argued, only given him
friendly words of advice. His mother, and now his wife,
gave staunch, quiet support on which he was dependent.

In the crisp, cool Sudbury mornings, the men converged on
the punch clock, giving cheery hellos, and much amiable
jostling. Then when the elevator was full, silence fell, as
each took in the last ray of light before the descent began.
It was always that way. For now the seriousness of the
work had to be contended with, as well as the foreman
and the day’s orders. Communication was kept to what was
necessary; until the end of the day. Then usually as the tools
were placed back into storage for the next shift, the
heavy load of the day’s work was shrugged off and left behind
with talk of the upcoming hockey game or what had
the movies been like. That was the pattern until the news
had broken of the major lay-off. Then the talk turned to
union meetings and newspaper reports.

And now, Stan thought, even that had come to an end.
For the union could nothing when put to the final test by
this Americian run company, INCO. Sure, the politicians from
the NDP had blasted hot air for a while, but that’s all it
was – hot air – dried out your throat, gave you a bad thirst
that couldn’t be quenched and a headache to boot. All these
thoughts and images passed through his mind, while
his feet continued thier steady walk to the elevator.

As he got closer, he remembered his grandfather telling him
about the ’pit-ponies’ who used to pull the slag wagons along
the tracks in the tunnels. His young heart had gone out to
those creatures who worked day and night without ever knowing
when the sun was up or the moon was going down. His grandfather
had told him of how when the horse had aged and was of no more
use it would be raised in either the elevator or a special sling,
with rags tied around the eyes so as not to blind him. But even with
all the care one could give to the retired pony, he was always
mostly blind and would soon die, if not shot immediately.

Now that his last day was complete, and he was in the elevator
going up for the last time from this mine, Stan’s anger
rose as well. No, the light of day would not blind him for
he was not a dumb animal though for 15 years treated like one.
He would find a way to wrestle with the truth of the cruelty of
this capitalist system. He would not be blinded nor would
he succumb to despair. He knew his enemy was the light
of the truth that had been forced on him and his co-workers,
but the content of the that truth. That the American intruders
followed by their Canadian managers who jumped
everytime the strings were pulled were his enemies
for it was they who committed this
crime against all working people.

As the elevator swung up to the surface platform, the men
adjusted their eyes to the remaining daylight. The last reds
of the setting sun were continuing their valiant struggle to cut
through the thick Sudbury smog. Stan cursed as the vapours
stung his eyes and the stench filled his nostrils. And in his mind,
Stan saw clearly what Bethune had meant when he had written,
concerning the capitalists, These men make the wounds!