Normally reviewing a report of some event of historical importance is a rather standard affair. It is simply a matter of verifying the grammar and phraseology as well as the accuracy of the report. However, this tome is far from the norm because it adds a number of very important elements to be assessed.
First, one should regard McCurdy’s book as a living document in the sense that the struggle is far from over. The chronology of events that are described is exact and complete. Although the early advocates for unionization were inspired by that of other provinces, they faced a greater challenge when working to organize the fishing industry.
This is because the structure of the fisheries was a quasi-feudal one where the plant owner was the absolute master who controlled the very lives of employees. The owner paid a bare subsistence wage through vouchers that had to be redeemed in the company’s stores. Money seldom actually changed hands.
So to these masters, unionization was tantamount to a revolt of peasants. And to make matters worse, the political leaders were not on their side.
Premier Joey Smallwood famously said, “Union can become too powerful”. But even after having made these gains through great sacrifices, they continue fighting to this day to conserve or improve their condition because of a number of recent obstacles, such as the ground-fish moratorium, the boycott of the seal industry by the whole of Europe, government regulations and licensing for the crab and lobster sectors, and other red tape and economic factors.
The struggle is far from over, and this history should be added to continuously.
The second element that needs to be considered is the way the groundbreaking work done by Richard Cashin and Earle McCurdy led the way for so many other sectors, from clerks to wood and paper workers, from health workers to teachers who, until they followed the path of the fisheries workers, had to depend on the benevolence of their employers.
I personally recall, as a teacher in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, sitting by the radio on budget night to find out if the province had deemed us worthy of a small salary increase. This only changed when the NTA became really empowered to negotiate contracts on behalf of its members.
A third element is that even in the early days of the unionization efforts, workers demonstrated their political strength by giving Frank Moore a victory over Joey Smallwood. It is because of these elements that I have no hesitation in giving A Match to a Blasty Bough full marks.
I would go even further and strongly suggest that any institution of higher learning, from Junior Colleges to University who offer history as part of it’s curriculum make reading this book mandatory.
It’s that important and it’s that well done. I give it my highest possible recommendation.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.