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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 1999

Red Bait! Struggles of a Mine Mill Local

Al King with Kate Braid, Vancouver: Kingbird Publishing, 1998, 176 pp; paper $20 CA.
Together with writer Kate Braid, Al King has produced a totally absorbing memoir of a union life in Canada. King retired from Steelworker staff in 1980, having come into the union after the merger with the International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers in 1967. King began work as a labourer for the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (CM&S, now Cominco) in Trail in 1937. King was soon a key player in the small nucleus of activists who built Mine Mill Local 480 at the Trail smelter -- a campaign that took several years of near-clandestine organizing until World War II. King's account of working life in Trail, and of the life of the community, is full of incident, humour, misery, courage, betrayals and occasional triumphs -- all tied together by a terrific story-telling skill. The book is filled with classic characters that do credit to a seasoned novelist. King's portraits and stories produce riveting accounts of neglected events in Canada's social history. Especially good is his re-telling of the story of the famous Peace Arch Park concerts by Paul Robeson. But even his account of events that sound depressingly deja-vu -- like the long, compensation fights and the battles for recognition of occupational cancers in mining -- are well-paced and make for good reading. Red Bait! is engaging, vigorous stuff. It is not just the product of King's amazing memory for detail and his story-telling talent. It is also the result of first-rate editing, revising and organizing by labour historian and poet Kate Braid. We have too few memoirs of labour careers like this, and I for one am grateful for this fascinating volume.

© D. Mackenzie Steel Labour/CALM, 1998.