James Bryson McLachlan | The Canadian Encyclopedia


James Bryson McLachlan

James Bryson McLachlan, labour leader (b at Ecclefechan, Scot 9 Feb 1869; d at Glace Bay, NS 3 Nov 1937).

McLachlan, James Bryson

James Bryson McLachlan, labour leader (b at Ecclefechan, Scot 9 Feb 1869; d at Glace Bay, NS 3 Nov 1937). Born into a family of cotton weavers and farm labourers, McLachlan graduated from the Lanarkshire coalfields to become the fiery leader of the Nova Scotia coal miners and a popular spokesman for labour radicalism in Canada. Influenced by social critics such as Thomas Carlyle and labour leaders such as Keir Hardie, McLachlan believed it was the mission of the working class to "redeem the world from the chaos of capitalism."

Immigrating to Cape Breton in 1902, McLachlan challenged the conservative policies of the Provincial Workmen's Association, and was elected secretary-treasurer of District 26 of the United Mine Workers of America, on its formation in 1909. The UMWA district was disbanded in 1915 and re-established in 1919; McLachlan served as an officer of the 2 interim organizations from 1916 to 1918. Blacklisted from the mines, McLachlan was instrumental in the achievement of collective bargaining in the Nova Scotia coal industry during WWI.

In the strikes of the 1920s (CAPE BRETON STRIKES, 1920s) he was known for his imaginative tactics, including the "strike on the job" and the "100 per cent strike." Never defeated in a union election, McLachlan remained an officer of the miners' union until July 1923, when he was removed by UMW president John L. Lewis for promoting a sympathetic strike in support of Sydney steelworkers. Convicted of seditious libel in October 1923, he was sentenced to 2 years in Dorchester penitentiary but was released in March 1924.

He returned home to become editor of the Maritime Labor Herald, which he had helped establish in 1921, and later edited the Nova Scotia Miner (1929-36). He belonged in turn to the Socialist Party of Canada, the Independent Labour Party of Nova Scotia and the Communist Party of Canada, running 6 times for the provincial and federal parliaments and polling almost 9000 votes at the peak of his influence in 1921. Nationally he was prominent as president of the WORKERS UNITY LEAGUE (1933-36). McLachlan was known for his fierce dedication to the workers' cause, and his "economic gospel," borrowed from the Old Testament (Proverbs), is inscribed at his grave: "Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy."