When you pick up a newspaper the best question to ask is ‘Who owns it’. The answer determines whose interests the paper will serve. If it is owned by capitalists, the main purposes of the paper will be first, to make money, and secondly, to convince you that cpitalism is a good system. A newspaper which is in itself a business enterprise bent on profit-making cannot be a true champion of the working people. Instead, it will defend the interests of the newspaper owner and his friends and advertisers.
In Cape Breton the newspapers of the ruling class have played a leading part in attacking the workers whenever they have tried to fight the monolithic corporations which control their daily lives. The hysterical election day smear against J.B.McLachlan in the 1921 election is a good example. But these newspapers not only lied about the workers’ struggle.
A main problem with having the capitalists controlling the news media was that important information could not be circulated among the workers -- information about the activities of the various local unions, the struggles and conditions of workers abroad and across Canada, the ghastly incompetence of the industries of Cape Breton. All of this information would rightly considered downright subversive by the press.
The workers of Cape Breton needed their own spokesman, a newspaper which would help them in their fight for a better world. It had to be a newspaper which did not have a vested interest in making profits; it had to be a workers’ newspaper.
The Maritime Labour Herald, the first of Cape Breton’s working class papers, was set up in the fall of 1921 by two militant trade unionists --, J.B. McLachlan and D.N.Brodie. The initial capital was raised among the locals of the UMW and privately. The first issue, published on October 14, 1921, launched the paper’s remarkable five-year career with a clear statement of where the paper’s heart lay:
“The Maritime Labour Herald is different from
other papers. The other papers have their nice
clothes on and wear a collar and tie. The Ma-
ritime Labour Herald is a paper with its
shirtsleeves rolled up and its neckband
turned under. We are ..the workingman’s paper
and wear no frills.”
Quickly, the paper got a warm response from Cape Bretoners. Circulation climbed to well over 6,000, which meant perhaps ten times as many people actually read it. Its pages are filled with letters from workers describing working conditions and daily problems. One of the goals of the paper was to have the workers themselves write as much of the paper as possible. Crammed with lively humour and a clear grasp of economic problems, the paper won the respect and sympathy of working people.
On the front page of the first issue the basic theme was set in this brief analysis of the economic crisis of the time:
“The workers produce a great deal more wealth
than the wage they receive will enable them
to buy back, and the surplus left over fills
warehouses, cold storage plants, etc. There
are more ships, more engines, more steel pro-
ducts, more food and clothing than is needed
but these things are in the hands of the capi-
talists who cannot sell them, and because the
workers are unemployed they cannot buy the
food they so badly need, and hence go short
“Capitalism and capitalism alone is the evil
tree that bears such bitter fruit.”
Twice the building of the Maritime Labour Herald burned down, but it never failed to publish. Eventually the weekly paper incorporated its principles into its banner on the front page:
“Workers of all lands unite, you have nothing
to lose but your chains, and a world to win.
We demand a Labour Party, Industrial UnionisM
and Nationalization of Industry with Workers’
For, five, hard years the paper fought bravely for these principles.