The Galt family and several British investors began the first large scale coal extraction operation in Lethbridge in the 1880s. The company hired miners who came from many countries around the world: England, Scotland, Ireland, America, Austria, Italy, Eastern Europe, Asia, and eastern Canada.
By 1906, the miners joined the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to give them a stronger voice when negotiating with the company. Company officials rejected their demands so the miners called a strike on March 9th of that year. The strike lingered through the summer with tempers flaring each month. As winter approached local and federal government worried about a coal famine in Alberta and Saskatchewan that would be hard on the western populace and might undermine the government’s settlement program. With mediation from Deputy Minister of Labour, William Lyon Mackenzie King, the strike ended. Miners received a small wage increase, the union could hire a weighman to monitor the company’s coal weight calculations, and the men earned the right to collective bargaining.
Legislation arising out of this protracted strike established a pattern for government action that survives to this day. A Royal Commission recommended the establishment of a Workman’s Compensation Act in 1907. The federal Industrial Disputes Investigation Act was created and used as a model for future labour negotiations and the Alberta government legislated an 8 hour work day in 1909. At a 1912 convention in Lethbridge labourers and farmers joined forces to form the Alberta Federation of Labour. Its earliest priorities were to establish safety and health regulations and to put an end to child labour. For over 100 years this voluntary organization has focused on advancing and protecting the interests of all working people and improving working conditions across the province.