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TIGHE, JAMES EDMUND, longshoreman, railway worker, union organizer, and labour leader; baptized 20 March 1878 in Saint John, son of Patrick Francis Tighe, a labourer, and Mary Ellen Driscoll; m. there first 6 July 1909 Sarah Louise Garnett (d. 23 March 1918), and they had at least one daughter, who died in infancy, and at least one son; m. secondly 20 Nov. 1924 Isabella Mary Andrews (d. 1972), former wife of Thomas A. Braman, in Halifax, and they had one daughter; d. 8 Nov. 1937 in Saint John.

James Edmund Tighe grew up in north-end working-class Saint John, the son of an Irish father and a Nova Scotian mother. He attended St Peter’s School and went to work on the docks while still a youth. In 1899 Ned was employed as a brakeman on the Intercolonial Railway; he also had jobs on several lines in western Canada and the United States before returning to Saint John. In 1909 Tighe was elected to the executive of the longshoremen’s union, which had originated in 1849 as the Labourers’ Benevolent Association. He promoted affiliation with the International Longshoremen’s Association, the American Federation of Labor union that had been established on the Great Lakes in the 1890s. He believed that the international connection would strengthen the position of Saint John workers in the waterfront casual-labour markets, which were increasingly dominated by Montreal shippers, such as Robert Wilson Reford*, and transnational traffic. In 1911 a number of Saint John longshoremen’s unions merged and entered the ILA as Local 273, and Tighe became the local’s business agent, with responsibility for negotiating contracts and enforcing work rules for more than 1,000 members.

Tighe had also begun to gain recognition well beyond Saint John. When in 1912 the ILA formed the Atlantic Coast District in Boston, Tighe was chosen to serve as its first president, and he was often afterwards selected as a vice-president. In 1913 he assisted in the affiliation of Local 269 in Halifax, where John Thomas Joy, the longshoremen’s leader, was his principal ally. During a general strike in the summer of 1919 among millworkers and waterfront workers on the Miramichi River, N.B., Tighe rushed to the scene and helped local storekeeper John Stephen Martin and social reformer Henry Harvey Stuart in setting up an ILA local and obtaining shorter hours and union recognition. In 1918 Tighe was given a temporary appointment as international organizer, a position that became permanent the following year; the move caused some controversy in Saint John, where members objected that he could not be both the business agent of their local and a representative of the international body. Transferred to the headquarters payroll in 1920, Tighe received $2,983.60 in salary and expenses that year, which gave him considerably more financial security than his members had. Meanwhile, he continued to advance through the ranks of the union, often championing Canadian concerns while promoting an internationalist perspective; for instance, in 1923 he encouraged the often-conservative ILA to maintain good relations with the more progressive British labour movement. First made a vice-president at the ILA convention in Port Huron, Mich., in 1912, Tighe was re-elected in 1913 and served in high office in the ILA from 1919 onwards. He became first vice-president in 1927 and remained a vocal supporter of Joseph Patrick Ryan, even as “King Ryan” became increasingly autocratic in his role as international president.

Closer to home, Tighe had been one of the pioneers who initiated the New Brunswick Federation of Labor. He attended its organizational meeting in 1913 and was chosen to be a vice-president on several occasions. He and President James Leonard Sugrue* lobbied hard to replace the existing Workmen’s Compensation for Injuries Act, a matter that was especially important to the Saint John longshoremen: the president of Local 273, David Allen Daley, was killed on the docks in 1913. The enactment of the Workmen’s Compensation Act in 1918, based on insurance principles and administered by a government-appointed board, was a major victory for the federation. Tighe succeeded Célime Antoine Melanson of Moncton as president of the NBFL in 1921; he occupied the post until 1929 and then again from 1934 to 1936. Under Tighe’s presidency the NBFL pressed for vocational education, free school textbooks, mothers’ allowances, minimum wages, and old-age pensions, and fought a long campaign to defend the Workmen’s Compensation Act, especially against lumber operators who wanted their industry excluded from the government plan.

Unsympathetic towards general strikes and other forms of radicalism, Tighe was considered a responsible spokesman for labour causes within government circles. As a delegate to the National Industrial Conference of 1919, he had served on the committee to examine “state insurance against unemployment, sickness, invalidity, and old age.” He was technical adviser to government delegate Walter Alexander Riddell* at the 1929 International Labour Conference in Geneva, which dealt exclusively with issues related to seafaring work. A supporter of the Maritime rights movement, one of whose central concerns was the declining use of the ports of Saint John and Halifax, Tighe was among the few labour leaders to go to Ottawa as part of a large delegation to present the region’s grievances on 25 Feb. 1925.

Although Tighe himself was the son of an immigrant, he could be hostile towards more recent arrivals. In 1928 he remarked that the employment of workers with “unpronounceable names” was “forcing our own men to continue leaving the Province.” He held more progressive views on other matters, however. As president of the NBFL, in 1935 he expressed dismay that reforms enacted with labour support, including pensions, mothers’ allowances, and minimum wages for women, had not been implemented by the Conservative government of Leonard Percy de Wolfe Tilley*: “What it has taken years of hard work and money to attain, has been taken away from us in a very short time, and New Brunswick stands alone among the Provinces of this Dominion as the only Province without social legislation.” Although in 1933 the NBFL had sponsored a provincial section of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, Tighe was partial to the Liberals, who were returned to office in 1935 under Albert Allison Dysart*.

James Edmund Tighe’s life was cut short by a traffic accident. On 7 Nov. 1937 the vehicle he was driving collided with a streetcar, and he died the next day in the Saint John General Hospital, at 59 years of age. A forceful defender of labour interests, Tighe belonged to a generation of leaders who gave the unions a strong presence in provincial affairs. Having achieved high office in an international labour organization, he saw himself as an advocate for the interests of Canadian workers. In Saint John, Ned Tighe’s popularity was evident in the presence of more than 1,000 mourners at his funeral, including representatives from all the city’s unions. The Evening Times-Globe reported the prevailing view that he “had served his fellows with wise counsel and successfully upheld the dignity of labor.” His successor as president of the NBFL, James Alexander Whitebone, paid tribute to Tighe as “a unique and lovable character” and a “great-hearted champion” who was indispensable to the evolution of the provincial labour movement over several decades. In 1938, at a cost of more than $400, Local 273 honoured him by erecting a large memorial in St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. The headstone bears the image of a modern cargo ship and a dedication to Tighe from his union brothers.

David Frank

N.B. Museum (Saint John), International Longshoremen’s Assoc., Local 273 fonds, minutes. NSA, “Nova Scotia hist. vital statistics,” Halifax County, 1924: www.novascotiagenealogy.com (consulted 4 Feb. 2013). PANB, MC 1819 (N.B. Federation of Labour), Convention proc., 1914–38; RS 141 B7, F 15936, no.3179; RS 141 C5, F 19341, no.14320. Evening Times-Globe (Saint John), 8, 12 Nov. 1937. Telegraph-Journal (Saint John), 8 Nov. 1937. R. H. Babcock, “Saint John longshoremen during the rise of Canada’s winter port, 1895–1922,” Labour (St John’s), 25 (1990): 15–46. Patti Breen, Along the shore: Saint John longshoremen, 1849–1999 (Saint John, 1999). David Frank, “Provincial solidarities: the early years of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, 1913–1929,” CHA, Journal, new ser., 19 (2008): 143–69. International Longshoremen’s Assoc., Atlantic Coast Dist., Annual convention, Proc. (Boston), minutes, 1913–16, 1918–20; International union convention, “Proc., 1912–39,” in American labor unions’ constitutions and proceedings: a guide to the microform edition, 1836–1978, comp. B. G. Naas (Sanford, N.C., 1980). Prominent people of the Maritime provinces (Montreal, 1922). Saint John Trades and Labour Council, History of Saint John labour unions (Saint John, 1929).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David Frank, “TIGHE, JAMES EDMUND,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tighe_james_edmund_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tighe_james_edmund_16E.html
Author of Article:   David Frank
Title of Article:   TIGHE, JAMES EDMUND
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2016
Year of revision:   2016
Access Date:   September 30, 2023