Province’s labour struggles laid bare in new book

The sisterhood at the canteen. Five shop stewards with the Marine Workers and Boilermarkers Union share a happy moment during lunch at Burrard Dry Dock, 1942. North Vancouver Museum and Archives, 8073.

On the Line is a new history of B.C’s labour movement from pre-Confederation to today.

Written by former Vancouver Sun labour reporter Rod Mickleburgh, the book offers plenty of historical analysis as well as archival photos. Find out more about On the Line (official publication date: April 28) below.

Among the subjects in On the Line are:

• How the province’s resource-based, frontier economy produced the most militant labour movement in Canada

• Activists who sacrificed their lives, such as early union champion Ginger Goodwin, who was murdered for his beliefs

• the role that women, Indigenous peoples, and immigrants played in shaping our workplaces and communities, and the challenges that minority groups face in securing equal representation in both unions and workplaces

• union achievements that we take for granted, like the eight-hour workday, sick leave and safe working conditions

After the mass arrests of striking Vancouver Island coal miners, an outpouring of support came from the BC labour movement, particularly in Vancouver. This fundraising tag day outside the city’s Labor Temple on Dec. 20, 1913, was organized by the hastily formed BC Miners’ Liberation League. City of Vancouver Archives, 259-1.

The On-To-Ottawa Trek was a defining event of the bleak ten lost years of the Depression. Hundreds of single unemployed men clambered up boxcars in early June 1935, intending to ride the rails all the way from Vancouver to Ottawa, with stops in betweenb, to confront Prime Minister R.B. Bennett with their demand for work and wages. By the time they reached Regina, an estimated 1,800 unemployed had joined the trek. Canadian National Railway Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, C-024840.

English and Chinese-language signs warning strikebreakers to stay away attest to the solidarity between white and Chinese workers during their determined strike at Blubber Bay on Texada Island in 1938. Kaatza Station Museum & Archives, IWA Local 1-80/Wilmer Gold Photo Collection.

From the introduction: “The scenes depicted in these pages are but snapshots—hopefully representative ones—from 150-plus years of working-class struggle in workplaces everywhere in BC. Collectively these examples represent a remarkable saga of workers and unions that stands with any in the province’s history. The figures who people these stories are among the heroes of British Columbia—not merely the trade union leaders, but the millions of workers, their names forgotten, who confronted those who would deny their right to take collective action in pursuit of better lives. While we celebrate builders of industrial empires like Robert and James Dunsmuir—their name writ large on streets and in the province’s chronicles—those who dared challenge their single-minded pursuit of wealth at the expense of workers are remembered minimally, if at all.”

An evocative sculpture of a golden tree, financed in large measure by the labour movement, commemorates three Fraser Valley farm workers fatally injured in an accident while being transported to their jobs in an unsafe van. Michael Lanier photo.

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