BCLHC Blog

The Ginger Goodwin General Strike

The Ginger Goodwin General Strike

by Rod Mickleburgh
Originally published in the Mickleblog
August 2, 2018

At 12 o’clock sharp on Aug. 2, 1918 – one hundred years ago today –Vancouver transit operators stopped their streetcars in mid-route, drove them to the barns and walked home. The city’s normally bustling waterfront fell silent, as 2,000 burly stevedores and shipyard workers streamed from the docks. Construction workers refused to pound another nail or lift another brick. They joined textile and other union workers across Vancouver who were also leaving their jobs. It was the start of Canada’s first general strike and the beginning of one of the most memorable 24 hours in the city’s history.
 

The mass walkout was timed to coincide with the funeral of miner, labour leader, union organizer and socialist Ginger Goodwin, shot dead less than a week earlier in the woods above the coal-mining community of Cumberland. Goodwin, a former vice-president of the BC Federation of Labour, had been hiding out to avoid conscription to the killing fields of World War One, a war he and almost all segments of the BC labour movement vigorously opposed. With justification, they argued it was a pointless conflict that sent ordinary workers to kill each other, while politicians and leading citizens far from the fray thundered about patriotism, and the rich got richer on the profits of war. Goodwin had had his status suspiciously changed from “unfit to serve” to “fit”, after leading a strike for an eight-hour day at the large smelter in Trail. He was felled by a single shot from Dan Campbell, a special constable with a dubious background, who claimed he fired in self-defense. But the coal miners of Cumberland and the BC labour movement believed it was cold-blooded murder, and their rage was palpable. Campbell, later charged and acquitted of manslaughter, beat a hasty exit out of town to save his skin. Goodwin’s funeral procession was as large an event as the gritty, working-class community ever had.

Headed by a brass band, the line of mourners accompanying Goodwin’s white casket to the cemetery stretched as far as the eye could see. Years ago, I interviewed a sprightly, life-long resident of Cumberland who remembered witnessing the poignant procession as a little girl. She recalled how much Ginger Goodwin, who spent several years in the mines of Cumberland, was admired by locals, for his fierceness in standing up for the miners’ cause during their epic two year strike from 1912-1914 and his prowess on the village soccer squad. “My father would never hear a bad word about Ginger,” she told me.

When news of Goodwin’s shooting reached Vancouver, leaders of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council responded with a call for a 24-hour general strike on the day of his funeral. “The time for talking was past,” said council secretary Victor Midgley, as the directives went out. “Workers should use the only means of protest they had, namely to quit work for the entire time stated.” Added labour firebrand Jack Kavanagh: “Whether shot in self-defence or without a chance, it does not alter the fact that he was of ourselves and the least we can do is stop work for twenty-four hours to punish the employers.”

The strike set off a firestorm among the city’s elite and a large group of returned war veterans who were whipped into a frenzy, some suggest by the Board of Trade and Canadian Manufacturers’ Association. Accused of being both “Bolshevki” and pro-German, the strikers were hysterically denounced for shutting down the city in support of someone dodging the draft, while Canadians were dying at the front. Fulminated MP Herbert Sylvester Clemens: “If organized labour is to ally itself with draft evaders and lawbreakers, all right-thinking elements in the community will have to take steps to fight their danger.”

It didn’t take long. That afternoon, a mob of several hundred ex-soldiers gathered outside the Labor Temple, which still stands at the northeast corner of Dunsmuir and Homer, its old lettering clearly visible over the entrance. After a few inflammatory “calls to arms”, they stormed through the doors and began ransacking Council premises. Books, documents, correspondence and other files were tossed out the window. Tables and chairs were trashed. On the second floor, they crashed through an office door to rush towards Council secretary Victor Midgley, who crawled out on the window ledge to escape their fury. As they jostled to get at him, their way was blocked by courageous Frances Foxcroft of the Telephone Workers Union, who would not be moved.

Eventually, the shaken labour leader was allowed back in and roughly bustled downstairs to face the raucous crowd outside. By this time the crowd with mayhem on its mind numbered more than a thousand. “That is the man that is at the bottom of all the troubles,” yelled a soldier. “Make the skunk kiss the good old flag,” jeered the throng. Midgley’s glasses were knocked off, his collar torn, until his lips finally touched the sacred Union Jack, his offer to address the vetereans ignored, and police were able to bundle him back inside the Labor Temple. Several other labour representatives escaped by clambering down the fire escape and dashing down the back alley. Longshore union delegate J. Thomas was not so lucky. He found himself caught in the middle of the crowd, where he was severely set upon until he, too, reluctantly agreed to kiss the flag. When police attempted to haul him away to the station, soldiers surrounded their car in an unsuccessful effort to grab Thomas back, with shouts of “Let’s take him ourselves!”

Then, it was off to the car barns to intimidate trolley drivers into resuming service, which actually happened shortly before midnight, and finally to a packed, rowdy public meeting of self-proclaimed patriots, where speaker after speaker were cheered for lashing out at Goodwin and local strike leaders. “They are just as bad as the man who got shot in the front or the back – I hope both” shouted one inflamed citizen, to a thunderous ovation. It was a common sentiment. The lone attendee to vote against a resolution calling for them to be forced into military service overseas was physically ejected.

The next morning, with the waterfront still silent, the fired-up war veterans, still exulting over their “triumphs” of the previous day, decided to take on the longshoremen and force them back to work. It was not to be. This time, when they tried to assail the union hall ramparts at Pender and Hornby, they got a surprise. “Charging up a long set of stairs, they were met by longshoremen who beat them back using chair legs as staves,” wrote historian Irene Howard. A tense standoff ensued, until Mayor Robert Henry Otley Gale arrived. He convinced the agitated veterans to appoint a committee to talk to a longshoremen committee, ignoring their demand that the Labour Council’s Jack Kavanagh be ordered out of the city.

The upshot was that the rioters marched off to the Cambie Street grounds, the dockyard workers returned to their jobs at a time of their choosing, and leaders of the Trades and Labour Council agreed to test the persistent accusation that the rank-and-file did not support the general strike by resigning and calling new elections. All but one or two were handily re-elected. By Monday morning, everyone was back at work, except for 50 shoe factory workers whose employer demanded they apologize for their Friday walkout before he would allow them back in.

In the face of fierce intimidation, pro-war hysteria and mob violence, the remarkable success of the first general strike of its kind signified the increasing radicalism of the BC trade union movement, particularly in Vancouver. Less than a year later, the city’s unions walked out again, this time for an entire month, in a sympathy strike to back the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. The horrors of World War One and the failure of rampant capitalism to deliver any kind of economic justice to those who did the work led more and more unions to embrace socialism as the only alternative to a broken system.

Ginger Goodwin would have understood.

Hiring Halls and Company Favouritism on the Waterfront

Hiring Halls and Company Favouritism on the Waterfront

Image courtesy David Yorke.

The International Longshore Association disappeared from the waterfront in BC following their 1923 strike. The union was broken by employers in the Shipping Federation of BC, and a company union was put in place. Favouritism in hiring was rampant. As the economy worsened in the 1930s new militant longshore unions were formed and a key issue for longshore workers was ending company control over hiring.  Below, David Yorke, a collector of BC labour history and associated artifacts recounts the story of the “hated shape-up tags” used before seniority-based hiring was won.

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Before the union won hiring halls, the method of hiring was the “shape-up”, where longshore workers gathered on the docks, a company agent would show up, and the workers would vie with each other, trying to get picked by the agent for a day’s work.
 
Sometimes, when chosen, the agent would give the worker a brass tag to be presented at the ship as proof that he had been selected.
There are stories of agents flinging a handful of tags to a crowd of workers and watch them scramble all over each other in order to grab one, which meant a day’s work.
 
The shape-up system was rife with favouritism, anti-union hiring, and led some to try to bribe or kick-back to the agents to get jobs. It was one of the west coast union’s big accomplishments to get rid of the shape-up system in favour of seniority-based hiring halls.
 
Miners Memorial Weekend

Miners Memorial Weekend

33rd Miners Memorial Weekend and Ginger Goodwin Commemoration 2018

by Joey Hartman and Karen Ranalletta

100 years ago, 31-year-old labour organizer Albert “Ginger” Goodwin was shot and killed by special police constable Dan Campbell as he hid in the hills above Cumberland, BC. Goodwin and others in those hills were evading conscription to WWI – a war he considered unjust and unnecessary.  He had previously been rejected for the army due to poor health, but declared fully “fit for combat” when summoned a second time.   

Upon news of his death, the community and broader labour movement were outraged, convinced that Goodwin had been murdered for his union activism and persuasive socialism.  The labour martyr’s funeral procession was over a mile long, and his death honoured with a one-day general strike in Vancouver.  

For the last 33 years, the community has gathered for Miners Memorial weekend to commemorate Goodwin’s death and recognize so many others who lived, struggled and died in the coal mines of the area.

The BC Labour Heritage Centre was well represented June 22 – 24, 2018 which focussed on the centennial of Goodwin’s death. Board members Karen Ranalletta, Joey Hartman, Aaron Ekman and Kari Michaels, were there, along with former board member Irene Lanzinger. Several BCLHC volunteers also enjoyed the weekend.

A full three days of activities offered workshops, guided walking tours, graveside vigils, music, theatre, and opportunities to make buttons and make a silk-screened image of Goodwin. Participants learned not just Ginger Goodwin’s story, but also many stories of his contemporaries and the political context of the time.

Highlights included:

  • A history talk about Cumberland by local experts Marianne Bell and Robin Folvik. The village was first called “Union”, named after a coal company but still appropriate. There are many markers, plaques, cairns and monuments recognizing the workers of Cumberland.
  • Professor Mark Leier from SFU presented on the history of the Militant Minority and lessons from Goodwin about the value of socialism and radicalism.
  • A walking tour around the centre of Cumberland visited significant sites for Ginger Goodwin’s friends and allies
  • “Songs of the Workers” welcomed various musicians to share workers’ songs and poems.
  • The annual ceremony at the Cumberland Cemetery, where BC LHC laid flowers on Goodwin’s cairn. Flowers were also laid on the graves of hundreds of other miners – including Japanese and Chinese workers – who died in explosions and other disasters.
  • Minister Scott Fraser, MLA Ronna-Ray Leonard, and MP Gord Johns announced the re-naming of a section of the Island Highway as “Ginger Goodwin Way.” Removal of the previous signs was one of the Gordon Campbell Liberal government’s first acts upon their 2001 election. The government representatives also read a proclamation that July 27th is Ginger Goodwin Day in BC.
  • All took part in the historical re-enactment of Ginger Goodwin’s funeral procession along the main street of Cumberland. Many mourners wore appropriate garb and the white coffin was carried behind a brass band much like 1918.  

This event was a great testament to the people of the Comox Valley who respect the importance of working people’s history. They remember those workers who died for their rights, who were political targets and who did not fear the boss. As Goodwin wrote before the two-year Great Coal Strike began in 1912, the workers were forced into “terrible conditions” by a “class of parasites (that) has been living off the blood of the working class.” Miners and their families, evicted from company housing, were forced to live in tents for 23 months and faced starvation. The government responded by sending militia forces to assist the bosses, and a trainload of dried beans for the strikers. 

We too, remember, and appreciate the opportunity to be part of Miners Memorial.

More on Ginger Goodwin.

 

‘BC Labour History Walking Tours’ App now available on the Apple Store and Google Play

‘BC Labour History Walking Tours’ App now available on the Apple Store and Google Play

‘BC Labour History Walking Tours’

An app to discover British Columbia’s rich and diverse labour history, now available for free download on both iOS & Android devices

May 28, 2018 – Available today, the app BC Labour History Walking Tour offers a journey back in time in British Columbia to iOS & Android device users. It allows locals as well as travellers to visit sites of significance to workers’ heritage and working-class struggle that commemorate the importance of labour unions, individuals, collective actions and much more.

With content based on our existing labour history walking tours, users can download routes directly to their device, allowing them to load content while connected to Wi-fi before heading out on a tour to avoid mobile data usage. Tours can be explored remotely through the navigation bar, or on-site by turning on the Location & Online Maps feature of the app, which will notify the user of nearby stops and provide directions on the walking tour route.

Each stop contains historical information, along with historical photos and at certain locations, short educational videos to enhance the experience. New locations and routes will be added regularly to expand and include routes around the province of BC.

The app is only available for download in Canada and is completely free. It is available in several languages based on the user’s device settings.

Please visit us on the Google Play and Apple Store.

The BC Labour History Walking Tours app is created by the BC Labour Heritage Centre through the MyTours platform, developed by Authentic.

The Asiatic Exclusion League Riot, 1907

The Asiatic Exclusion League Riot, 1907

(Photo credit: Boarded-up businesses after race riots in Chinatown at northwest corner of Carrall Street at Pender, 1907: Vancouver Public Library #940)
 
In recognition of Asian Heritage Month, we remember a painful part of British Columbia’s labour history: The Asiatic Exclusion League.
 
With high unemployment and a recession in full swing, the Asiatic Exclusion League was formed by the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council in August 1907, with the aim of “keeping Oriental immigrants out of British Columbia”, viewing Asian immigration as a threat to non-Asian workers. This ignored the fact that Chinese lumber mill workers had taken part in the city’s two general strikes, while staging several walkouts of their own during the heyday of the OBU – not to mention countless other contributions to British Columbia’s economy.
 
Unfortunately, this type of racist labour organization was not a new idea in BC. In Victoria in the late 1870s, the low wage competition prompted unrest and discussion among many workers with the result that on Sept. 1st, 1878, a general union called the Workingman’s Protective Association was formed in the province’s capital. Apparently, this organization was not very concerned with collective bargaining but rather with: “the mutual protection of the working class of BC against the great influx of Chinese; to use all legitimate means for the suppression of their immigration; to assist each other in the obtaining of employment; and to devise means for the amelioration of the condition of the working class of this Province in general.”
 
The next few months saw considerable activity for the new organization, which attracted several hundred supporters in Victoria. It expanded to open a branch in New Westminster with another forty members. It was avowedly “anti-political”, aside from what they called “the oriental issue” but broke up due to political infighting and personal rivalries after less than one year. Groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion League rose to take their place.

(Smashed window of a barber’s shop with a boy to one side, 1907: Vancouver Public Library #941)
On September 7th, 1907 thousands of League members and members of the general public rioted in Vancouver, marching into Chinatown and destroying homes and businesses. Windows are smashed, stores looted, and many Chinese people are beaten. After venting their fury on Chinatown, the crowd heads to Powell Street to attack Japantown. However, the Japanese community is forewarned and arms themselves and the crowd is beaten back.

(Chinese buildings and businesses damaged by race riots in the 500 block Carrall Street (west side): Vancouver Public Library #939)
By 1921, the Asiatic Exclusion League, somewhat dormant since the 1907 riot, resurfaced and claimed to have 40,000 B.C. members. Pressure from this group led to the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which ended virtually all Chinese immigration to Canada. Only teachers, church personnel and consular staff are allowed in. The impact of this was immediate: Asian workers made up 20 percent of the workforce in 1918, yet only 12 percent by 1925. Over the next twenty years, no more than 50 Chinese immigrants were able to make their way to Canada.
 
It took until 1947 for The Chinese Exclusion Act to be repealed. On April 22, 2018, the City of Vancouver formally apologized to the Chinese community for their role in creating legislation, regulations and policies that contributed to the historical discrimination faced by the community. This followed a formal apology from the Provincial Government of BC in May of 2014 which included the creation of a legacy fund to support educational initiatives.