BC union women fight racism in fishing industry

Published by BC Labour Heritage Centre on

Photo: The Fisherman, Sept 7 1954 p1 – See below for original photo caption.

In the summer of 1954, racist signs on the women’s washrooms at the Namu fish cannery divided the facilities between “Whites” and “Natives”. They had been there for years, but despite demands from both the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU) and the Native Brotherhood of BC (NBBC), management took no action.

In August, the workers did. In a joint meeting of first nations and white workers, the 154 members voted unanimously to do away with the signs and proceeded to do so. It was a small step in the long march to overcome racism and ethnic divisions in BC’s fishing industry.

The boat in the photo is the Texada, a fish packer run by BC Packers, travelling between Namu and Bella Coola. UFAWU tendermen were on strike at the time. BC Packers got agreement from the striking tendermen to make a special trip so the Bella Coola women who had come to Namu to work could return home for the duration of the strike. The women brought with them the objectionable signs they had earlier removed from the cannery washrooms.

The original caption on this photo: – ALL FRIENDS TOGETHER. Shop stewards at Namu, UFAWU and Native Brotherhood, hold up to ridicule signs labelled “Whites” and “Natives” they took down from cannery washrooms last month. From left to right the quartette holding the unwanted signs are Mrs. Mary Hall, Native Brotherhood, Marilyn Fredericksen, UFAWU; Mrs. Kitty Carpenter, Native Brotherhood, Mervene Beagle, UFAWU. That’s Bill Rigby in the left hand corner. Scene was aboard the “Texada” when the girls gathered for a sendoff to the Bella Coola Cannery girls during the tendermen’s strike. Incidentally, the Bella Coola girls returned a few days later.

  • Prepared by Donna Sacuta, Executive Director, BC Labour Heritage Centre, updated October 2020

With thanks to: Sean Griffin, David Yorke and Nick Carr.