Little Bits of History

Uniting

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 2, 2014
Albert “Ginger” Goodwin

Albert “Ginger” Goodwin

August 2, 1918: The first general strike in Canadian history takes place in Vancouver. The 1918 Vancouver General Strike was a planned one-day event. It was a political protest against the killing of draft evader an labor activist, Albert “Ginger” Goodwin. There were about 300 men protesting and they were met by soldiers recently returned from combat. The confrontation took place at the Labour Temple at 411 Dunsmuir Street. The protesters ransacked the offices of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council and attacked the Council’s secretary, Victor Midgely. A woman working in the office was injured when she came to Midgely’s aid as the protestors attempted to throw him out a window.

The general strike had been called for the entire province, but only in Vancouver did people actually participate in enough numbers to be noticed. Other strikes were also held in Vancouver that year and this was as much to show the strength of labor as for any other reasons. War-time inflation had seriously diminished the purchasing power of wages. The men were also outraged by profiteering from World War I while men of their own standing were simply used as cannon fodder. The realization that labor was able to make a statement was profound and although the strike didn’t cause much of a reform, it did lead to the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Vancouver’s sympathy strike in support of Winnipeg’s strike was the longest general strike in Canadian history.

Goodwin was born in Treeton, England in 1887. He was a coal miner and arrived at Vancouver Island in 1910. He worked at the Cumberland mines but was not happy with management’s disregard for the workers. Goodwin began to organize workers and demand their rights be acknowledged. He was the force behind the formation of several trade unions and became a prominent leader of both social improvements as well as labor concerns. Goodwin had been a pacifist but did sign up for the draft. He was given a medical deferral. He led a strike at the Trail lead/zinc smelter in 1917 which was hoping to achieve a standard eight-hour workday. While striking, he was notified that his medical deferral had been changed and he was now “fit for duty.” He fled into the Cumberland bush, successfully hiding for several months.

He died suddenly on July 27, 1918 from a single gunshot wound to the head. The cause of death seems undisputed. Dominion Police Special Constable Dan Campbell fired the shot, but claims it was in self-defense. There are those who supported Goodwin who claim he was murdered to stop the proliferation of trade unions. Goodwin was given a large funeral with attendees claiming the procession was a mile long. His death sparked this general strike. In the 1980s, interest in his life’s work was examined and in 1986 Miners’ Memorial Day was held. The now annual event was organized by the Cumberland Museum and Archives and celebrates Goodwin and the 295 miners who have died in various accidents over the years.

The general strike has taught the working class more in four days than years of talking could have done. – Arthur Balfour

Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought! – Helen Keller

If workers are more insecure, that’s very ‘healthy’ for the society, because if workers are insecure, they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. – Noam Chomsky

I’m from a working-class background, and I’ve experienced that worry of not having a job next week because the unions are going on strike. – Annie Lennox

Also on this day: Counting – In 1790, the US conducts the first census.
Who’s Calling? – In 1835, Elisha Gray was born.
PT-109 – In 1943, John Kennedy’s boat sank.
It’s Hot at Summerland – In 1973, Summerland caught fire.

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