May Day 2018 – Report from the GMB

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For the first time in many years, our branch was invited to be on the organizing committee for the May Day march in Vancouver this year, along with members of several other unions including the HEU, BCGEU, ILWU, and UFCW. We were happy to participate, and glad to see the more traditional unions in Vancouver reaching out to us.

The march itself came together fairly smoothly, with the event logistics getting sorted out in a timely manner by an active and competent organizing committee. The ILWU in particular provided some great resources, including a flatbed trailer with a PA system that allowed speakers to deliver their speeches while the march was underway.

Between 2pm and 3pm on the afternoon of May 1st, contingents from various labour and political groups filtered into Jack Poole Plaza, the starting point for the march. The crowd was a mixed bag of union members and leftist activist groups, but members of traditional unions were the largest contingent by far.

By the time the march began, around 200 people were present. While smaller than we had hoped, it was enough to give the march a decent street presence once it was underway. Given that this is the first May Day march in the new location under a new organizational structure, we’re optimistic that it will continue to grow over the years ahead.

There were several speeches given over the course of the march, including a kickoff address from the president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, an excellent speech on the exploitation of foreign workers by a member of Migrante, a word on Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis from one of BCGEU’s vice presidents, and a speech on rank-and-file organization and workplace democracy from one of our own branch members.

The march wrapped up with a stop at the Bentall Centre, where an ILWU local 400 member went into the building to deliver a letter from his union to the CEO of the Business Development Bank of Canada (despite the building security attempting to lock us out).

The organizing committee has expressed a commitment to continuing to build this important celebration of International Workers Day into a bigger and bigger event over the next few years, and we look forward to working with our comrades in other unions to make that happen.

A few of our members also went to a panel discussion the evening after the march titled “Who’s Fighting the Bosses?”, put on by Callous Media Collective, a new local group dedicated to raising class consciousness in Vancouver. There was some good discussion at the event, and it sounds like the group is going to put on more events of this nature in the future, which we’re excited to participate in.

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Film screening: Goodwin’s Way

Please join us Friday, February 10th for a screening of Goodwin’s Way, co-hosted by the SFU Labour Studies Student Union
Saturday, Feb 10
Fletcher Challenger Theatre, SFU Harbour Centre
7pm-10pm
Free

In the town of Cumberland, BC, the legacy of Albert “Ginger” Goodwin, a labour activist who died under suspicious circumstances in 1918, runs deep. In Goodwin’s Way, filmmaker Neil Vokey tells the story of a community connecting with its past in the face of an uncertain future.

Born in England in 1887, Ginger Goodwin began working in the Cumberland mines in 1910. At the time, these were some of the the most dangerous mines in the world, and Goodwin quickly became an outspoke advocate for workers rights. His participation in the 1912-1914 Vancouver Island Coal Miner’s Strike prompted the mine owners to blacklist him, preventing him from working in the industry. In 1916 he moved to Trail, BC, where he became active in the Trail Mill and Smeltermen’s Union, and in 1917 led over 1000 workers to strike for an 8-hour work day.

At the height of the strike, Goodwin was conscripted, despite having perviously been deemed unfit to fight in WWI. After his appeals were denied, Goodwin returned to Cumberland where, helped by members of the community, he attempted to evade conscription.

On July 27, 1918, Goodwin was shot by a lone Provincial Police Constable named Dan Campbell. Goodwin’s death was seen by many of his fellow workers as retribution for his activism, and on August 2, workers in Vancouver staged what is considered Canada’s first general strike to protest his murder.

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Food, Labour and Ecology

By: Jerik Brown (Secretary, IWW Vancouver GMB)

Separating food production from the global commodities market is a key component of, and a crucial first step towards achieving both social and of course ecological sustainability. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba had been relying on sugar cane as a cash crop which they used for trade with Soviet bloc (and a few other) countries in return for food and consumer goods. After the collapse of the USSR, Cubans had to radically reimagine their food production strategies which in the end resulted in possibly the most sustainable food production systems on earth – all this without relying on global trade networks and the flawed logic of comparative advantage and structural adjustment which plagued so many of Cuba’s neighbours during the 80’s and 90’s.From a western, urban perspective however, this means establishing an inclusive and secure culture of urban agriculture and perhaps most importantly, a culture of local eating. Beyond the obvious (hello, climate crises!) steps in this direction help to A) resolve what Marx described as the town/country antithesis and B) develop a sense of social capital among workers who can reconstruct themselves as something like urban farmers (key links in the food and sustainability chain), rather than underutilized wage labourers – alienated from both the process and product of their labour.  For some perspective on this issue, we need to take a step back into the 19th century, where Marx observed that cities and rural communities had between them a kind of metabolism – wherein cities consumed food and other raw materials produced in towns and villages (which despite their importance in the creation of wealth, remain much poorer than cities) and indeed consumed people insofar as peasants were being separated from their means of subsistence by the enclosure movement and advances in agricultural technology etc. and forced to find work in the growing industrial centers of England. While this metabolism is less stark now than it might have been in Marx’s day, it still very much exists: much of the food that is consumed in our cities comes from abroad, and agricultural regions remain an important source of immigration into Canadian cities (e.g. the Punjab and other Asian agricultural regions).  As it stands, the relationships many people have to food production is often mediated through the lens of the McJob which thrive on alienating workers from the process of production through an at times breathtakingly sophisticated division of labour. Equally breathtaking, is of course the veritable omnipresence of fast food advertising and the ubiquitous presence of many of these bands in our collective cultural psyche. All this together goes a long way in terms of deepening unhealthy misconceptions commonly held around food (misconceptions which are of course very profitable!); and indeed the immediate relationships between food, ecology and the environment. Establishing at least some measure of local (and ideally) worker control over what we eat is important and will require the cooperating and coordination of workers at every level of the supply chain – from farms (urban or otherwise) to the grocery store stock room right to the restaurant floor.

There are however a number of organizations which are working to address some of these issues from both the rural, and the urban perspective:

 

 

This post was informed in large part by Paul Burkett’s book “Marx and nature: a red and green perspective”.