Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Unwelcome hero of working people

In the preceding article It is an old and cruel tactic, a reader's comment referenced long dead miner Albert 'Ginger' Goodwin. Today, few young adults know this icon of trade unionism but he deserves a more prominent place in the history of our province.

Goodwin had been targeted in 1918, perhaps assassinated, by Canadian military police. The 31 year-old pacifist was accused of dodging conscription although he had been declared unfit for service because of black lung, a common disease of workers exposed to coal dust.

Probably, Goodwin died because he frightened Canada's establishment. Unions had been prohibited in this country until the latter part of the 19th century and the organizations were strongly discouraged for decades after legalization. Goodwin was successful both as a labour organizer and as an anti-war spokesman.

He remained controversial even at the start of the 21st century. A section of the Island Highway near Cumberland had been signed as Ginger Goodwin Way but months after anti-union BC Liberals formed government in 2001, the signs were surreptitiously removed, an action influenced by MLA Stan Hagen.

Saying removal of Goodwin's name from the highway came through an excess of political correctness and ideological zeal, Stephen Hume wrote in The Vancouver Sun:
"The story of Ginger Goodwin is what marketing dreams are made of - - tragedy, mystery, noble purposes, bounty hunters, a posse, a whole town that defied the government to protect a beloved son and then kept his story alive when the authorities tried to rub it out."
Hume noted that government had tried to silence Goodwin's message by killing him. The message was not quieted but today it remains a target of attacks orchestrated by agents of unfettered capitalism. These sponsors are the modern day equivalents of James Dunsmuir, the province's wealthiest resident in Ginger Goodwin's day. The Dunsmuirs grew wealthy partly by employing Chinese mine workers in deadly labour at half the wages of white men. Dunsmuir entered politics - briefly serving as BC Premier - to protect the supply of cheap Asian labour.

Susan Mayse wrote the book GINGER: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF ALBERT GOODWIN. BC writer and arts consultant Max Wyman called it:
"A vivid, carefully researched evocation of the circumstances of Goodwin's death."
Wyman noted that BC's mines were rated among the world's most dangerous and Goodwin was a man committed to improving those deadly conditions.

Book author Mayse says Goodwin was
"a revolutionary socialist, very outspoken about the Canadian government - vocal, eloquent, aggressive and charismatic. So from the government's point of view, he was a threat."
The threat was thought real by those who worried the 1917 Russian Revolution might spread to other nations. Days after Goodwin's death, Vancouver experienced Canada's first ever general strike.
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11 comments:

  1. I was aware of Ginger Goodwin and the shady circumstances of his (summary execution) death.
    When the new Island Highway had a section named after him I saw this as a just reminder for everyone. I was blissfully unaware that his name had been removed - more shame for the (so called) BC Liberals and especially for Stan Hagen; my goodness, these people are vindictive.
    Susan Mayse also did a CBC ideas show, which preceded her book, if I recall correctly, although I am unable to find an actual link.

    Craigdarroch Castle, Robert Dunsmuir's enduring monument is a few blocks away from me in Victoria. It is justly ironic that Dunsmuir died before he could move in to enjoy his ostentatious spoils, built on the backs of exploited workers.

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  2. My husband is from a Vancouver Island coal mining family. They arrived in Nanaimo on the Tory in 1858 and were immediately sent to Fort Rupert by HBC. This book should be required reading in BC, as should attendance at Miners Memorial Day every June in Cumberland.

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  3. J Dunsmuir was the epitome of a modern day capitalist, in the event of a mining accident James demanded the mules should be saved first over the miners, because the mules cost money. James was also quick to blame mining accidents on his workers, rather than accept any blame for his lack of regard. If you were a miner's widow you were expected to move out of the miners cabins quickly so that a new miner could move in and be put to work as soon as possible.

    Ginger, well, he didn't stand a chance.

    Drop by the Cumberland Museum for some history on both Dunsmuir and Goodwin.

    K

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  4. G. Barry StewartJuly 18, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    It should be one of the early moves by the next government to get Ginger's name back on the street name.

    In fact, I'm surprised that the people of Cumberland didn't take matters into their own hands. When I was researching northern Ontario, I came across the town of "Swastika." It was named after the Swastika gold mine, that was staked in 1907... when Hitler was only 18 and hadn't subverted the original South Asian symbol.

    Come WWII, the Canadian government had a problem with the town's name.

    This, from Wikipedia: "During World War II the provincial government sought to change the town's name to Winston in honour of Winston Churchill, but the town refused, insisting that the town had held the name long before the Nazis co-opted the swastika symbol (卐). Residents of Swastika used to tell the story of how the Ontario Department of Highways would erect new signs on the roads at the edge of the town. At night the residents would tear these signs down and put up their own signs proclaiming the town to be "Swastika".[citation needed]"

    The name stands today — just as Ginger's name should.

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  5. Unionism suffered a near fatal blow back in the 80s when Jack Munro ended a province wide general strike with what many consider was a sellout sweetheart deal.

    Big business have plans 20 years into the future on how they will destroy organized labour, Wisconsin being a good example.
    Its time for Unions and their leaders to grow some balls and get in the game.Educating them on the likes of Goodwin and the Hamilton Steel Workers contract would be a good start.


    People up in Cumberland should put up a bill board with a picture of Ginger Goodwin with a statement beneath along the lines of "Who murdered Ginger Goodwin".

    As for Stan Hogan, it might be fair for someone to piss on his grave every couple of years or so,post it on u tube to commemorate his lack of respect, and to stir up the Chamber of Commerce types and re-educate people on just what these free enterprise parties stand for.

    CGHZD

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  6. If you do not stop the BC Liberal "disease" now...Wisconsin is what you end up with. Unbridled ego's lead to a corruption of ideals, people are the "real" problem. People like Dunsmuir, think they know, when if fact all they know is, how to use greed and manipulation for their own ends.

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  7. If someone sent this article to Gregor, I bet he'd consider changing Dunsmuir Street to Ginger Goodman Way!

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  8. The "Free Enterprise Coalition" equates to corruption, graft, kleptocracy and malfeasance.

    Get the jail cells ready, for a "new" class of inmate. Set an example and we hopefully, won't get a repeat performance, of the past 11 years.

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  9. the one thing you won't learn in school is about how unions changed the working conditions for workers & helped them improve their lives. People like Ginger Goodwin gave their lives for the principle of workers' rights.

    Stan Hagen didn't get it & his "fellow travellers" don't either. The mayor of Courtenay, has taken the position there will not be a homeless shelter in the town. Upp, the dogs are better looked after in the Comox Valley than humans.

    Many previously homeless people stay in old trailers at a campground called Maple Pool. The owners have tried to provide a safe place for people who can not afford other housing. What is the majority of council & mayor of Courtenay trying to do? Close it down. That would put at least 50 people with no place to stay. Perhaps council feels they should be living in the hills like Ginger Goodwin did.

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  10. My daughter just received a cheque for $2700 from my partners union. This represents 50% cost of last years tuition fees. What a great benefit provided by a group of working people, paid for by 10cents an hour. This makes such a hugh difference to her as it is so difficult to come up with the money for an education. She is working two jobs this summer, putting in 12-13 hour days and this little collective action by fellow workers seems like a miracle to her and she is so grateful. There is always a time when you receive benefits, and then later on a time when you give into those benefits. What a great example of caring and helping those in your fellow community. I would much rather be represented by leaders who believe in this type of community spirit then our current bunch of individualists where you scam as much as you can from everyone else and then use it to beat them over the head with it.

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  11. Scotty on DenmanJuly 20, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    Yes, too few young people today know much about Ginger Goodwin; but if anybody is to learn about the legendary "Workers' Friend" who was shot under suspicious circumstances in the hills behind Cumberland in 1918, it's because fellow trade unionists keep his memory alive by gathering annually by his grave, and by the folklorists and musicians who still tell his story in verse and song. Ironically, some of the most effective preservationists of Goodwin's story have been those who attempted to erase him from history; they've succeeded in rounding out an enduring saga that contrasts clearly the noble cause with petty vindictiveness. As recently as 1990, author Susan Mayse noted how thoroughly Goodwin's story had been expunged from official records; further, lingering controversy around Goodwin's killing was recently illustrated in a Comox Valley newspaper where the word "shot" was airbrushed from a photo of his epitaph ( it reads: "Lest We Forget Ginger Goodwin Shot July 26th 1918 A Workers [sic] Friend".)
    Most recent refreshment of Goodwin's story was the late MLA Stan Hagen's vendetta against the labour leader's memory, gloating as he removed the sign dedicating a section of the new Inland Highway "Ginger Goodwin Way" the moment the BC Liberals won the election, spouting ultra-partisan vitriol about a man killed almost a quarter century before he himself was born. In a sort of grand slam of ironies, Hagen not only besmirched his wife's vocation as historian by substituting fact with chauvinism in his attack on Goodwin's character, he raised, instead of erasing, Ginger's profile, inspiring poets and songwriters to include a new chapter in the saga, adding to the many existing commemorative tunes one might hear at the many labour-movement celebrations around the province, including the penultimate Goodwin memorial during Miner Days in Cumberland. The most poignant of ironies, however, is that, by speaking ill of the dead, Hagen, himself now deceased, will be remembered in part, no matter whatever else good he'd accomplished, for his spiteful pettiness in spoiling Goodwin's eponymous chunk of union-built highway.

    I must add a personal anecdote: back when Stan was a Socred MLA, I returned home from camp to find a new highway sign (this on the treacherous old island highway--the much-needed inland highway wasn't built until the NDP became government): "Welcome To Hagen Country" with the Socred wavy-BC flag logo below it, installed at the entrance to the City of Courtenay. I complained to Elections BC in an open letter to the editor that, there not being an election campaign at the time, Hagen must remove his sign from the otherwise non-partisan venue of the Queen's highway. The sign was immediately removed but I did receive weeks of vitriolic telephone response from overly-sensitive Socred supporters (fortunately, by this time I was back in camp and my housemate had to field the calls) As I penned the lyrics to a song called "Ginger Goodwin Way" just a few years ago, I couldn't help but wonder if this little episode might have had anything to do with Hagen's misplaced revenge on Ginger Goodwin and unionized workers who built the Inland Highway. He would have had to hold a grudge for over thirteen years before he was returned as a BC Liberal, but, hey, he held a grudge against a man who died decades before he was born. I kinda doubt I was that important to Stan Hagen. Still, if that's my only connection with the Workers' Friend, no matter how remote, I'm proud of it.

    The question remains, now that Stan is gone (RIP) and the BC Liberals appear doomed, would it be appropriate to re-erect Goodwin's highway sign? I know to me and many others it really doesn't matter; that chunk of highway will always be Ginger Goodwin Way, always was, always will be, sign or no. Thank you, Stan.

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