Today in labor history: first general strike in Canada held

ginger sign

The first general strike in Canadian history was held in Vancouver on this day in 1918, organized as a 1-day political protest against the killing of draft evader and labor activist Albert "Ginger" Goodwin, who had called for a general strike in the event that any worker was drafted against his will.  Goodwin migrated from England to Canada and found work in the Cumberland mines; arriving on Vancouver Island in late 1910. He became a labor union activist and organizer after experiencing the lousy working conditions and the bosses disregard of workers.

In 1916, Goodwin moved to Trail, British Columbia, where he worked as a "smelterman" for the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited. He then entered politics and ran as a candidate of the Socialist Party of Canada in Trail's "provincial election of 1916." On Dec. 18, 1916, Goodwin was elected "full-time secretary" of the Trail Mill and Smeltermen's Union. The following year he was elected vice-president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, and president of both the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, District 6 and the Trail Trades and Labour Council.

Goodwin was a conscientious objector of World War I, openly stating his disdain that the working class were now being employed to kill each other; in war. Goodwin complied with the law and signed up for the draft, but was not conscripted after a medical examination found him temporarily unfit for military duty; saying he suffered "black lung" and bad teeth. Shortly after, Goodwin led a strike at the Trail lead/zinc smelter in 1917; bargaining for a standard eight-hour workday. Amidst the strike, Goodwin was notified that his temporary status had been changed and that he was now "fit for duty".

As a pacifist opposed to the war, Goodwin fled conscription into the Cumberland bush where he avoided capture for some months; with the aid of his fellow workers from Cumberland. Hunted by the police for evading the draft, Goodwin camped in the hills surrounding Cumberland. On July 27, 1918, he was shot and killed by a hired private cop Dan Campbell. Campbell, who claimed he fired in self-defense, was never tried for the death.

His remains are buried in the Cumberland cemetery: nearby, a section of the Island Highway has been named "Ginger Goodwin Way." He won't be forgotten.

 

 

 

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