On the Line: Stories of BC Workers

On the Line: Stories of BC Workers

Canadian labour history storytelling podcast, produced by volunteers & staff of the BC Labour Heritage Centre on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) territories. Hosted by labour reporter & author Rod Mickleburgh.


April 5, 2023 19 mins

This episode highlights a remarkable but relatively unknown chapter of working-class solidarity. While waves of sympathy strikes to support the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike took place across Canada, the most pronounced of these was in Vancouver, B.C. Even after workers returned to their jobs, 325 women telephone operators stayed out for another two weeks.

This was a time of unsurpassed working-class consciousness and resis...

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 A five-month long strike in 1918-1919 by Vancouver laundry workers, most of whom were women, is told through the words of one of its leaders. Ellen Goode began working in a steam laundry at 15, toiling over 10 hours a day, sometimes 60 hours a week. She and her fellow workers formed a union in 1918. In September 1918 they went on strike.  Supported by the rest of the union movement in Vancouver, they gave as good as they got, goin...

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This is the inspiring tale of a group of dedicated individuals who took up the cause of BC’s Fraser Valley Farmworkers who toiled in dreadful, unregulated conditions in the 1970s and ‘80s. It is a saga with death and violence and courageous union organizing. Drawing upon interviews from the University of the Fraser Valley’s South Asian Institute Union Zindabad! Project, led by the BC Labour Heritage Centre, we hear from those who s...

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September 20, 2022 23 mins

This episode looks at the grim toll taken by exposure to carcinogenic fibres of asbestos.  Because it often takes decades for diseases such as mesothelioma  - a cancer caused by asbestos exposure - to develop, its legacy is ongoing.  We’ve known about these dangers for decades, yet the widespread use of asbestos continued long after its lethal properties were beyond dispute. It routinely found its way into a startling range of cons...

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In 2019, former members of the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) along with community historians opened the IWA Archive in Lake Cowichan BCLocated at the Kaatza Station Museum, the IWA Archive is near the home of the first IWA local in the province. The Museum also houses the fabulous Wilmer Gold Photo Collection.

The founding convention of the IWA took place in Tacoma Washington in 1937. Its first President ...

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May 9, 2022 40 mins

The workers at the lead-zinc smelter in Trail, British Columbia have a long history of overcoming formidable obstacles to unionization. Contentious politics, a company union and two World Wars are some of the issues discussed in this episode. 

 We talk to Ron Verzuh whose new book Smelter Wars: A Rebellious Red Trade Union Fights for its Life in Wartime Western Canada  (University of Toronto Press, 2022) has just been published. We ...

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As Black History Month comes to a close, On the Line marks the occasion with a fascinating look back at the history of train sleeping car porters, almost all of whom were Black. It's a story that has only recently started to be told, and combines the history of Black employment in Canada, unionization and the fight for dignity and equality. 

 We examine those long lost days mostly through the voice of Warren Williams, whose Unc...

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Featuring archival audio interviews and labour songs of the time, this episode examines the so-called "Dirty Thirties" or "The Great Depression" and the forced labour relief camps the Federal Government of Canada set up in response. We include a special focus on a little known relief camp that was a mere hop, skip and a jump from downtown Vancouver, BC, in North Vancouver. This is the story of the Blair Rifle Ra...

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An epic confrontation just before WWII between mine workers fighting for justice and an arrogant company with authorities in their hip pocket. This is the story that has come to be known as The Battle of Blubber Bay.
Once a whaling station on Texada Island, Blubber Bay, British Columbia was home to an enormous open-pit limestone mine on the north end of the island. Starting just after the turn of the century, workers - many of ...

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The small community of Armstrong, BC, just north of Vernon in the province's Interior, was once "the Celery Capital of Canada". Armstrong's early agricultural success owes much to the hard working Chinese immigrants who cultivated the city's fertile bottomlands. As many as 500 Chinese labourers lived in huts and bunkhouses in Chinatown in the winter, growing crops including celery, cabbage, lettuce and pota...

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After a brief summer break, On the Line is back with more BC labour history! In September 1938, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) brought their theatrical musical hit “Pins and Needles” to Vancouver, BC, where it played to glowing reviews. Among the audience were trades union members of all kinds and noted labour artist Fraser Wilson.

The cast were all ILGWU members from New York garment factories, or as The Pro...

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June is Indigenous History Month in Canada, and this year, the country has been rocked by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children who attended residential school over the decades. This edition of On the Line takes note of Indigenous History month with a different aspect of BC's Indigenous history: one that is not tragic, and not very well known. We examine the contribution of Indigenous workers to t...

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May is Asian Heritage Month; last month was Sikh Heritage Month. Both groups are justly celebrated for their contributions to the fabric of BC. At the same time, they also suffered many years of exploitation and discrimination, much of it in the workplace. For many reasons, including the racist policies of many unions, they were very hard to organize - but one union, the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), met the challenge...

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April 28th marks Canada's annual Day of Mourning. Of course, industrial accidents are not the only risk workers face; occupational diseases, brought on by hazardous workplace conditions, have also claimed a terrible toll. One of the worst has been silicosis, a coating of the lungs by deadly silica dust inhaled by generations of hard-rock miners. To mark this month's Day of Mourning, we bring you the story of Bea Zucco: a ...

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In 1974, years before other Canadian unions won maternity leave benefits in collective agreements, the Association of University & College Employees (AUCE) Local 1 at the University of BC (UBC) made history. In its first collective agreement, UBC clerical and library workers achieved contract language that provided fully funded maternity leave for its members. It was a breakthrough not just for workers at UBC, but for families ...

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In this episode, we look back one hundred years to Valentine's Day, 1921. On that traditional day of romance, a group of courageous public school teachers in New Westminster, BC did the unthinkable: they went on strike. Their walkout had a lasting, positive impact on teachers across the province for years to come. There would not be another strike by a teachers local in the province for 53 years. This is their story.
What ...

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January 5, 2021 23 mins

From the 1870's on, the coal miners of Vancouver Island had fought strike after strike to force the hardnosed coal barons to recognize a union. Thanks to strikebreakers, blacklists, anti-union courts and the forces of so-called law and order, they lost them all. Finally, in 1911, the miners invited in the tough, experienced and deep-pocketed United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) to make one last all-out attempt to bring the min...

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November 2, 2020 30 mins

On July 19, 1983, members of the BC Government and Service Employees Union, better known as the BCGEU, learned that the large Tranquille Institution in Kamloops, British Columbia would be shut down. For the 600 BCGEU members at the site, many of whom had worked with the residents for years, this was simply unacceptable. They decided to take matters into their own hands.

A hand-painted union flag was raised, locks were changed, ...

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October 5, 2020 23 mins

Nearly 90 years ago, in the dark years of the Great Depression, union membership and the number of strikes in B.C. fell dramatically; but every now and then, against all odds, workers took a stand. It happened in September 1931 at the Fraser Mills Lumber plant on the shores of the Fraser River in Maillardville, now part of Coquitlam. A diverse group of rank-and-file workers set aside their racial divisions and came together to figh...

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September 3, 2020 31 mins

At the annual Miners Memorial Weekend held in Cumberland, British Columbia each June, participants lay roses at the grave of the famous labour martyr Ginger Goodwin. Nearby his distinctive headstone, almost unnoticed, is a simple metal plate affixed to a stone.
This modest marker identifies the grave of coal miner Joe Naylor (1872-1946), an unsung hero of the labour movement and both comrade and mentor to Ginger Goodwin. A soc...

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