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.

Episodes

April 30, 2024 30 mins

A 1966 wildcat strike* by 400 mostly women members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) at Lenkurt Electric in Burnaby, BC was a turning point for the province's labour movement. This was a time when courts and police routinely jailed and fined union members during labour disputes, and Canadian members of international unions were demanding more autonomy.

The story of the Lenkurt Electric str...

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This episode features two larger than life historical figures: Harvey Murphy, regional director of the International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers Union and Paul Robeson, Black American superstar known around the world for his powerful singing voice and a fearless crusader for peace, universal justice and an end to racial discrimination in the United States. 

This was the cold war era, and the US government had Robeson pegg...

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We celebrate the life of Tatsuro 'Buck' Suzuki, who spent his life advocating for the West Coast fishing community, first as a young liaison between Japanese Canadians and an industry dominated by Whites, then as a strong trade unionist, and finally, as an early environmental activist, fighting to protect salmon habitat. 

 Included are recordings of Buck Suzuki  made by the City of Richmond Archives in the 1970s, a few yea...

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In this episode of On the Line, we present a compelling tale of British Columbia's Diana Kilmury, a bold and fearless truck driver who became immersed in the murky male dominated world of the Teamsters Union back in the days when women behind the wheel of big trucks were as scarce as generous employers. She took on both sexist attitudes on the job and a union that was then, in the United States, riddled by corruption, with a t...

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This episode chronicles the exploits of someone who made a huge contribution to the early organizing efforts of the International Woodworkers of America and campaigned relentlessly for justice for South Asians like himself during the 1940s. That man is Darshan Singh Sangha. Yet few British Columbians outside the province's large South Asian community know anything about him. It's a captivating story that stretches from th...

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We look at the valiant efforts during the 1980s by B.C.'s unionized building trades to fight off the anti-union Social Credit government determined to break their hold on major construction projects in the province.  It all came to a head in the run-up to Vancouver's World's Fair—Expo 86—and the building of the fair itself.

Cheered on by fanatical anti-union contractors, the provincial government wanted to o...

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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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This edition of On the Line takes note of Indigenous History Month in June with a different aspect of BC's Indigenous history: one that is  not very well known. We examine the contribution of Indigenous workers to the port of Vancouver, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, largely through the voices of those who worked the waterfront - and it's a union story, too. In 1906, the independent Lumber Handlers Un...

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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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