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a loaded revolver next to his hand.


return to the dirty thirties

To the Editor:

At the end of the second world war, Canadian servicemen returned home to a jubilant and grateful nation. Before the war many of these young men could not find work. Those that had jobs were referred to disdainfully as "working stiffs". Few had any respect shown them.

Now, as they returned victorious, they were greeted as heroes. Proud and confident, these men would never again submit to the degradation that was the "dirty thirties" The province entered a long period of expansion. There was lots of work, and wages and conditions were improving. As the industrial base developed, a strong and vigorous union movement grew. People felt optimistic about the future. A working man could afford to buy a house. B.C. was a happy and prosperous place. But the war has been over for fifty seven years. Few of the old heroes are left, and memories of their deeds grow dim. Now things are coming full circle, and Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals are dismantling social services, attacking unions, the poor, and the elderly at an alarming rate. They seem bent on driving workers conditions back to where they were in the hungry thirties.

Back then, there were "relief" camps (no U.I., no welfare, no W.C.B.) where the unemployed could get a bowl of porridge, a cot in a tent, a little tobacco and ten cents a day. To earn this bounty, they had to work ten hours a day with pick and shovel. Little Qualicum Falls Park is one example of a facility that was built by relief gangs.

There was a loggers strike on Vancouver Island in 1934. My father was one of the participants. Loggers assembled in Parksville, then marched across the island to Port Alberni. The event was well organized and peaceful and parade marshalls kept the marchers in an orderly column. But this protest struck fear in the hearts of the employers. All the way to Port Alberni, the marching loggers were flanked by a force of armed security goons, skulking in the woods along the roadside. Until his death some fifty years later, my father regarded these "Pinkertons", as he called them, with loathing and disgust.

The marchers arrived in Port Alberni without incident, to be met by the mayor, who climbed onto the back of a truck to read these men the "Riot Act". The poor man was terrified, but the loggers only demanded a meeting with the company bosses. This was arranged, but when the committee entered the company office, they found the boss sitting behind his desk with a loaded revolver next to his hand.

Hard times indeed.

For his part in the organization of this protest, my father found himself on the "blacklist". He did not get another decent job until the war, when the shipyards needed crane operators for the war effort. He worked there until his retirement in 1969.

If you guessed that I was raised in a pro-labour environment, you are correct. I have been a union member for forty eight years. The events related here have happened in my lifetime. Few people these days are aware of the oppression and intimidation that took place here not that long ago.

We need to remember how bad things were to ensure that they never happen again.

The employer deserves a good days work for a good days pay, but to trust our welfare to the benevolence of the corporate sector without the protection of a union contract would be folly, and we would soon find ourselves reliving the bad old days.

The Campbell government has taken dead aim at all working people in this province to benefit his multinational pals. In doing so, he has betrayed the trust of the electorate that put him in office. Recall the scoundrel and the rest of the "B.C. Liberals" who are too spineless to oppose this agenda of madness and destruction.

Vance Ponsford
Vancouver, B.C.



The Columbia Journal
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Canada V6B 3W8
Phone: 604-266-6552 Fax: 604-267-3342
Web: www.columbiajournal.ca
E-mail: cjournal@axion.net