Tuesday, September 06, 2005

My Labour Day: Trail to Solidarity

TRAIL, B.C. –Yesterday was, as you know, Labour Day. For the three of us on The Caravan, Natasha Aziz, our technical genius, Sue Campbell, the Captain of the Caravan (this was all her idea) and me this has been a most unusual Labour Day.

Normally, today would have marked the first broadcast of the new season. Our thoughts would have been about launching the show in a big way. And I bet we would not have been thinking about the meaning of Labour Day beyond it being the last stat holiday of the summer. This Labour Day was different.

We were in Trail, B.C., home of mines, pulp and paper mills and the world's largest lead-zinc smelter. In other words, working people live here. Right now, two union locals, Locals #480 and #9705 of The Steelworkers, are on strike against Teck Cominco, owner of the smelter.

About 1,300 people are out of work. They are production workers, technical and clerical employees. Representatives of the locals are speaking at the rally. And so is one of the MLA's for the area, Katrine Conroy (Kootenay-Boundary).

I am led to the stage by the woman who billeted us the night before in nearby Castlegar, Laurel Walton. Laurel introduces me to the M.C. from the Steelworkers Union, whom, I believe, is its president, Doug Jones. Doug asks me my name again and I offer to introduce myself.

"No," he says. "I know there are 5,500 employees locked out of their jobs at the CBC. We're happy to have you here with us today."

I feel a number of things when I get up to the mic. I am a white-collar worker speaking to a blue-collar gathering. And I am from urban Canada and this is a small place.

Big city girl or not, I have already learned this area has a history of labour activism. The night before, Laurel's husband Keith has told me about Ginger Goodwin, a miner turned activist, who led a strike at the Trail smelter in 1917 for the eight-hour day. I confess I know next to nothing about him, even though I have enjoyed the benefits of his fight since I was 16 in my first job – in a hospital washing bedpans, something you don't really want to do for more than eight hours a day.

Blue and white collar differences don't seem to matter today. It's more about what all of us gathered in the square have in common. That is, we all want to get back to work and to be respected by our employers. And, in essence, that is what I say. That and what a connection this white collar worker feels to them this Labour Day.

When I step down from the stage in Trail, Corky Evans, the MLA for Nelson-Creston goes up to the podium. Corky talks about Ginger Goodwin and his crusade. Corky is charming in a folksy way, but clearly he has political savvy. Half way through, he knocks his speech to the ground and he just keeps barrelling through with no notes, which the crowd loves.

Then there's a parade and we go past a Trail Hall of Fame – honoured inside are (more labour connections) Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress and Tom d'Aquino, head of the Business Council on National Issues!

The parade ends at the arena and if you look up, way up, up the hill, you'll see the smelter.

At the end of the parade, on old man comes up to me to say hello. He is Buddy de Vito, Mayor of Trail from 1967 to 1973. Buddy was part of a large Italian community in Trail whose families came here in the late 1800's to work the mines, in the smelter, or to build the railway. More history I didn't know. He talked about a time when the employees of Teck respected – and had respect – from their employer. And how he's seen it change.

The last thing he says to me is, "It's all shit, Shelagh."

Well, it hasn't felt like shit this morning, Buddy. In fact, this is the best I've felt in three weeks. And it has something to do with that old labour word: solidarity.

It feels like we're all in this together. My colleagues across the country, like the employees at Telus, locked out of the jobs they love to do, jobs that pay for their kids back-to-school clothes and supplies, for their mortgages – for the necessities. Your friends, Buddy, fighting for what they believe is a better way.

This could have been a real bummer of a day. Instead, in the company of the people at the Trail Labour Day rally and parade, there's real dignity in this day.

And no one can take that away from you – unless you let them.

- Shelagh

We encourage you to use the blog comment feature below to pass on your thoughts and/or you can write Shelagh while she’s on the road at: shelaghscaravan@yahoo.ca

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Blogger Gary said...

You said it Shelagh! Dignity and solidarity cannot be diminished. I wonder if any truly great institution or breakthrough for freedom and rights has every occurred without a fight?

Go sister go!

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Homer in Saskatchewan said...

I am so thrilled to find your PodCasts! This is so great - I can listen to your wonderfully candid program when I need a CBC -unplugged fix.

I wish you all the best with your Caravan Unlocked.

Thanks for the PodCasts!

7:43 PM  
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