For the past 5 years, Marxists organized around the paper, Fightback, have taken upon themselves to reclaim the revolutionary tradition of the Miners’ Memorial Day weekend in Cumberland. Again this year, Fightback supporters were the only visibly organized youth contingent, with 5 comrades from Vancouver, one from Victoria, two American comrades from Portland, and one from Montreal present. For us youth, the commemoration of Ginger Goodwin’s death is not merely a day to remember the sacrifices made by Ginger Goodwin. It is an opportunity to look back at the rich history of the BC labour movement and to draw a lesson from it; for those who don’t understand the past cannot own the future.
This year Miners’ Memorial Day took place against the background of a crisis in the BC forest industry. Thousands of jobs have been lost, as mills across BC have been closed down at an alarming rate. This crisis is somewhat reflected by the lower attendance of this year’s memorial compared to last year. A nearby mill was closed down this year and as a result, a thousand jobs were lost. Mill workers who attended last year’s memorial were nowhere to be seen this year.
Reclaiming The Revolutionary Tradition of Miners’ Memorial Day
Comrade Kevil Bell from the Retail Workers Union spoke on behalf of Fightback, outlining the turbulent period in which we are living now: “90 years later, we are faced with similar circumstances as Ginger and Joe (Naylor) faced. Imperialist war, demands for greater productivity and wage concessions in a time of increasing cost of living; revolution, this time in Venezuela, and a growing awareness of the need for internationalism in solving the crisis facing the working class.” Closer to home, Kevin didn’t fail to mention “another anti-worker thug named Campbell and his Liberal government who attack us with the carbon tax…and poverty wages.”
Kevin ended his speech with a rallying cry: “Let us take up his struggle and carry it forward to victory, for it is our struggle”, which received a huge applause. Fightback’s supporters didn’t forget to lay flowers on Joe Naylor’s grave, just a few steps away from Ginger’s. Despite his enormous contribution to Canada’s labour movement, Joe Naylor always appears as a footnote to his best friend and protégé, Ginger Goodwin. A small metal plaque with an inscription “Joe Naylor, 1872-1946” was all that marked his grave until 1997 when a rock marker with a brass plaque and a poem was dedicated to him.
The ceremony then continued with a short march to “Miners’ Lane” nearby. Roses were laid on the graves of the many miners who died because of the dangerous working conditions in the mines. Fightback comrades then ended the ceremony by gathering around Ginger’s grave and continued the tradition of singing the “Internationale.”.
Reds in The Woods: A Socialist Conference
“Reds in The Woods” is an annual socialist conference started 2 years ago by Fightback. It is organized to coincide with the Miner’s Memorial Day and has been held by Comox Lake. This year, three workshops were organized: on the B.C economy, “What is Socialism?”, and “Common Front General Strike 1972”.
John Haggerty opened the conference with his workshop on the B.C. economy. He outlined the boom in the BC forest industry, which was spurred by a speculative housing boom in US. Now that the housing bubble has burst, the forest industry in B.C. has been hit hard. Mills across northern B.C. were closed down at an alarming rate. Thousands and thousands of jobs were lost. While the capitalists were crying crocodile tears, citing how they were also losing profits as a result of this economic downturn – forgetting to mention the hundreds of millions of profit they have made during the boom – the workers who didn’t equally benefit during the boom now face a bleak future. This crisis in the housing industry is extremely ironic because the very workers who built these houses and produced the timber to do so, now are faced with the inability to put a roof over their own heads. John pointed out that the problem isn’t just the bursting of the U.S. housing market; the problem is the anarchy of capitalist system. The solution: a democratically planned economy where forest industry is planned accordingly with the housing industry and other construction industry so that we can provide universal housing for all.
Vancouver trade union activist, Brent MacVivar, gave the second workshop on “What is Socialism?” Brent presented a thorough explanation on what is and what is not socialism. This workshop is ever more relevant as we are now seeing a new interest in the idea of socialism amongst youth and workers. With the revolution unfolding in Venezuela and Latin America, the idea of socialism has been revived with the phrase “Socialism of the 21st century” as it was coined by Chavez. This has led to hundreds of intellectuals racing each other to give a new content to this socialism. However, what seems to be a new content is actually a mere regurgitation of old discredited ideas of utopian socialism, reformism, and social democracy which have been answered by Rosa Luxembourg (amongst many other great Marxist figures) in her monumental work: Reform or Revolution.
Ted Sprague, a comrade from Montreal, gave the third workshop entitled “Common Front General Strike 1972”, an account of the most historic general strike in Quebec where 300,000 workers in Quebec downed their tools, occupied factories, seized radio stations, and brought towns under workers’ control. This workshop also touched on the history of the national question in Quebec, which is vital to understanding the social movement in Quebec. The 1972 Common Front shows how the Quebec workers’ class instinctively cut across the thick layer of national question, and it will do so again as we enter a turbulent period of capitalist crisis.
The Task at Hand
Some 90 years ago, Goodwin lived through a period of turbulence. Capitalism just witnessed its first world war and in the great land of Russia, the Bolsheviks carried out the first socialist revolution that changed the course of human history. Today, we are seeing a revolutionary period being prepared again and this time it will be more turbulent than ever. The brave masses of Venezuela have paved the way forward for the working class around the world. The task at hand is clear, now it is time to act with a clear idea of Marxism, the only materialist conception of history that can lead the working class to socialism which will bring “the new age with its blossoms of economic freedom, happiness and joy for the world’s workers.”