February 25, 2016
Charles Demers adapts Jim Green history of Canadian Seamen's Union into staged reading
on February 25th, 2016
Bob Williams and Charles Demers
Canadian history has been marked by class struggles, but nowadays, this is not widely appreciated.
In the 19th and 20th century, company towns were commonplace across the country. Child labour was a fact of life. And it took decades of workers struggling to reduce the length of the working day, gain the right to strike, and obtain other benefits we take for granted today.
One of the flash points was the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, which culiminated in show trials of key organizers. This was covered in North Vancouver historian Daniel Francis's 2010 book Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada's First War on Terror. Another local author who's documented Canadian labour history exceptionally well is SFU historian Mark Leier.
Former Vancouver councillor and long-time housing activist Jim Green also had a keen interest in the struggles of working people. He channelled that into Against the Tide, which was his history of the Canadian Seamen's Union.
The CSU became one of the biggest stories in the country when merchant seamen went on strike in 1949. As the McCarthyite Red Scare was gathering momentum, shipping companies attacked union officials for their ties to Communism.
Eventually, corporate executives broke the CSU by bringing in Hal Banks, an American with links to organized crime. He helped bust the CSU by creating a new labour organization, the Seafarers International Union.
For many on the Canadian left, it was seen as a gross betrayal. And Green criss-crossed the country interviewing workers for his 324-page book, which was published in 1986.
When Jim Green died in 2012, he left a lasting mark on Vancouver.
Green died in 2012, prompting his partner, Heather Redfern, and his friends to create a foundation in his name. On Friday (February 26), the Jim Green Foundation will present an event at SFU Woodward's that's based on Against the Tide.
Adapted by Vancouver writer and comedian Charlie Demers, it features staged readings of excerpts from the book along with music by Corbin Murdoch. Directed by Amiel Gladstone, the production also includes local actors Carmen Aguirre, Andrew Wheeler, and Kevin MacDonald. (Wheeler played Stephen Harper in the Firehall Arts Centre production of Proud.)
In the video below, Demers points out that Green was important to the city and the CSU was important to the country.
"This is not the sort of Canadian history that most of us think of," Demers adds. "This is history with blood and guns. This is Communists fighting gangsters. This is not polite boring Canadian history."
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