Historical Materialism in Canada

In the shadow of the economic crisis in Greece, inspired by Occupy, the Arab Spring, and Quebec’s “Maple Spring”, the 2012 edition of the Historical Materialism Conference in Toronto, was a resounding success. More than 400 people attended the 80-plus panels during an intensive three-day event stretching from Friday, May 11 through Sunday, May 13.

Historical Materialism saw an important series of discussions on indigenous politics, involving eight sessions, a plenary and a Long Table discussion. There was a well-attended session on the relationship between Marxism and Feminism and several sessions on key issues in political economy. The complete program can be seen here.

Historical Materialism originated as a journal 1997. Subscription information is available here. Annual conferences associated with the journal have been happening each November in London, U.K. since 2004. This year’s (the ninth annual) will be held between November 8 and 11, 2012.

Toward the United Front

One of the highlights of the 2012 Toronto HM conference, and of last year’s HM conference in London, was the launch of John Riddell’s 1310 page Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. At that congress, 350 delegates from 61 countries (Riddell 2012, 55) grappled with the political challenges of building a united anti-capitalist movement in the post-war era. Three panels at Historical Materialism Toronto addressed issues relevant to Riddell’s book, with 150 people in total participating in those discussions.

Riddell’s book – which was also the subject of multiple sessions at the HM conference in London in 2011 – is the seventh in an ongoing series making available the proceedings and documents relevant to the construction of an international socialist movement in the difficult years before, during and after World War One. An outline of the six earlier works is available here. Central to this project were the early congresses of the Communist International, the first being in 1919. Bringing together activists from around the world, these congresses grappled with the key political issues of the day, in very difficult circumstances.

The first congress took place while Russia suffered under a terrible blockade which fuelled civil war and caused untold suffering. This blockade – imposed on the country by Britain, France and the Allied powers from the spring of 1918 until it petered out in 1920 – began in two phases. After the October Revolution, “the allies stopped the flow of supplies to Russia”. But the full regular blockade “was established after the Brest-Litovsk treaty” (Carr 1978, 3:126). In other words, Russia was being strangled by the victorious democracies, as punishment for Russia bringing to an end the carnage of World War One on Germany’s eastern front. Blockade went along with military invasion to fuel the destructive civil war aimed at overthrowing the new Russian workers’ state. The military invasion proved futile. In February and March of 1919, there were mutinies among British, French and U.S. troops (Carr 1978, 3:127–127). By the fourth congress – the subject of Riddell’s book – the blockade had been lifted and the civil war was over. The Russian workers’ state emerged victorious – but suffered horrendous casualties.

Riddell’s translations – and his superb 59-page introduction – bring to life this 90 year-old gathering of activists. The hard cover version will be difficult to buy for many individuals, as its list price is €199 ($283). But it is an excellent volume to recommend to a library, particularly if you are associated with a university. And, a $55 paperback version will be available later this year, published by Haymarket Books in Chicago.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

Carr, Edward Hallett. 1978. A History of Soviet Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Volume Two. Vol. 3. 14 vols. Macmillan.

Riddell, John. 2012. Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Organizing against the austerity agenda

A little word with a big footprint – “austerity” has now become normalized as part of the political discourse. Governments everywhere are positioning themselves to transfer billions of dollars from pensions, social services and public sector wages, to pay off debt built up in part during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. A resource in the fight against austerity is the just published special issue of Socialist Studies, containing contemporary analyses and historical reflections on both the economics of the austerity agenda, and strategies by which it can be resisted.
Sketching the economics of the austerity agenda is done in several places, including a wide-ranging interview with activist and scholar David McNally. He argues that properly understanding the effects of the crisis of 2008-2009 requires seing that it was preceded, not by a generation of capitalist crisis, but a generation of capitalist restabilization, “that since the early 1980s, there had been a twenty year long expansionary wave, which I’m calling the neoliberal expansion, which really did restore corporate profitability, which massively restructured labour processes, which squeezed workers, very dramatically increased their level of exploitation, and also kickstarted a huge geographic expansion of capitalism, particularly in China and East Asia.”

Resisting the austerity agenda is covered in various articles, including an examination of Canadian public sector unions by David Camfield, and an historical look at the origins of the “Days of Action” against Mike Harris, written by this author. The research for the latter reminded me of the important role played by social movement actors outside the organized labour movement in laying the groundwork for resistance in 1995 and 1996. The study of working class resistance cannot be confined to the union movement and the organized working class.

In addition, the journal continues its tradition of using its reviews section to introduce readers to new and important literature. A quick review of the books featured this issue, indicates an important revival of political economic writing in Canada. In particular, Susanne Soederberg’s Corporate Power and Ownership in Contemporary Capitalism: The Politics of Resistance and Domination (reviewed by Stephen McBride) and Todd Gordon’s Imperialist Canada (reviewed by this author), are important historical materialist additions to our understanding of contemporary capitalism.

There are many other articles and reviews in the collection – well worth the read.

©  2011 Paul Kellogg

May 1919: When the workers ran Winnipeg

Ninety years ago today, May 15 1919, at 11 a.m., the Winnipeg General Strike began. Until the Quebec General Strike of 1972, the 1919 strike stood as the most profound class confrontation in Canadian history. The article here is based on a talk delivered 10 years ago, on the 80th anniversary of the strike. • Workers’ power – the working class of the world sweeping away the corporate directors, the financiers and the back room boys of the state apparatus – workers running the world without the bosses. It is an inspiring vision. And when we examine a page of Canadian working class history, it is clear that, in the right conditions, the vision can become a reality. Eighty years ago this month that page was written in the 41-day Winnipeg General Strike.

It began Thursday May 15, 1919, as a near-unanimous show of support by the workers of Winnipeg for their co-workers in the building and metal trades.[1] The demands of these tradesmen were very humble. The Metal Trades Council struck May 2 for shorter hours (a 9-hour day!), a wage increase and union recognition. The Building Trades Council had struck a day earlier over similar issues. The economic demands were modest enough in a situation where wages, throughout World War One, had not kept pace with inflation. Canadian socialist Ross Dowson, writing 31 years after the strike, said that between 1914 and 1919, wages had gone up only 18 per cent, while prices had skyrocketed by 80 per cent.[2]

But for the employers, it was not the economic issues that were central. This was the first attempt by both the Building and Metal Trades Councils to represent building and metal workers industry-wide. Industry-wide bargaining gives the workers much greater power than bargaining shop by shop, plant by plant and was to prove one of the biggest issues in the great industrial unionizing drives of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) in the 1930s and 1940s. The Winnipeg metals and trades employers wanted to end industry-wide bargaining before it got started, so they refused even to negotiate with the two councils.

GENERAL STRIKE

So the two trades struck, and on May 15, all 12,000 unionized workers in Winnipeg went on a sympathy general strike in their support, to be joined within a few days by all other 15,000 wage-workers in Winnipeg – organized, unorganized, women and men. Virtually every working person in the city went out on a general strike; 35,000 workers who, with their families, represented the vast majority of Winnipeg’s 170,000 people. “It wasn’t just the trade unionists who threw down their tools and walked off the job,” said Fred Tipping, socialist and one of the strike leaders. “It was workers everywhere. There was no strike pay for anyone. They had nothing to live on,”[3] and still they went on strike.

The breadth of the strike is difficult for us to imagine whose only experience with a general strike is the one-day variety of October, 1976 or the series of one-day rotating strikes during Ontario’s Days of Action. Even the police, by a vote of 149 to 11, joined the strike. But with that vote began a new dimension to the strike. The police voted to go on strike, but stayed on the job at the request of the newly constituted Strike Committee. This committee was composed of the executive of the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council (TLC), five rank and file members of the council, and three delegates from each and every union in the city, and as the strike progressed, it began to function more and more like the city’s government.

At the request of the Strike Committee: waterworks employees went back to work to maintain sufficient pressure for domestic use; staff was supplied to the hospitals; and after they met with the frightened (and powerless) members of the old City Council, milk and bread delivery carts made their rounds through the city with large signs on their doors, BY AUTHORITY OF THE STRIKE COMMITTEE.

The Women’s Labor League set up a kitchen financed by donations and collections taken at mass meetings to feed women strikers free and supply them with funds for room and rent. Anyone without funds and with a ticket from the Strike Relief Committee was given free meals – 1,200 to 1,500 meals were served daily. By authority of the Strike Committee, a daily paper, the Western Labor News was started up. Without the authority of the strike Committee, nothing moved in Winnipeg.

In these events is one of the most significant lessons of the strike. The working class downed tools and closed down the city of Winnipeg in defiance of their employers and the law. And then, through their own committees, their own organizations, began to open the city up again. For over a month, the city of Winnipeg was effectively under workers’ control: not to the extent of challenging political power – the Winnipeg workers never attempted that – but to the extent of keeping a city functioning and alive in siege-conditions.

CLASS and the STATE

Through the Citizens’ Committee of 1,000 the employers began to regroup. David Jay Bercuson describes this committee as mainly comprising members of organizations such as the Board of Trade, the Manufacturers’ Association and the Bar Association. They represented Winnipeg’s social, economic and political elite.[4] Their first tactic was to try and divide the ranks of the strikers. They called a meeting of the war veterans (who looked like likely allies – two months previously they had rioted and raided the Socialist Party headquarters in the city). The Citizens’ Committee tried to get the veterans to oppose the “alien, bolshevik” strike. Instead, the veterans used the meeting to declare their support for the strike and elect delegates to the Strike Committee.

This made it very clear that such attempts at “divide and conquer” were fruitless. Increasingly, the employers turned more and more to various levels of government for support.

First the municipal government stepped in. The Police Commission instructed police to sign a pledge indicating that they would not join any sympathetic strike or affiliate to any labour body. None signed, all were fired. Next the federal government stepped in. Throughout 1918, a hotly debated issue had been whether or not public employees should have the right to strike, an issue, 80 years later, with which we are all too familiar. Senator Robertson, acting on the authority of Tory Arthur Meighen (then Minister of Justice, soon to be Prime Minister), called a meeting of all postal employees, all of whom were on strike. But in good postal worker fashion, the meeting was boycotted. Undaunted, Robertson still managed to hand them an ultimatum to return to work on May 26, to never again take part in a strike, to sever all connections with the Trades and Labour Council – or lose their jobs, their pensions and their right to ever again work on a government job. Only 16 returned to work. A similar ultimatum was handed to women strikers at the Telephone Exchange with similar results. Once the strike was smashed, the state held true to its word – 403 postal employees, 119 telephone workers and 53 firemen got the sack.

But that is jumping ahead. While the strike was on, as other tactics failed, the various levels of government more and more resorted to force. The fired municipal police were replaced by some 2,000 vigilantes. On June 6, these were reinforced through the federal government by units of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWP), predecessors of today’s RCMP. That same day, an amendment was passed to the Immigration Act by the Ottawa government, in such a manner, that it should forever put to rest the impression that our bureaucracies can only move at a snail’s pace. The amendment made it possible for Canadians not born in Canada to be arrested on charges of sedition, tried in secret without being present at the enquiry without access to a regular court, trial by jury or appeal to any court or judge, and deported to the land of their birth. The amendment (directed at the strike leaders, some of whom were British immigrants) was given the necessary three readings and given the Governor General’s assent in an unheard of 45 minutes.

With the weight of the federal government thrown into the balance, the strike was defeated. On June 16, ten leaders of the strike were arrested in line with the Immigration Act amendment. On Saturday, June 21 – after a nation-wide storm of protest – six of the arrested strike leaders were released on bail, the last victory the strikers were to have. In Winnipeg: that same day, 10,000 veterans massed to stage a silent, peaceful parade in support of the strike. The peaceful parade of the unarmed veterans was to turn into the strike’s “Bloody Saturday.” It was dispersed by the armed forces of the special constables and the RNWP. Armed with clubs, the mounted police charged the demonstrators, and were met by a hail of stones. The next time they charged, they used guns, killing one demonstrator and injuring 30. With clubs and baseball bats, the “specials” finished the mopping up. The Western Labor News was banned and on June 25, the Strike Committee called off the strike. It petered to an end about one week later.

But if the strike was defeated in terms of its immediate demands, in another sense it was a great success. It was a magnificent school for tens of thousands of young workers.

The strike showed that when militant action is taken, there could be massive support and sympathy all across the country. On May 20, organized labour in Toronto voted 17,700 to 6,250 in favour of a sympathetic general strike in support of Winnipeg (which was unfortunately, never called). On May 26, 41 unions in Calgary walked out. On June 2, 42 unions went out in Vancouver. Within days, the whole city was shut down, a general strike with its own strike committee and aspects of workers’ control not unlike those in Winnipeg. On June 23, 5,000 Victoria metal trades workers struck in sympathy with Winnipeg. On June 18, New Westminster went out in a general strike. General sympathetic strikes of at least some duration occurred in “…all other Western cites, the Lakehead, Toronto and some Nova Scotia points.”[5] In Calgary, workers called for a Canada-wide strike. Union after union, local after local, called upon the Dominion Labor Congress for one-day strikes, or for an indefinite general strike.

The strike showed that unity could be created between the “two solitudes” of English-Canadian and Québécois workers. “On May 28, a mass meeting was held at Maisonneuve market in the East End of Montreal, bringing together English-Canadian, immigrant and French-Canadian workers. Many of them were strikers from the Canadian Vickers plant.” The 2,000 in attendance unanimously passed a motion, read first in French and then in English, which pledged “… moral and financial support to our brothers [on strike in Winnipeg] in order that they may secure a complete victory in the present struggle; and in the event of a general strike being called in Montreal, all here present are prepared to bear their share of the burden.”[6]

But the strike also revealed a stark divide between ordinary workers in the ranks of the movement, and the union bureaucracy which dominates the movement. A nation-wide general strike was possible, and could have led to victory for the Winnipeg strikers. But in spite of repeated calls for solidarity action, Tom Moore, president of the Canadian Council of Trades and Labour (CCTL), remained silent, and then two days after Bloody Saturday in a letter addressed to the Winnipeg Council, “formally withdrew his support for the general strike.”[7] Some of the leaders who didn’t remain silent, probably should have. M.T. Provost, a union leader in Montreal, justified his refusal to call a sympathy strike saying: “We are not Bolsheviks nor anarchists. What the others are complaining about doesn’t concern us … As far as we are concerned, there will be no sympathy strike. We will fight that till our death.”[8]

It also showed the class nature of Canada and the reality of its “impartial” state. It painted in clear letters the word PROFIT over the democratic façade of society. It showed, when it came to the crunch, democracy, freedoms, living standards, even human lives would be sacrificed to maintain the sacred profits of the capitalists and their state. The 1919 strike showed, in other words, that to win workers were going to have to challenge not just economically, but politically as well.

This lesson was learned in different ways by different people. J.S. Woodsworth was one of those arrested in 1919. Two years later, he was elected to the House of Commons, and would of course go on to be central in the founding of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), predecessor to the NDP. “When the Meighen Government arrested me,” he said, “it nominated me for Ottawa.”[9]

Less well known are the young workers who went through the school of Winnipeg, and became part of the early years of the Communist Party of Canada, a party which was to be a the centre of the great industrial union drives of the 1930s. There is no question that without the deep political lessons of Winnipeg 1919, there would have been a much weaker foundation for the radical left of the 1920s, and the unionization drives led by that left in the 1930s.

The society we have today is one where profit still trumps democracy, where union bureaucrats still sit idly while workers’ suffer, and where it is still necessary to forge political alternatives based on the self-activity of the oppressed. We should learn well the lessons of Winnipeg so we will be ready for the Winnipegs which lie ahead.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Information for the article comes from three main sources. Norman Penner, ed., Winnipeg 1919: The strikers’ own history of the Winnipeg General Strike, (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1975): David Jay Bercuson Confrontation at Winnipeg (Montreal: Queen’s University Press, 1974): and Bercuson, “The Winnipeg General Strike” in Irving Abella ed., On Strike (Toronto: James Lewis & Samuel, 1974). See also articles in Labour/Le Travail 13, Spring, 1984 and Paul Jackson, History of the General Strike: Winnipeg 1919 (Montreal: Red Flag Publications, 1979).
[2] Ross Dowson, “The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919”, in Labor Challenge, June 1950, p. 4.
[3] Fred Tipping, interviewed in Canadian Dimension, June 1969, p. 11.
[4] Bercuson, Confrontation at Winnipeg, p. 121.
[5] H. Clare Pentland, “Fifty Years After”, in Canadian Dimension, June 1969, P. 16.
[6] Cited in Jackson, p. 3.
[7] Jackson, p. 3.
[8] Cited in Jackson, p. 12.
[9] Cited in Penner, p. viii.

Norman Penner – A life for the struggle

May 3, close to 200 people crowded into Glendon Hall in Toronto to pay tribute to the life and work of Norman Penner, who sadly passed away April 16 at the age of 88.[1] There could not have been a more appropriate month for such an event. May is after all, the month where every year we celebrate May 1, International Workers’ Day. It is also the month where the great Winnipeg General Strike began, 90 years ago, a strike that remains the defining moment of the Canadian working class movement, and a strike which was brought back to life for a new generation, in large part through the efforts of Norman Penner. For this alone, Penner’s life would be worthy of commemoration. We were reminded May 3 that there was so much more – a life genuinely lived for the struggle.

Penner’s father, Jacob Penner, had been a leading socialist in his own right, and as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Canada, an opponent of conscription during the slaughter of World War I. When the Winnipeg General Strike erupted in 1919, Penner was one of the strike leaders.[2]

Norman – born into a family of the left – carried on the tradition from a very early age. We heard, at the memorial, of his 1930’s activism as a teenager – speaking to mass audiences, campaigning in defence of among others, his father, when the city of Winnipeg was trying to strip the now communist Jacob Penner, of his elected seat on Winnipeg’s city council.

Norman himself would become a leading member of the party. But he would not let organizational loyalty trump principles. When the supposedly “communist” Russian tanks moved in to crush the workers’ uprising in Hungary in 1956 – the same year that Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev exposed the crimes of Joseph Stalin to a stunned international left – Penner resigned the Communist Party, even though that meant leaving behind his employer in a decade of intense anti-communism.

He found a way to make a living as probably the only Marxist electric heating salesman in Canada. In the mid-1960s, he set out on a university career, acquiring his degrees, and from 1972 until his retirement 24 years later, teaching in the Political Science department at Glendon College, part of York University in Toronto.

It was at Glendon as a professor, that Penner had his biggest impact. In 1973, he edited a riveting book on the Winnipeg General Strike, bringing back to life, in the words of the strikers themselves, that defining moment in Canadian labour history. In 1977 he wrote a careful and balanced assessment of the Canadian Left, that remains indispensable reading for any who aspire to fight for social change in this country. Perhaps more important than his books, however, were his classes, where with patience and intelligence – and humour – he would genuinely engage with young people from a new generation, tell them about the lessons from the past, and most importantly, listen to the new insights that every new generation brings to the social movements.

It is this latter quality that set Penner apart from many in his generation – the capacity to listen. While many from the old left, shaped by the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression, were too often suspicious of the long-haired radicals of the 1960s and 1970s, Penner found real joy in their company. He would have loved the fact that in Toronto, the day before his memorial, young radicals of this generation, members of No One Is Illegal, had led a spirited May Day march through the streets of the city, taking over Yonge Street for a period, draping banners off the Eaton Centre, and then joining up with members of the Tamil Community, demonstrating against the terrible genocide underway in their homeland. He would have known that today – as in 1919, as in the 1930s, as in the 1960s – the future of the social movements is in the hands of the impatient youth, much more than it is in the tidy offices of this or that union or party bureaucracy.

His grandson, Dylan Penner – himself an anti-war activist in the tradition of Norman and Jacob – in one of many moving tributes given by family and friends, gave us all the proper framework in which to remember the life of this remarkable man. In the words of Industrial Worker of the World activist and songwriter Joe Hill – “don’t mourn, organize.”[3]

Books by Norman Penner, available from online booksellers

Winnipeg 1919: The Strikers’ Own History of the Winnipeg General Strike (1973)
The Canadian Left: A critical analysis (1977)
From Protest to Power: Social Democracy in Canada 1900-Present (1992)
Canadian communism: The Stalin years and beyond (1988)

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] See “Professor Emeritus Norman Penner was a Glendon mainstay,” YFILE, April 24, 2009 and “Norman Penner,” The Toronto Star, April 25, 2009
[2] There is some information about Jacob Penner on wikipedia. His story, and the story of his wife Rose Penner, has been documented on video (Cathy Gulkin, “A Glowing Dream: The Story of Jacob & Rose Penner,” Episode 33, A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada, Season III, White Pine Pictures, 1999)
[3] See “Joe Hill, (1879-1915),” AFL-CIO: America’s Union Movement; and “The Joe Hill Project,” www.joehill.org

Lois Dowson Bédard – a life for the struggle

Lois Bédard Dowson died December 14 2007, just shy of her 84th birthday. She was, for all her adult life, a committed revolutionary socialist in the tradition of Leon Trotsky. In the context of the Great Depression of her growing years, the rise of fascism and Stalinism in her teens, the horror of World War in her young adulthood – living a life as a revolutionary was not the easiest of choices. But Lois unlike many others, never wavered from her commitment to the left, to the working class, and to the women workers to whose future she was so completely dedicated.

For those in Lois’ era who dedicated themselves to revolutionary socialism, theirs were often lives lived in obscurity. But in the 1960s and early 1970s, the then unified Trotskyist movement in Canada went from a small group of a few dozen, to an organization of hundreds, and played an indispensable role in the movement against the war in Vietnam. However, as the war went into its end game from 1973 to 1975, the political terrain became very complex. After a bitter faction fight, the Trotskyist organization split, and Lois ended up in one of the smaller fragments – the Socialist League, which would later become the Forward Group.

“Life is what happens to you
while you’re busy making other plans.”[1] John Lennon wrote those words in a different context – but it is a way to think about Lois Bédard’s life and struggles in the years that followed. Lois – often literally arm in arm with her sister, Joyce Rosenthal – was one of those group of activists who were able to rise above the difficult internal life of the left, and keep the struggles of the working class at the centre of their activities.

One of the big issues confronting workers throughout Lois’ life, was the oppression of women workers. In a 2001 study of women workers, Meg Luxton wrote that: “The labour movement in the early 1960s, based mainly in male-dominated occupations, was organizationally overwhelmingly male.”[2] The situation had improved somewhat by the 1970s, but there remained major problems. In March 1976, Bédard was in at the ground level of the founding of Organized Working Women (OWW).[3] OWW played a key role in some of the key class battles of the day. According to Luxton:

After two organizers from the Retail and Wholesale Department Store Union (RWDSU) attended an OWW conference in early 1985, union women and women’s liberation activists formed a Women’s Strike Support Coalition which met regularly throughout the rest of the strike, organizing strike support … The striking Eatons’ workers were cheered when they spoke at the Toronto International Women’s Day rally on 9 March 1985 and the march itself detoured through the flagship store at the Eatons’ Centre, plastering “Boycott Eatons” throughout the store. The striking women and the women organizers from RWDSU were clear that the support from the women’s movement was very important in helping them stick out the long strike through the winter.[4]

Bédard was also centrally involved in another key struggle of the 1970s and 1980s – the fight for abortion rights. The year, 2008, marks the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision which overturned the old abortion law, effectively decriminalizing abortion in Canada. Whipped into a rage by this, the anti-choice right wing began organizing assaults on abortion clinics in the late 1980s, and the front lines of the struggle for women’s rights were in front of those clinics – linking arms to keep the bigots out, and to allow women to enter. Long-time socialist and feminist, Judy Rebick, gave a moving tribute to Lois at her funeral, saying that Lois Bédard and Joyce Rosenthal, were always at the centre of this struggle – an inspiration to the younger women who were moving into activism.

This rich period of political engagement was cut short in 1988 when Lois’ brother – Ross Dowson – suffered a debilitating stroke. Ross had been a leader of the Trotskyist movement since the 1930s, and Lois devoted the next 14 years to his care, until his death in 2002. But in spite of this difficult personal burden, Lois kept a keen interest in politics. In 1998, at a packed Toronto meeting marking the 150th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto, Lois was there, pushing Ross in a wheelchair. And after his death, she was a regular participant in the annual Marxism conference in Toronto. She would of course pay attention to the sessions on women’s liberation – her commitment to feminism never wavered. But she was also opposed to women being ghettoized into just talking about women. I can still hear her pulling one woman speaker aside and saying “don’t just speak about women – do the other important stuff, do the economy”.

Lois was pre-deceased by not just Ross, but by her sister Ruth and her other brothers Murray, Hugh and Jerry. Murray and Hugh were also lifelong socialist activists. Her sister Joyce is alive, but now unfortunately politically inactive due to illness. We have to know that the work of our generation would have been far harder without the work done for decades by fighters like Lois Dowson Bédard. There will be a meeting to honour her life in Toronto January 20, 5 p.m. at the Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” Double Fantasy (Santa Monica: Geffen Records, 1980)
[2] Meg Luxton, “Feminism as a Class Act: Working-Class Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Canada,” Labour/Le Travail, 48, Fall 2001, p. 69, www.historycooperative.org/journals/llt/48/03luxton.html.
[3] Luxton, p. 71
[4] Luxton, pp. 86-7.