When did the first general strike take place?

WHO: Albert “Ginger” Goodwin

WHEN: July 27, 1918

WHERE: British Columbia

A little over 100 years ago, union leader Albert “Ginger” Goodwin was shot and killed by police, triggering the first union strike in Vancouver, Canada. He was known as a pacifist and an activist within the labour movement. Goodwin was a coal miner who had to endure very difficult working conditions.

Many people admired Goodwin. Upon hearing news of his death, workers took to the streets to protest his murder. To this day, in his honour, unions still use general strikes as a way to push for justice.

A Canadian Labour Congress article states that:

As Vice-President of the BC Federation of Labour, Ginger Goodwin led several strikes and was an outspoken opponent to the First World War, all of which brought him to the attention of government and military authorities.

Miners’ working conditions were appalling at the time. Most miners, including Goodwin, had lung problems. They were unfit to serve in the Canadian army. However, after leading a strike for an 8-hour work day, his status was changed and he was now deemed fit for service in an overseas fighting unit. Goodwin decided to avoid conscription and hide in the bush near Cumberland on Vancouver Island, where a camp had been set up for people who did not want to go to war. He was tracked down by authorities and a private constable employed by the North-West Mounted Police (precursor to the RCMP). Most importantly, an armistice was signed at 5:15 a.m. on November 11, 1918, putting an end to the fighting in World War I.

That’s the shocking story of a man who played a pivotal role in the history of trade unions. We must never forget Albert “Ginger” Goodwin. Many initiatives have been carried out in his name. In 2001, BC’s Liberal government attempted to erase all traces of the hero, but in 2018, the NDP government had the signs bearing his name reinstalled. The mountain where he was shot on Vancouver Island also bears his name. A ceremony is held each year in Cumberland to commemorate his efforts. Two years ago, the Government of British Columbia declared July 27 as Ginger Goodwin Day. Solidarity to those who made history.

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