Rankandfile.ca caught up with Eden Haythornthwaite to speak about the long-running annual Joseph Mairs Memorial held every year on Vancouver Island. Eden is one of the main organizer’s of the annual event. This year’s memorial is Sunday January 19 1pm at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Hall in Ladysmith.
Who is Joseph Mairs, and how long has this memorial been held?
Joseph Mairs was a trade unionist and a coal miner on Vancouver Island before the First World War. He died a month short of his 22nd birthday, after being arrested during the 2-year long strike coal miners on Vancouver Island waged for the eight-hour day, safety and health and wages.
Joseph was arrested on August 15, 1913 after the militia retook the town of Ladysmith from striking miners. Miners had held the town from August 12th to 15th. They stoned the residences of scabs and drove them out of town. He was sentenced to one year in jail and a $100 fine. In January, Joseph became ill and receiving no medical attention, died on January 14th, 1914.
Our family has been honouring this man and the events that led to his death since the 1990s at first by going to his graveside in Ladysmith around the date of his death. Soon we had friends coming as well – it evolved into an opportunity to have a speaker at the cemetery and a musician or two.
Eighteen years ago, we decided to take the occasion inside and were fortunate to find a church hall within walking distance of the cemetery. The program has evolved over the years as we always have tried to improve and adapt to make the day into something that honours Joseph and inspires those who attend, including ourselves.
Who is speaking this year? Tell us about the speakers you’ve had in the past?
Dipti Baranwal and Noah Lippe-Klein are our speakers this year. The are travelling from Los Angeles to be with us – they are both active in their union and were prominent in the teachers strike in Los Angeles early in 2019.
Dipti Baranwal is a South Asian immigrant who has been teaching in Los Angeles for 11 years. Inspired by the historic 2012 Chicago teachers strike, Dipti helped initiate and sustain Students Deserve, a student-teacher -parent organization that is working to end racism, challenge privatization, and shift public consciousness.
Noah Lippe-Klein has been teaching History at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles for 20 years. He is on the Board of Directors of UTLA, the union that led last year’s 6-day strike. He also supports the student movement Students Deserve, which leads the Making Black Lives Matter in Schools campaign.
We have covered many topics over the ears with many splendid speakers. We had Mitch Anderson talk to us about the Norwegian Petro industry comparing their approach to Alberta. We have had Professor Kendra Strauss address precarity of work. We had Mordecai Briemberg to speak on Palestine and democracy in the Middle East. We had a youth panel one year to talk about how they see the next hundred years for workers. We had Ingo Schmidt address class language in economic discussion. Don Gutstein spoke about ‘After Harper’ after the 2015 federal election. We had Radhika Desai speak about Canadian imperialism in developing countries. Last year we had Doug Nesbitt travel from Ontario to tell us about the Fight for $15. That only covers a few.
There is a theme each year of “Our Common Condition”. Can you explain this theme?
Early in the 2000’s there were a whole series of strikes in our area from the teachers to Telus workers, Ferry workers, Credit Union workers. We put together a meeting to hear from some of the spokespeople for these struggles and called our gathering ‘Our Common Condition’ for obvious reasons. That year we decided to use that phrase as a general philosophy for our Mairs event.
Why is public popular education like this important?
The Memorial we mount to honour Joseph Mairs is primarily intended to inspire all of us to fight to keep what has been won at such cost and gain advances for our children. It is sobering to realise that most people on the island have no idea this piece of history exists. It is not taught in schools and not spoken of in any forum outside of a few academic papers.
The miners and their unions in Ladysmith have played an integral role in the worldwide struggle for a better life for workers. This is something to honour and share pride in. It tells us all what had to be done to provide what we have now and drives home the urgency to pay our respects to all that sacrifice by continuing to fight for our rights.
Mairs died in a long miners’ struggle against corporate power. Right now, the forestry workers’ strike on Vancouver Island is over 6 months old. Have you been to the picket lines? What do you think about how workers and natural resources are treated by corporations and government?
I have been to the picket line out at Cowichan Bay and found the striking workers very eloquent and thoughtful. This long strike is necessary due to the repressive nature of WFP [Western Forest Products] management which is most characterised by insisting on a substantial list of concessions on the table despite good markets and excellent profits. The mismanagement of our forests has been a keynote of BC government practice and failure to update the Labour Standards legislation to protect workers from unreasonable shift demands.