By Doug Nesbitt
Coal miner, trade unionist and socialist Albert “Ginger” Goodwin died July 27 1918 after being gunned down by Dan Campbell, a special constable for the Dominion Police. Goodwin’s murder led to the 1918 Vancouver General Strike a week later on August 2, 1918.
Yorkshire – Cape Breton – Vancouver Island
Goodwin was a coal miner born in Yorkshire, England who began mining at age 12 alongside his father. In 1906, at age 19, Goodwin migrated to Glace Bay in Cape Breton to do the same job.
Goodwin participated in the long, brutal 1909 Cape Breton coal strike for union recognition. The workers wanted the United Mine Workers recognized over the corrupt and company-friendly Provincial Workman’s Association. One historian described the strike as a “civil war” in Cape Breton.
Goodwin stuck it through the 10-month strike in which miners and their families were evicted from the company-run homes and starved by being cut off from company stores. Their strike was broken by a scab operation protected by 500 members of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
Goodwin moved to British Columbia after the 1909 strike, eventually settling on Vancouver Island to work at the Cumberland mines. He worked in the same mine where, only a few years earlier, 64 miners lost their lives in an explosion, many of them Chinese and Japanese miners.
Goodwin learned his craft as a public speaker and union organizer in the 1912-14 Vancouver Island Coal Wars. The coal wars were an incredible effort by miners to win union recognition, push out the company unions, and force the operators to bargain a contract. However, the operators ran massive strikebreaking operations backed up by armed police.
When miners stood their ground, violence erupted. This escalated into the destruction of company property – a “riot”. Hundreds of troops were sent in to break the strike through a military occupation of the Island’s coal mining towns.
Like thousands of coal miners at the time, Goodwin became an avowed socialist and opponent of capitalism because of his experiences: The brutal and deadly conditions suffered by the miners; the coal operators’ cruel power exercised through their control of company housing, stores, and utilities like running water and electricity; and a capitalist class backed up by an unjust legal system, armed thugs, the police and military.
The Trail smelter
Blacklisted by the coal operators, Goodwin moved to Trail where he became a prominent union leader and a member of the Socialist Party of Canada. In 1902, the SPC was the first socialist organization in Canada to elect members to provincial office, winning and holding seats in Nanaimo and Cowichan for a decade before World War One.
Like many labour socialists, Goodwin opposed World War One as a war between empires in which workers were being asked to kill each other for their bosses. Goodwin was drafted in 1917 when conscription was enacted. However, he was deemed unfit for service because of stomach problems, bad teeth and low weight.
In November 1917, Goodwin led a strike for the 8-hour day at the Trail smelter. Within a week of the strike starting, Goodwin’s conscription status was suddenly switched to “fit for duty”. Goodwin escaped into the countryside where he and a band of war resisters were helped by locals.
The strike was defeated after a month, but the BC government legislated the 8-hour day in 1919.
In late July 1918, an armed force of bounty hunters hired by a local hotel owner scoured the countryside around Trail for war resisters like Goodwin.
One of the bounty hunters was Dan Campbell, a Dominion Police special constable who had only recently been kicked out of the BC Provincial Police for shaking down two women for a bribe during a traffic stop. Campbell had been overheard talking about killing people who were avoiding conscription.
During the hunt, special constable Dan Campbell murdered Goodwin. Campbell claimed Goodwin had raised his weapon, but nobody believed him.
Campbell was arrested on July 31 and charged with manslaughter. However, a Grand Jury dismissed the charges in October.
With the news of Goodwin’s murder, the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council voted 117 to 1 for a 24-hour general strike on August 2.
The strike was effective and union workers across the city walked off the job. Like in Winnipeg a year later, Vancouver’s business elites were outraged and declared it a Bolshevik conspiracy.
A right-wing nationalist mob involving returned soldiers invaded and smashed up the Vancouver Labour Temple at 411 Dunsmuir. Men and women working at the offices were brutally beaten, and one labour leader was thrown out a window, and some of the thugs tried to force the Labour Council secretary to kiss the Union Jack.
Education, organization, agitation
What can we learn from Ginger Goodwin’s life of struggle? In his own words:
“Now, then, we know that all this misery is the outcome of someone’s carelessness, and that someone is the capitalists, those who own the machinery of production. Now, as this class of parasites have been living on the blood of the working class, they are responsible for the conditions existing at the present time.
And so I say we have got to back our forces against them, and our weapons are education, organization and agitation, and read and study up on the principles of Socialism, for it is necessary that you know when to strike and how to strike, and if we have not these weapons when the time comes, we shall not be able to predict the outcome of the fight.”