In the preceding article It is an old and cruel tactic, a reader’s comment referenced long dead miner Albert ‘Ginger’ Goodwin. Today, few young adults know this icon of trade unionism but he deserves a more prominent place in the history of our province.
Goodwin had been targeted in 1918, perhaps assassinated, by Canadian military police. The 31 year-old pacifist was accused of dodging conscription although he had been declared unfit for service because of black lung, a common disease of workers exposed to coal dust.
Probably, Goodwin died because he frightened Canada’s establishment. Unions had been prohibited in this country until the latter part of the 19th century and the organizations were strongly discouraged for decades after legalization. Goodwin was successful both as a labour organizer and as an anti-war spokesman.
He remained controversial even at the start of the 21st century. A section of the Island Highway near Cumberland had been signed as Ginger Goodwin Way but months after anti-union BC Liberals formed government in 2001, the signs were surreptitiously removed, an action influenced by MLA Stan Hagen.
Saying removal of Goodwin’s name from the highway came through an excess of political correctness and ideological zeal, Stephen Hume wrote in The Vancouver Sun:
“The story of Ginger Goodwin is what marketing dreams are made of – – tragedy, mystery, noble purposes, bounty hunters, a posse, a whole town that defied the government to protect a beloved son and then kept his story alive when the authorities tried to rub it out.”
Hume noted that government had tried to silence Goodwin’s message by killing him. The message was not quieted but today it remains a target of attacks orchestrated by agents of unfettered capitalism. These sponsors are the modern day equivalents of James Dunsmuir, the province’s wealthiest resident in Ginger Goodwin’s day. The Dunsmuirs grew wealthy partly by employing Chinese mine workers in deadly labour at half the wages of white men. Dunsmuir entered politics – briefly serving as BC Premier – to protect the supply of cheap Asian labour.
Susan Mayse wrote the book GINGER: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF ALBERT GOODWIN. BC writer and arts consultant Max Wyman called it:
“A vivid, carefully researched evocation of the circumstances of Goodwin’s death.”
Wyman noted that BC’s mines were rated among the world’s most dangerous and Goodwin was a man committed to improving those deadly conditions.
Book author Mayse says Goodwin was
“a revolutionary socialist, very outspoken about the Canadian government – vocal, eloquent, aggressive and charismatic. So from the government’s point of view, he was a threat.”
The threat was thought real by those who worried the 1917 Russian Revolution might spread to other nations. Days after Goodwin’s death, Vancouver experienced Canada’s first ever general strike.