The Vancouver unemployed

The Western Socialist
July 1938

Vancouver during the month has been the scene of another exhibition of the status of the workers and the function of the state in present day society. Six hundred unemployed workers, refused work and wages by a government that gained office on the promise to provide work and wages, and unable to obtain the food and shelter necessary to maintain existence, endeavoured to make an effective protest against this treatment by staging a “sit-down strike” in two government buildings. At first the authorities decided to play a waiting game, feeling no doubt that their uncomfortable and uncertain position would in a short time cause the workers to leave the buildings of their own accord. But this did not happen, and after several weeks, during which the workers were fed by various workers’ groups and other organizations in the city, the authorities announced that the unsanitary conditions under which they were living were endangering the public health, and they were ordered to move, not into more sanitary and suitable quarters, but into the streets, or preferably (although this was not stated in as many words), into the ocean. Naturally, the workers refused – and were ejected by the R.C.M.P. and local police, using tear gas bombs, clubs and the customary brutality. A number of the workers required hospital treatment; others were taken to jail charged with “obstructing” the police in the “discharge of their duties”.

The riot was followed by lengthy public pronouncements from Dominion, Provincial and Municipal heads, striving in the usual superficial, hysterical and nauseating manner of capitalist politicians, to blame it all on the workers. They had been unreasonable; they had demanded special consideration; they had disobeyed the law, etc., etc. Judging from their own statements, it is evident that these gentlemen who were so sympathetic and considerate of the plight of the unemployed during the last election campaign, and who so solemnly promised to rectify the situation if the electorate would place them in power are now actually indignant because the unemployed have not quietly and constitutionally crawled into some rat hole to die in a lawful and orderly manner. It is difficult to determine which is the more remarkable feature of capitalism: the arrogance, impertinence and hypocrisy of the ruling class spokesmen, or the long-suffering patience of the workers.

At present the ejected workers are moving in groups to Victoria, and unemployed spokesmen state that it is their intention to have a thousand, if necessary, from Vancouver parked on the doorstep of the Provincial Government. What will happen to them remains for the future to tell – perhaps another meal of tear gas and police clubs – but the fact that sentiment in the province, which appears to be mainly with the “sit-downers”, holds out the promise of cooking his political goose, may cause Premier Pattullo to waver in his “determination” not to be “intimidated” and to seek other means of quieting the workers.

But the workers have yet to learn that it makes no essential difference whether the Liberal party or some other party is in power at Victoria or Ottawa; so long as the party in power is pledged only to mend capitalism, that fact is in itself a guarantee that the workers, both employed and unemployed, will have to continue the struggle for a bearable existence. Capitalism itself is the cause of the problems of the working class, and no matter how the system is reformed or who reforms it, these problems will continue to exist in more or less aggravated form. The solution is to be found only in Socialism, wherein the wealth of society will no longer be produced for the enrichment of parasites, but to satisfy the needs of all, and where there cannot arise the insane spectacle of a super-abundance of wealth existing alongside of widespread poverty. We call upon the unemployed workers of British Columbia, and all other workers, wherever they may be, to line up with us in order that a speedy termination may be brought to the system that deprives them of the product of their labor and compels them to engage in an incessant struggle for existence.