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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Memoir of a Rural Sisyphus-Redux

Memoir of a Rural Sisyphus-Redux


Memoir of a Rural Sisyphus-Redux

Bill Engleson


For a few years, I kept a diary of my inauguration into the Denman Community. This column, recently renamed Memoir of a Rural Sisyphus-Redux, will

extract several of my observations from a dozen or so years ago and share them. Hopefully, they will have some modern times currency.


October 11, 2005

I have always supported a workers right to strike. My first strike was a pulp workers cessation of labour in 1957. I was ten. It was winter and I went on the picket line with my old man. I remember fires burning to keep everyone warm. I remember swigging my first cup of coffee. Harmac, the mill being struck, was miles out of town. We had to drive down the Island highway, snow banking deep on both sides, and then take the Cedar turnoff. A few miles along, we drove over the old bridge that hung high above the Nanaimo River.

The strike camp was pretty close to the mill but was nothing more then canvas tents and burn barrels.

As vague as the memory of that single occurrence is, I have repeated the tale numerous times over the years. Any time I found myself on my own picket line, and that was six or seven times including one of the summers I worked at Harmac as a student earning the coming years tuition-a time when that was possible- I have invariably boasted about my introduction to a union picket line.

The papers these days are full of under-stimulated journalists decrying the current teachers strike. “It’s anarchy,” they rail. “It flaunts the rule of law,” they add.

The courts have struck at the pocketbooks of the teachers, freezing their strike pay. Think coal miners for a moment. Think Dickensian child factory workers. Assuming they had strike pay, had progressive unions, what would be our view if the courts froze their union wages to coerce them back into the coal pits, the poisoned air of slave labour factories?

I admit strikes grind things to a halt. Often they have no immediate benefit. At the end of the day though, people have the right to withhold their labour. Their labour is them. There often is little differentiation between the two.

More to the point, however, is that strikes are often mostly about the future, hopefully ensuring improved conditions for the ones that follow.

While strikes beget sacrifice, they usually beget change.

Therein rests their principal value.


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