She Never Was Afraid
The Biography of Annie Buller, by Louise Watson
Articles by Annie Buller
A story of militancy
Path of struggle
The Toronto dressmakers
When the history of the Canadian labour movement
is written the Toronto dressmakers will occupy an honored place. Their
militancy, their courage and devotion to the cause of labour earned them
the respect of the workers in the needle trades and of the whole labour
In the 1920's and early 1930's the conditions in
the dress industry were indeed terrible. Wages were low, speed-up knew
no bounds. In these sweat shops there was no semblance of organization.
Thomas Hood might have been writing about those days in the needle
industry in Toronto in his famous poem:
With fingers weary and
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread —
Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!
In poverty, hunger and dirt;
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,
Would that its tone could reach the rich!
She sang this "Song of the Shirt"
The dressmakers could not persuade the officials
of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (then looked upon by
the workers as a company union) to organize them and help abolish these
frightful conditions. The so-called leaders' reply was "you cannot
organize women." This is eloquent proof of how little these reformist
leaders understood the working class. In fact they were much closer to
Class collaboration and betrayal were the order
of the day. About 70 per cent of the workers in the needle trades
industry were unorganized, and the reformist leaders with big treasuries
at their disposal made not the slightest effort to organize these
workers. In 1929 there were between 30,000 and 35,000 needle trades
workers in Canada, concentrated in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and
Hamilton. In Southern Ontario there were approximately 15,000, of whom
80 per cent were in Toronto.
The dressmakers could no longer tolerate the
actions of the leaders — the betrayal of the cloakmakers, the fake
stoppages, the refusal to organize the dressmakers as well as the
overwhelming majority of needle trades workers.
Thus in 1929 the dressmakers took their destiny
into their own hands and started to build a union that would defend
their living standards and abolish the outrageous sweat shop conditions.
The organization campaign was a tremendous
undertaking. It meant hard work, shop meetings after a day's toil, the
meetings before and after supper. Hundreds of workers had to be visited
in their homes. Nights and Sundays were devoted to building their union.
It was a campaign that required people who had faith in their class. The
dress manufacturers felt quite safe, for they knew that the ILGWU did
not think that women could be organized. It was indeed a shock to them
when they began to feel the wrath of the workers taking on definite
organizational forms. The new Dressmakers' Union affiliated to the
Workers Unity League and received able assistance from men and women who
had a great deal of experience and were ready to give their best to
advance the cause of labour.
The Workers Unity League made history in those
days. It organized over 40,000 workers in industries such as lumber,
steel, mining, furniture, needle trades, etc., etc. Not only were
conditions improved for these workers, but tens of thousands of
unorganized workers received increases in wages and got concessions from
the bosses because they realized that more and more workers were joining
The cry of the reformist leaders that you cannot
organize the unorganized in times of crisis was proven to be just as
wrong as the myth "you cannot organize women." The Workers Unity League
opened up a new and glorious chapter in the organization of the
unorganized. Strike after strike was won despite the depression, due to
the efforts of the WUL. Workers began to have faith in themselves. They
began to see that only through struggle can labour make gains and raise
The dressmakers were making headway in their
organization campaign, but were unable to get the manufacturers to sign
a contract with the union. The officials of the ILGWU assured the
manufacturers that if the Dressmakers' Industrial Union called a strike,
the ILGWU would supply scabs and give the scabs ILGWU books. The
"company union" along with the manufacturers, did all in their power to
obstruct union organization and prepared to smash the strike when it
On January 12, 1931, at a mass meeting of
dressmakers in Toronto the demands of the new union were formulated. The
Shop Delegate Council was authorized to call a general strike when
necessary. The demands were: higher wages; shorter hours; equal division
of work; recognition of shop committees elected by the workers; against
speed-up and piecework. On January 13, the strike was called. The
response of the workers was good when you consider the alliance of the
bosses with the ILGWU officials and the open threats that if the workers
went out on strike they would not get their jobs back, as only those
carrying ILGWU cards would get jobs. Despite all these threats and
cold-blooded intimidation, the strike was, in some shops, 75-100 per
The ILGWU became an open scab agency. Langer,
London and Fish of the ILGWU lost no time in sending scabs into the
factories and shops and gave them the necessary "strong-arm protection".
Workers in many of the shops that were preparing to join the strike,
were terrorized by gangsters hired by the ILGWU. The police were also
Liquor began to flow freely. It was a Roman
holiday for the enemies of labour. Arrests took place on the picket
line. Some workers had to pay fines. Hymie Sparaga was sentenced to two
months imprisonment and deportation after he served his sentence. He was
deported. It was with deep sorrow that we have since learned that he was
one of those who were exterminated by the Nazis in the last war. His
life was taken from him because he was a militant worker, an
anti-fascist, and a Jew. The murder of this brave son of labour should
make us vow that we will not allow traitors to repeat their treachery.
The company union used the underworld to give
"evidence" against loyal workers. The red bogey was trotted out. The
officials worked hand in glove with the manufacturers and as a reward
got some contracts over the heads of the workers: contracts without
concessions but designed to serve as a stumbling block in the
organization campaign of the Dressmakers' Industrial Union. For
instance, the National Dress asked the ILG officials to call a quick
stoppage to prevent a genuine strike, as their workers were really ready
for struggle. The same applied to other shops. The reformist leaders
were determined to betray the dressmakers just as they had betrayed the
cloakmakers. They left no stone unturned in their efforts to smash the
strike and whip the dressmakers into line by shackling them with an
agreement that did nothing to ease their hardships. Even Jimmie Simpson
and Robbins, labour controllers, were brought in to break the strike.
Rank and file cloakmakers and men's tailors
supported the strikers with funds and on the picket line. The officials
of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers punished two tailors for appearing
on the picket line; R. Browner was suspended from the union for one year
and Goldstein for six months. That was the reward they got from these
reformist leaders for expressing their solidarity with the dressmakers.
By January 19 the general strike of the
dressmakers was called off. A number of shops signed contracts with the
industrial union and substantial gains were made. We did not want to
drain the strength of the membership through a long drawn-out strike. We
had to fight the bosses and the open scab agency, the company union, and
we felt that it was important to strengthen the union so as to be able
to carry on through an individual shop basis.
The lessons of the strike were tremendous. We
learned that were it not for the treacherous role of the reformists, we
could have organized 70 to 80 per cent of the workers in the dress
industry. We were able to establish a good functioning apparatus in the
union and in a number of important shops. Our Shop Committees were
composed of the best mechanics, the most advanced militants, who had the
respect and confidence of the workers in the shops. What a comparison
with the conditions in the shops controlled by the ILGWU, which secured
contracts over the heads of the workers! They had manufacturers, but
they never enjoyed the confidence of the workers.
The organization campaign, the building of the
union among the dressmakers, the short strike, enriched our experience
and prepared us for the struggle to come. Outside of the miners, I know
of no section of the working class in those days that was more militant
and class conscious than the dressmakers.
The strike exposed the role of the
social-democrats, how they split unions, how their class collaboration
policies helped the bosses and betrayed the workers' best interests.
We have cause to be proud of the role played by
the Communists in organizing the dressmakers and fighting for them. The
workers respected our comrades for their hard work, devotion and self
sacrifice. Our comrades fought against grievances and for improved
conditions, but they also fought to enlighten and help educate the
workers. We conducted classes and open forums. We spoke of the situation
in China, on the cause of unemployment, on the organization of the
unorganized, the crisis and its causes and effects, on the building of
socialism in the USSR. We celebrated May Day. We sold the labour press
and working class literature.
There was enthusiasm and a fighting spirit in the
Dressmakers' Union. Girls in their 'teens, women past middle age, all
enthusiastically worked together to build their union. It was truly
theirs, for they were in on all deliberations, they were the
policy-makers, recognized for the first time in their working lives as
human beings who had a purpose in life and who were part of a great
The dressmakers respected and loved such leaders
as Max Shur, Chana Novinsky Kleinstein, Gertie Blugerman and Rae Watson.
They all died an untimely death. They gave their best to the workers'
cause and worked as Communists in the union.
It was our Party that raised the sights of the
workers. We knew that if we confined our work to the immediate demands
only, we would fail. We put up a conscious fight against spontaneity and
economism, taking heart from the words of Marx and Engels in the
Communist Manifesto: "The Communists fight for the attainment of the
immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the
working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent
and take care of the future of that movement."
Finally in 1936, the Dressmakers' Industrial
Union was merged with the existing ILGWU. They had done outstanding
spade work which made higher wages and improved working conditions
possible. The industrial union of dressmakers like the WUL had never
been organized as an "ideal" union to supplant the regular unions. It
was organized to save the unions from destruction by the bosses and
right wing leaders in the 1930's, and to organize the unorganized. But
the fight is by no means over. Whilst organization has made headway the
right-wing leadership has succeeded for a period of dulling the old
militancy. What is needed is a resurgence of militancy on a new scale.
In paying tribute to the militancy of the
dressmakers we must bear in mind that although it was the intolerable
working conditions that made them militant, they could not have achieved
all their gains had they not received the guidance and leadership of
We have confidence that the dressmakers, along
with the rest of the needle trades workers, who have a glorious record
of struggle and heroism in the days gone by, will play an active role in
preserving and furthering their gains as part of the world's working
class which fights for peace. The lessons of the past will serve as a
torch to illuminate the path of struggle for democracy in the unions,
for the organization of the unorganized, for higher-wages, for working
class unity and world peace.
National Affairs, June 1951
Glorious heritage of Canadian women
Honouring women through thirty years of glorious struggle
Canadian women have a proud record in the
building and developing of our great country. The pioneer women, side by
side with their men, braved the storms and cleared the stumps in the
wilderness to build a home and a better life.
Primitive life and hardships did not prevent
women from taking an active part in public affairs. In 1837 Madame
Girouard presented a petition to a local committee on behalf of a "group
of women who adopted resolutions with the aim of contributing, insofar
as the weakness of their sex permits, to the success of the patriotic
cause." The petition was endorsed and the local committee authorized the
formation of the Association of Patriotic Women of the Two Mountain
Madame Lount appeared before Sir George Arthur in
1838 with a petition asking that her husband and Matthews not be
executed in Toronto. Her request, of course, was refused. We find that
the mother of Louis Papineau demanded the right to vote for her son.
At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of
the twentieth century the struggle for the franchise really began.
Through militant leadership the women of Alberta secured 40,000
signatures on a petition and forced the provincial government to grant
them the vote in 1916. Similar campaigns won the franchise for women in
all provinces but Quebec in the next two years. In Alberta, July, 1917,
Mrs. Louis McKinney, UFA, was the first woman to be elected to a
legislative seat in the British Empire.
The federal vote was granted to women in 1918 in
the provinces where the women already enjoyed the provincial vote. In
1920 it became universal regardless of provincial regulations.
Finally, during the Second World War, in 1940,
reaction in Quebec had to yield to public pressure and grant women the
The struggle for the franchise is but one example
of the heroic century-old battles in which women occupied a very
prominent place. The fight for economic and social reforms provides us
with many inspiring examples. The women did not stand on the sidelines,
when their men-folk fought for a living wage. In 1891, in Wellington,
B.C., when 15 striking miners were arrested and the Riot Act was read to
stop parading, the wives and daughters of the miners stepped in line and
The women's movement of the early days functioned
in a spontaneous fashion. It found itself in a similar position to the
followers of the pre-Marxian utopians who could see the misery and
injustice but could not find a way out. The way ahead became clear to us
in Canada when the Party of scientific socialism came into being. The
Communist Party based on the science of Marxism-Leninism opened up a new
page in the history of the working class movement generally and gave
great impetus to the women's movement. As Comrade Buck points out in
The Workers' Party, for
the first time in the history of the revolutionary workers' movement in
Canada recognized the special interests o f working-class women and
undertook to organize them. The main channel was the Federation of
Women's Labor Leagues. These were local organizations of women which
took up the fight on every question that concerned the interests or the
special needs of women workers, working-class housewives, etc.
The Party's leadership in the day to day
struggles for immediate demands was raised to an ever higher level,
fortified by the realization that only socialism will bring complete
liberation and equality for the women of Canada. The women who joined
our Party began to feel that they were part of a great and most decisive
class in society, and they fought and still fight against second-rate
One can only give a bird's-eye view of the
struggles, devotion and heroism of the women in our Party and of the
tens of thousands of women who fought side by side with us, learning
through these united struggles that our interests are the interests of
the people as a whole. Each province in Canada has its labour heroines,
and they are growing in numbers with the rise and intensity of the class
In B.C. the backbone of the women's movement is
the women's auxiliaries of the trade unions. An earlier form was the
Women's Labor League with Effie Jones, Annie Stewart, and many others
giving excellent leadership. During the struggles of the unemployed in
'37 and '38 the women organized the feeding of the hunger marchers,
solicited food, helped to raise funds. When the men had the sit-down
strike in the post office the women passed food to them through the
The Housewives' Consumers' Association . . . has
played a magnificent role. The women of the Housewives' Consumers'
Association conducted real mass struggles for price controls and in
building the unity of the women's movement. They carried on these
campaigns with initiative and originality and received support from the
TLC, CCL, Legion Clubs, the Ratepayers Association, and other mass
organizations. This mighty unity resulted in price reductions on pork
In the campaign for a Peace Pact the women
travelled many miles in the logging camps on Vancouver Island getting
signatures for the Peace Pact and raising funds to send delegates to the
In civic affairs the Vancouver women have signal
achievements to record. The women who have run for civic office have
made a splendid showing. Effie Jones was almost elected mayor on the
popular issue of five-cents street-car fare.
All through the 30 years of its life the Party
has been in the forefront of the struggle for the organization of the
unorganized, for equal pay for equal work, for non-contributory
unemployment insurance. We did the pioneer work in organizing the
Toronto Dressmakers who were among the lowest paid. Despite the
treachery and open scab-herding of the agents of the bosses in the
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, we succeeded in abolishing
many sweatshop conditions and gained concessions that improved life for
the overwhelming majority of the dressmakers. Our Party women in that
struggle have made a worthy contribution to the Canadian labour
movement. They gave of their best. Among the most outstanding of them
were Rae Watson, Gertie Blugerman, Chana Novinsky (Kleinstein), Lilly
Mandelevich, Rose Coulter. They died an untimely death. We pay our
respects and honour them on the 30th anniversary of our Party.
Not only in industries where women are employed
did our Party women play an important role in organizing the unorganized
and raising their living standards. Our beloved comrade Jeanne Corbin
did heroic work in Northern Ontario in helping to organize the lumber
workers and miners. She had the advantage of speaking English as
fluently as her native French. She was arrested and put into jail.
Shortly after her release she had to go to a sanitarium with T.B.
Jeanne was also manager of The Worker for a time.
She was editor of La Vie Ouvrière. She was a talented and devoted
comrade. The Party was her life. Just before her death in April 1944 she
I feel I have had
wonderful friends in the labour movement, and seeing I have to quit
early, I feel very glad that I joined when I was very young. One thing
is heartening — the whole world is on the march and thousands of new
hands are appearing to carry on the work.
Jeanne died in the prime of her life. She gave
her all to make Canada a better place to live in. On the 30th
anniversary we honour the memory of our brave comrade.
Here is a chapter that was written in the blood
of our people. Who can ever forget the three murdered miners in Estevan?
Who can ever forget the women and children of Bienfait-Estevan during
the strike, the parade and the trials? During the parade in Estevan the
women were in the front lines, fearless and defiant, fighting for the
lives of the men. They saw the miners shot, they saw their blood, and
they were determined that the battle was not to be in vain. The miners
and their wives could not be bought. They did not turn Judas and did not
give evidence against the strike-leaders during the trials. It was not
because they were not approached and that every effort was not made to
corrupt and demoralize them.
These courageous people who suffered so much at
the hands of the coal companies and the authorities turned out to our
trials and defended every one of us in a courtroom that was full of
police and stool pigeons. Their understanding of capitalist class
justice was enhanced at those trials and they knew which side they were
on. We salute these splendid women on the anniversary of our Party.
(Editor's note: Comrade Buller's heroic part in this struggle should not
be overlooked. A glimpse of it can be caught in her account of the
Estevan strike in NAM, May, 1949.)
Since those days Saskatchewan has made tremendous
strides. The Women's Labour League played an important role in its day
and laid the basis for work among women in Regina and Saskatoon. During
the unforgettable On-To-Ottawa Trek and the attack on our boys, July
1st, 1935, in Regina, the women came to the forefront in organizing a
mothers' committee to help the boys who were arrested. Florence Theodore
was its secretary.
Dorise Nielsen was elected as a unity candidate
in the federal elections in 1940 in the North Battleford constituency.
Her speeches in the House of Commons were an inspiration to the whole
nation. She was fighting every inch of the way. She said:
Democracy is a living
thing. If you seek to bind and chain democracy, if you seek to keep it
for a while without letting it live and without permitting it to
exercise itself, democracy will wither, it will die.
The right-wing CCF leadership worked for her
defeat. She was indeed welcome when she joined the Labour-Progressive
Party in 1943.
Not only did Saskatchewan elect a woman to the
federal house to fight for the Canadian people, Saskatchewan also
elected a woman as the Party leader. Comrade Florence Theodore held that
post from 1942 to 1945. Comrade Theodore understood the role of the
Party and courageously brought that understanding to the people of
Saskatchewan. She was a tireless worker who earned the respect and
admiration of wide sections of the people of Saskatchewan.
The province of Saskatchewan had its share of
political prisoners during the dark days before the war took on a real
anti-fascist people's character. Flo Theodore was arrested and sentenced
to six months. Gladys McDonald spent a year in Battleford jail and
another year in Kingston penitentiary. Ella Gehl of Saskatchewan spent
10 months in Portage La Prairie jail in Manitoba. She was released the
day that I entered that jail and became a guest of the government and
joined Margaret Mills who had already spent several months there.
The work of the women of Saskatchewan in every
walk of life was outstanding. Our Party, in the forefront of the
progressive people's movement, was decisive in breaking the
strangle-hold of the old-line capitalist parties in Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan today is in the lead in the struggle for peace and the
women are playing an inspiring part.
The early struggles of the miners of B.C. have
their counterpart in the province of Alberta. The mineowners called for
more coal, higher profits. The result is that many miners over the years
have been buried alive, killed by gas explosions for lack of ventilation
equipment, buried by rock-slides because "timber is so dear" and human
life so cheap. The miners' wives have been in the thick of the struggle.
As Beckie Buhay tells in Women in the Fight for Peace and Socialism:
During the twenties a
wave of struggles broke out among the Alberta miners almost in every
mining town and camp. Highlight: Edmonton miners strike of 1922. In a
pitched battle women stormed barbed wire barrier on company property. A
company agent fired on the crowd wounding Mrs. Clarke. The incident
almost set entire Alberta miners aflame with revolt. N.S. strikes are
also noted for militancy of women.
Among the outstanding pioneer women in Alberta
was Mary North who was leading the work in the Crow. Another grand
comrade was Mary Kucheran of Lethbridge who in the early days stopped
many a scab from going into the mine. She was a tower of strength in the
days when the union was built. She was one of the early builders of the
Ukrainian movement, a foundation member of our Party. Her home in
Lethbridge was always open to every one of us. Always active in the
labour movement she raised her children to share her hopes and dreams.
Through the length and breadth of Alberta we have
dozens of women who have helped to build the trade union movement and
who have enriched labour's history in a province that today is
practically faced with U.S. occupation. As then so now the women of
Alberta play their part in the struggle for peace and Canadian
In Manitoba the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919
and, in later years, the bitter struggle of the miners in Flin Flon, saw
the women in heroic action. During the thirties Comrade Emma Johnson of
Winnipeg led dozens of delegations to the city council and the
provincial government demanding and fighting for higher relief. She was
a foundation member of the Party and active till her last days. She died
on July 6, 1943. She will be honoured and remembered by all of us who
had the pleasure of working with her.
The memory of Comrade Freda Coodin is cherished
by us. She was imprisoned during a furriers' strike and died shortly
after, in 1935. She paid with her life to improve conditions for the
needle trades workers generally.
The women of Nova Scotia have a glorious record
of heroism in the many strikes of the coal miners and steel workers and
in many fields of mass struggle. Such old-timers as Annie Whitfield are
active up to the present day and are in the forefront of the struggle
The women of Quebec have a long record of
struggle, be it for the franchise, against conscription during the
imperialist war of 1914-1918, for working class education, for free
speech and assembly, the right to trade union organization and against
the Padlock Law, for the organization of the unorganized, for
unemployment insurance and higher relief, against high prices, for the
equality of the French-Canadian nation, for peace, and independence of
Canada from U.S. domination.
The manifold struggles of the working people in
Ontario brought women into motion and saw their active participation
side by side with men, and often taking the lead. On this occasion we
pay tribute to Florence Custance, "Johnnie" Knight, Ma Bisgold, Maud
Smith, and to our beloved young comrade Isobel Ewen and all the others
who are no more with us, but whose memory lives in the great people's
battles of today.
Who can forget the days of the hunger marches
with Ma Flanagan feeding the marchers from Toronto to Ottawa — a morale
builder and a comrade to all.
In the civic field we have cause to be proud of
such women as Helen Coulson, who was alderman and later controller in
Hamilton, defending the interests of Hamilton's working families.
Space will not permit us to pay tribute to
literally hundreds of women who today occupy an honoured place in the
people's movement and in our Party. They are known by their work and
their deeds and we salute them one and all.
In the 30 years of its existence our Party has
stood the test and weathered the storm. Our Party at all times took a
courageous stand, often going against the tide, only to be vindicated
later on by the course of events. In the difficult days of class
persecution our women were brave. They did not allow their personal
grief to dampen their spirits. They stood up and fought and won, for
theirs is a just cause. Our women have seen their husbands, their
fathers and sons sent to jails and concentration camps because they
fought against fascism and for a democratic Canada. They had to be
mother and father to their children.
Just as in the past the women were united on the
issues facing the people as a whole, just so today concessions gained
are a result of the unity forged by the great women's movement. The
March of a Million Names, organized by Housewives' Associations met with
a great response. The women got into action on the issue of the high
cost of living, and they didn't allow their political opinions to split
them on the important issue. In the fight for peace, the 300,000
signatures secured by women and youth were indeed a telling blow against
the atom bomb imperialists. The recent meat strike in Montreal is
another example of how unity is forged in struggle, and how it must be
The Toronto women in the bookbinders' strike, the
textile strikers in the province of Quebec who are fighting for equal
pay and higher wages deserve the support of not only the entire trade
union movement, but of the women's movement as well. Unity of all labour
can chalk up another victory.
It is indeed heartening to see the lead the women
are taking in the struggle for peace, for an increase in family
allowances, and in defence of the children.
The atom bomb and germ warfare have wrought havoc
and disease in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Korea and North-east China, and are
but a prelude to what U.S. imperialism would like to do in the very near
future, if the democratic forces are not aroused in opposition to these
bestial plans. The women of Canada, as of the world, are in the front of
the fight to defeat these plans.
Women in the trade unions, CCF, consumer
organizations and the LPP have learned from past events that in unity
there is strength. The women are a great reservoir for a people's
coalition, in which all democratic Canadians will unite to bring about
the realization of their progressive aspirations.
In the tradition of struggle and inspired by the
heroic deeds of the sons and daughters of the Canadian working class, in
solidarity with the awakened and forward marching millions of the world,
our Party women, together with the men will bring to the people our
present Party Program, which expresses the hopes and strivings of the
Canadian people — a free, independent people's democratic Canada living
in friendship with all other peoples in a world at peace and advancing
National Affairs, May 1952
The following is not a sketch nor a biography of
our beloved brave comrade, Sam Scarlett. It's but a glimpse of a
courageous fighter who dedicated his life to the cause of the common
people. Sam's untimely death in 1941 was a great loss to the working
class. Until his last days Sam gave of his best.
Just as the enemies of the people hated Sam, the
agitator, just so did the workers love and admire him. Sam was born in
Scotland, came to Galt, Ontario, at the beginning of the century. He
worked there as a machinist, following his hobby of football, a sport in
which he excelled. Sports alone, however, could not absorb Sam. He was
an active and energetic young man, definitely not the type that could
keep aloof from the struggle of his class. He was on the side of the
workers, determined to make his contribution in the struggle for a
About 1908 or 1909 he left Canada for the United
States and soon after joined the IWW becoming one of their outstanding
organizers and agitators. He led some of the biggest strikes. It was
natural that he should have joined the IWW for in those days the
organization was militant and it was men like Sam who made a great
contribution to the IWW struggle.
However, the IWW did not keep pace with the
times, when they failed to grasp the significance of the October
Revolution, the science of Marxism-Leninism remained foreign to them and
they substituted radical phrases for a trade union policy. The IWW
demonstrated that they did not understand the role of trade unions under
capitalism; that they can be powerful schools for socialism. It was then
that Sam left the IWW.
One of the first big strikes that Sam
participated in was the Lawrence Textile Strike in 1912. Along with him
was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn who made her contribution as a young girl in
that glorious strike. Sam was a personal friend of Joe Hill. They were
in the same battles. Sam was in the great strike of the Masaba Iron
Range Workers. He was arrested and charged with murder. It is estimated
that Sam was arrested about 160 times.
Sam opposed the first Imperialist War of 1914-18
and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was released at the end of
the war and was then deported to Scotland. He returned to Canada a short
time later and worked as a machinist in Blairmore. He then became
organizer for the IWW in Western Canada. At that time he still had faith
in the IWW. I remember in 1925 in Drumheller, I spoke to the miners on
behalf of our Party and Sam opposed our Party line. Later on he met
Charlie Sims in Drumheller and both of them, independently came to the
conclusion that the IWW had outlived its day. Sam joined our Party
around 1930 and made a worthy contribution. His leadership, in some
great strike struggles will always be remembered. The miners strike at
Estevan was a fierce battle where three miners were killed, dozens
wounded, and a number served prison sentences. Sam was in that strike
and served a year in Prince Albert jail. He was the first one to
introduce me to the miners of that area and secured an invitation for me
to speak there. Sam and I worked with Dick Steele in Toronto and helped
to. organize the steel workers. He did a good job at a later date in
Nova Scotia. His work in Hamilton is still remembered. One of the best
clubs is named after him.
Sam was chairman of the Party in Toronto around
1938. He was a tireless fighter for our press and in 1939 was chairman
of The Clarion. The people's press was suppressed by the capitalist
class and there was a warrant out for Sam's arrest. He lived underground
after the outbreak of war and had to constantly dodge the police. His
health was poor and in 1941, in the City of New York, Sam died of a
He lived an interesting and creative life and was
happiest when he could participate in struggle, could talk to workers
and imbue them with a spirit of fight. His outstanding quality was his
tremendous faith in the workers. He would never tire of remaining behind
after a meeting to talk to the last one or two workers who had a problem
It was the Russian Revolution which influenced
Sam. The lessons of that great event drove home to Sam the need of a
Marxist Party to guarantee victory for the working class. Until then, he
had accepted the theory of spontaneity. When he learned that the
Bolshevik Party was responsible for a successful revolution in Russia,
he began to appreciate our Party in Canada. He was prepared to give the
rest of his life toward the building of a Marxist Party.
Sam Scarlett has inscribed a glorious page in the
history of the working class movement. He has left us a rich heritage. A
biography worthy of such a great fighter will yet be written. Sam's life
and work must be brought to the people. The history of our movement, in
song, poetry or in prose, must give the picture of Sam's life to the
working class. His life's work can be a great guide and inspiration for
our Party, for the labour movement as a whole.
Each year additional tens of thousands of women
join the great celebrations of International Women's Day, March 8th.
They recognize that that day has great historic significance for them,
for it has brought hope and courage to women the world over, it has
taught them the lessons of struggle and united action, and has given
them faith in their own strength and ability to make this world a better
place to live in.
There were powerful voices raised by needle
trades women from the sweat shops, by overworked mothers from the East
Side of New York, as far back as 1904, when the socialist women held a
conference. They expressed the need for political action, the need to
abolish sweat shop conditions and child labour, to establish a minimum
Those voices found an echo in the hearts of women
throughout the world and paved the way for a great international women's
movement. The socialist minded women had the vision and understanding
that humanity cannot make great strides forward unless the women take
their place in the everyday struggles for economic needs, as well as for
peace and socialism.
Out of that historic conference came "Women's
Day". On March 8, 1908, the women of New York's East Side came out on
the streets and raised their banners for the vote against the evils of
exploitation and inequality.
In 1910, at the International Socialist
Conference in Copenhagen, the great Clara Zetkin, the heroic woman
leader of the German working class, moved a resolution that the American
"Women's Day" be adopted as International Women's Day. Among those who
supported the resolution were Lenin, who led the Russian delegation;
Alexandra Kollontai, who after the October Revolution became ambassador
to Mexico and Sweden; the immortal Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht,
the fearless spokesmen of the anti-imperialist and anti-war forces in
Germany; and Bill Haywood, the outstanding labour leader from the U.S.A.
From then on the women in all corners of the
earth regarded International Women's Day as their day, to voice
their needs, bring forward their demands for the vote, against
oppression and for equality in political and economic life.
In 1917 the chains of oppression were broken in
Russia, and with the liberation of the workers and peasants came the
complete liberation of women over one-sixth of the earth. An example was
shown to the women of the world of the hope that socialism offers, of
the radiant future that lies ahead with socialism triumphant. The heroic
deeds of the Soviet women are an inspiration to the women of the world.
In their forward march to Communism they are entering the highest stage
— a classless society — a society they are worthy of.
In the struggle for a lasting peace the Women's
International Democratic Federation is making a great contribution. This
Federation with a world membership of 135 million, sent a delegation of
21 women from 17 countries to Korea to learn the truth of what is going
on there. Upon their return these brave women brought us the truth about
the crimes committed against a peace-loving people, against innocent
women and children. Canada has cause to be proud of Mrs. Nora Rodd of
Windsor, chairman of this women's delegation. Upon her return she toured
the country from coast to coast bringing a true picture of the war
crimes committed in Korea.
Peace and national independence are uppermost in
the minds of the women in all countries of the world. When we take a
glimpse at the heroic work for peace performed by women, when we read
the contributions made by women's spokesmen at the Congress of the
Peoples for Peace, we gather strength and inspiration.
Among those present from 85 countries were women
workers and peasants, women writers, women of every opinion and from all
backgrounds. Among them were Madame Eugenie Cotton of France, the
president of the Women's International Democratic Federation; Mme. Sun
Yat-sen from China; Mrs. Monica Felton from Britain; Mme. Nina Popova,
president of the Soviet Women's Anti-fascist Committee; Sra. Olga
Poblete from Chile, president of the Chilean Women's Movement; Mme. Anna
Beretholtz, editorial board member Social Christian Life, of Sweden;
Mme. Rosa Thaelmann from Germany, widow of Ernst Thaelmann, leader of
the German working class who was assassinated by Hitler's Gestapo.
Dozens and dozens of women from the 85 countries
made a noble contribution to the making of a policy and program that
will strengthen the cause of peace. And so did the delegation from
Canada. Out of a delegation of 32 from Canada; nine were women. Now,
upon their return, they are speaking to hundreds of gatherings all over
the country. Already in Toronto Mrs. Libby Park, Mrs. Sanderson, and
Mrs. Mary Harris have spoken to many gatherings large and small.
A World Congress of Women, to be held in Denmark,
in June, 1953, is now being prepared. The call was issued by the Council
of the Women's International Democratic Federation. It appeals to women
from all walks of life to be represented. The call concludes with the
Women of the whole
world! Let us clasp hands across the frontiers to bar the road to war,
oppression and poverty.
Let us act to force the
end of the wars now being waged; the prohibition of weapons; the
progressive reduction of armaments leading to general disarmament; the
conclusion of a Pact of Peace between the five Great Powers.
United we constitute an
invincible force for the winning and defence of our rights, for the
protection of our children and homes, for a peaceful world. Support the
World Congress of Women!
We can look forward to the World Congress of
Women with great assurance that it will mark a milestone on the road to
peace and independence, freedom and security for all peoples of the
world. The Canadian women will take their place at this history-making
congress, contributing of their utmost to the success of the struggle
for world peace and international brotherhood. On this Women's Day,
March 8, we salute the heroic women of the world and pledge our
solidarity in the work for a better life, free from fear and want,
oppression and war.
In Canada the immediate orientation of our
Party's women's work must be to the federal election, rumored in Ottawa
to be held in the spring. This election will bring out publicly issues
that will rally thousands of women around our candidates and heighten
their struggle for peace, national independence and equal rights.
The aims of our Program give our candidates —
especially our women candidates — and the members and supporters of the
Labour Progressive Party an unequalled opportunity to work toward
crystallizing public opinion around the idea of a people's democracy
based on a broad coalition of Canadians in every walk of life, as the
only peaceful democratic way out for Canada and her people. In our
canvass of women, our public and house meetings, afternoon teas and
other gatherings, discussions of our Program in the simplest terms will
convince many that the LPP is the only party that offers hope to the
majority of Canadians for a decent and peaceful way of life, for equal
rights for women and the protection of their homes and families from the
pestilent crime comics and other harmful reading matter to be found on
our newsstands today and from atomic war.
But our campaign discussions, particularly with
women, will cover more than the larger issues of peace, national
independence and so on. We have the problem of the shockingly bad
housing conditions that exist all across Canada, and the need for a
federal low-rent housing program. We will talk about the need for a
minimum national standard of education, based on the highest standard at
present established in Canada, and will suggest that the compulsory
school span be from five to 16 years of age. More consideration must be
given to our senior citizens. We will advocate that the old age pension
be increased to $65 for men at 65 years, and $65 for women at 60.
We will discuss with women in industry the right
of women to equal pay for equal work and the need for greater struggle
among women trade unionists, as well as trade unionists in general, for
legal recognition of this right and for both the enforcement and
improvement of the law against this form of discrimination in provinces
where there is such a law. We will talk about better working conditions
and an end to exhausting speed-up of women workers.
We should say to the electors that the LPP is
wholeheartedly in favour of the people's demand for a national health
plan, and itself advocates a national health plan; and we will point out
that the only thing that stands in the way of our having such a plan is
the government's huge commitment to Washington — a commitment that
drains away over $2 billion from constructive Canadian projects such as
a national health plan to feed the imperialist U.S. war machine. On this
issue we stand on common ground with the thousands of CCF members and
supporters who sincerely desire a national health plan. A friendly
approach to this issue will convince many CCFers that their leaders are
deceiving them when they demand the institution of a national health
plan while at the same time they support and vote for the government's
war. expenditures. They will support our demand that a large part of the
$2 billion for war be used to ensure the health and well-being of the
Jointly with our young people we will fight
against conscription and for the right of our men and women to jobs,
recreation and cultural facilities. The possibility exists of creating a
broad united front around the issues raised in our Program and of
mobilizing women to support our candidates. United front activity is not
new to our women. We have joined with other women in our various
communities in struggle for such things as day-care nurseries, more and
better equipped playgrounds, swimming pools and so on. Action on
community issues will form a part of our general campaign. Our campaign
will be vigorous and sustained with no flagging of effort and no gaps in
our plan of work.
Our Party women have stood the test in past
campaigns. They have made untold sacrifices to meet their obligations.
There is every indication that again they will hold high the banner of
the Party in this crucial campaign whose results could open wide the way
to a peaceful prosperous Canada in which the principle of equal rights
for women would be universally understood and enforced.
S. BULLER and
National Affairs, March 1953
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