The Order of the Liberator San Martin: Recognition, Remembrance, And Solidarity
Thirty years ago, a workers' blockade in New Brunswick stopped the Argentinian dictatorship from bringing a nuclear reactor online. The longshoremen of Saint John refused to load a $120-million cargo of heavy water bound for Argentina. The blockade also shone an international spotlight on Argentina's tyranny and its political prisoners, and helped force the release of 11 jailed trade unionists. Argentina's democratic government is now honouring the Saint John longshoremen with the highest award it can give them.
Which reminds me.
When I was a strappy young labour reporter, the New Brunswicker Tommy McGrath (a tiny bit about him here, .pdf) was president of Local 400 of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway, Transport and General Workers, on the Vancouver waterfront. With Tommy on the docks, no ship that dropped anchor in Vancouver harbour would be allowed to leave if it was owned by any shipping company, anywhere in the world, that was breaking a strike or had skipped someplace without paying its workers' wages. The ship would stay tied up in Vancouver until its owners made good.
In those days, no matter who you were, no matter what seedy Third World backwater port you worked in, if you'd been stiffed by some international shipping company you could call Tommy, and Tommy would come through for you. It could take days or years, but Tommy would come through. All he'd ask in return was the keepsake of your port's pennant or your ship's flag. In his tiny, cramped office at the old Maritime Union hall down in the Eastside, the walls were festooned with these little flags.
Tommy first drew blood in the Canadian Seamen's Union strike in South Africa in 1949. When the CSU was busted up and taken over by the American seafarers' union, Tommy and his comrades refused to buckle, and they set up the democratic West Coast Seamen's Union. In 1958, following the deaths of 19 workers in the collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge (now called the Ironworkers' Memorial Bridge) Tommy was fired by the American bridge and ironworkers' union for refusing to order his members back to work. So he and his mates got together and organized the democratic Canadian Ironworkers, Local No. 1.
We became fast friends over the years, he the elder and me the kid with all the questions. He went on to become president of the Canadian Merchant Navy Association, and died in 1996. I can still remember the stinging pain from the moment I heard the news he was dead.
But Tommy lives. In Iran, where workers are in rebellion against Mamoud Ahmadinejad's boss unions, at this very moment the underground trade union movement is rallying its members from all over the country to an illegal May Day demonstration in Tehran, at Laleh Park, in Abnama Square.
Which reminds me. I've written a May Day column that will appear tomorrow in the Tyee, and it will touch on subjects related to our obligations of solidarity with Iranian, Palestinian, Israeli and Afghan workers. I'll be noticing that the betrayal of those obligations is now the rule, rather than the exception, within Canada's labour bureaucracy, as it is within the "Left" establishment in this country. There's even a funny story in it about my recent and nasty personal encounter with Press TV.
I'll put up a post when the column appears.