Labour not lost on McCartney

Feb 06, 2003, vol. 26, no. 3
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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A labour of love and a love of labour: that's SFU student Dale McCartney's university experience in a nutshell.

McCartney (left), who has been named the first recipient of the B.C. Federation of Labour award for excellence in labour studies, was headed for a degree in American history when he was abruptly rerouted by an academic encounter with Mark Leier, director of SFU's centre for labour studies.

Recalls McCartney: “I took history 102 - Canada since Confederation - with Professor Leier in my second semester, and I was hooked. He really shatters the popular perception that Canadian history is boring and unimportant.”

Now in his third year of history, McCartney has chosen to minor in labour studies because, he says, “Canadians owe more than they know to the trade union movement. Things we typically take for granted like our health and welfare system, the number of hours we work - those had a lot to do with labour protest and reform.”

McCartney says labour studies “tends to be outside of mainstream funding because it is perceived to be politically loaded,” and he is grateful to the B.C. Federation of Labour for sponsoring a cash award “that promotes scholarly work on union history.”

The award has allowed him to give up his part-time job so he can focus on his studies. His ultimate goal is to earn a PhD and teach labour history. The B.C. Federation of Labour award recognized McCartney's impressive grades, as well as his volunteer service on behalf of the centre for labour studies.

Last fall, he prepared a bibliography for the centre's first oral history workshop.

This term, he and history colleague Charles Demers are developing a web site that will serve as an introduction to B.C. labour history for high school students, their teachers, and trade unionists.

The site will focus on the life and death of Joseph Mairs Jr., a Ladysmith miner who was jailed for walking an illegal picket line, and died in Oakalla prison in 1914. “By applying historical methods, we're going to ask the question: Who killed Joseph? Who was ultimately culpable? The answer will involve discussions of his class, his gender, his place in society, his relation to the state and to his employers. There are lessons - good and bad - to be learned from Joseph's story. Labour history is an opportunity to learn about where we've come from and how we can improve things for the future.”

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