Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 171: Remembering BC’s 1983 Solidarity Uprising — with David Spaner

Speakers: Kathy Feng, Am Johal, David Spaner

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Kathy Feng  0:01 
Hi, I'm Kathy Feng with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode of Below the Radar, our host Am Johal is joined by author, cultural critic and organizer David Spaner. He is in conversation with Am about his latest book, Solidarity: Canada's Unknown Revolution of 1983. I hope you enjoy!

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Am Johal  0:30 
Okay, welcome to Below the Radar. Delighted that you could join us again this week. We're really excited to have our special guests David Spaner with us today. He's written a new book, Solidarity: Canada's Unknown Revolution of 1983. Welcome, David. 

David Spaner  0:48 
It is nice to be here. 

Am Johal  0:49 
David, maybe we can begin with you introducing yourself a little bit.

David Spaner  0:55 
Yeah, I have worked as a writer for a long time in Vancouver. I've originally worked in the underground press, and then worked in the student press as well, and was an activist. You know, in that era, before solidarity uprising 1983 actually, I had been an activist earlier. And worked, like I say, in the underground press, the movement that the book is about that we're going to be talking about, when that happened, I had just gotten a job at a daily newspaper. There used to be a third daily newspaper in the Vancouver area called the Columbian and I'd gotten a job there. And just as this uprising broke out across the province, and so over the next few months, I covered it. And, you know, it was like an amazing event really. And over the years I, you know, couldn't help but notice that it really hasn't been remembered that well, there hasn't been a lot written about it. There hasn’t been a lot. You know, Canadian history books seldom mention it. But, you know, I don't know how much you want me to get into that at this point to introduce the event itself. But basically, as far as my own background, I had been an activist and a writer. And I had just started working at a daily paper when this uprising happened.

Am Johal  2:10 
Yeah, so you just scooped my second question, which was going to be what were you doing at the time of solidarity. So, we're talking about 1983. For those of us in the audience who don't remember that period, it's deeply memorable for me because I was 10 years old in Williams Lake, not perhaps having a fulsome understanding of what was going on. But I do remember, a walkout that happened at our school that was part of a larger rally that was happening, and there were speeches from students, including those in elementary school so it felt like being part of a movement. My father worked as a lumber grader. And this was definitely in the atmosphere and in the era. And at those times, those provincial elections were, from a child's perspective, the Bill Bennett versus Dave Barrett elections were just legendary. They would both be like crying at the end of speeches. I don't know if they actually were, but it felt like that, and it was this polarizing, left, right divide in that moment of restraint. And certainly, teachers were heavily politicized at that time. 

Am Johal  3:18 
You start the book with a really interesting passage, with a moment about a decade before, and you're all sitting in Jim Greene's living room in Kitsilano at the time with a couple of people and you're listening to “When the Ship Comes in” by Bob Dylan. And Jim Greene's playing it over and over as a kind of parable around trying to do away with the Socreds. I'm wondering if you can speak about that for a moment.

David Spaner  3:41 
Okay, yeah. Well, I was a student activist at the time, and this is early 70s. And it was just a couple of other student activists there as well. And Jim Green people know him. I mean, he became very famous, actually as a Downtown Eastside organizer. And a lot of people have that image of him as this guy working on the Downtown Eastside. But before that, you know, he had been a college prof. And at this point, he was actually living on the west side in Kitsilano, in a rented place, a really beautiful old house. And some of us had gone over to his place. I mean, in those days, it was kind of a simpatico between, sometimes, between radical profs and radical students, you had a friendly relationship. And some of us, a few of us had gone over to his house. And we ended up spending hours there that night, just into the morning talking about politics, culture, all sorts of things. And at one point, it's too bad you don't have the recording right now. It's a great song. At one point, he pulled out this Bob Dylan song, “When the Ship Comes in” and said, the ship is the revolution. And he played the song, and it was a very powerful song.

David Spaner  4:48 
And in that, in the introduction, I just sort of recall that moment because the lyric that he particularly liked and that we were listening to very intently was about being uncompromising in the face of the secrets of the Socreds. And that sort of really fits in with this whole story about solidarity and how much you compromise when you're dealing with them. And there was a big divide in the resistance between how far you go and being uncompromising. Just to give a little bit of background about the actual event itself. You know, what your, this sort of leading into here, obviously, is that 1983 started out pretty much like, you were talking about that big divide between Bennett and Barrett back then. But it's kind of interesting, like, from the 1950s, to the 1990s, politically, BC was kind of divided by two remnants of the 1930s, the NDP, which was, you know, the successor to the old Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, you know, which was the CCF, the electoral democratic socialist party. You know, what, it was a descendant of the sort of left movements of the 1930s, whereas the Social Credit Party was a descendant of the far-right movements of the 1930s. 

David Spaner  6:05 
So, you have these two movements that were kind of rooted in the Depression era that basically dominated BC politics for about half a century. And in early 83, the two went out each other in another provincial election, which they've been doing, you know, every three, four years, since the early 50s. And people thought this time the Barrett, Dave Barrett's NDP was going to be elected, but they lost. But following the election, people were shocked because the Bill Bennett government, the Socred government, enacted some legislation that they really hadn't talked about during the campaign. It was this sort of avalanche of far-right wing legislation that attacked almost everything progressive in the province. It attacked union rights in a massive way to the point where you people could be fired without cause even if they were in a union. It attacked funding for women's organizations. It attacked Medicare. It attacked the education system. The public education system came under heavy attack in this budget. I mean, it was an all-out assault, essentially, on many, many people in BC.

David Spaner  7:12 
But what Bennett and his Socred cohorts didn't count on was the massive resistance that rose up spontaneously across the province. I mean, it was huge rallies, occupations, protests like you hadn't seen before here. And it wasn't just a Vancouver centric thing. Like you mentioned, Williams Lake, there was a protest in Williams Lake with 1500 people. I don't know what percentage of the population of the town that was in those days, you probably know better than me, but the population of Williams Lake was in 1983. But I would imagine, I would say I bet it was at least a quarter of the town. And so, I mean, that was an example of how this resistance just spread quickly, right across the province. And an organization formed, actually two organizations, they were both called Solidarity. Operation Solidarity was the trade union component of the movement. The Solidarity Coalition was the social justice community group, social movement component of it. And those two movements were kind of rising up simultaneously against the Socreds that summer.

Am Johal  8:18 
Let's just talk a little bit about Bill Bennett as a figure. He, of course, was the son of W.A.C Bennett, who was a kind of titan and a big name of provincial politics based out of Kelowna. There's a wonderful group of books by Stan Persky, the son of Socred that talk about Bill Bennett. But of course, there was this wider kind of political moment of neoliberalism of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that came in in 1979 and 80. So I guess, in some sense, the restraint period of 1983 that led into this organizing that Bill Bennett was sort of a part of this political inflection from the right that was happening. 

David Spaner  8:58 
Yeah, well, Bill Bennett was a son of a Socred and his dad was a real, was a major demagogue who was really notorious across Canada through the 50s and 60s, you know, and a long-time premier of the province, who was, you know, an incessant red baiter too I should mention, and so that's, so that came out of the Okanagan, Kelowna, they lived in Kelowna. And so, Bill, you know, followed in his father's footsteps and took over the party. And he, during this period, you know, he was very, you know, the Socred were receptive to right wing developments around the world. And as you mentioned, there were several taking place at that point in the early 80s. There was a whole emergence of Thatcherism, Reaganism, to all sorts of names, restraint, austerity, neoliberalism, the old-fashioned term for it, capitalism and so there was this happening, you know, this really far right movements, government movements, by, particularly Reagan and Thatcher, in which they attacked social programs and unions. And it was, you know, it was a pretty concerted effort that was going on. And people instantly linked what was happening in BC with this new legislation to what was happening in England and the US at the same time. And there were right-wing think tanks that emerged in BC at the time as well. So, a lot of people saw this, this rising of the far right in BC, that took place in 1983, as directly connected to what was going on with Thatcher and Reagan.

Am Johal  10:47 
So there, of course, is that Operation Solidarity as the labor movement led part of the project. But of course, there was the Solidarity Coalition, which was partially supported and funded by the labour movement, but included community organizations, and you, of course, had the BC Federation of Labour, and others, but you know, big personalities like Jack Munro whose name is, is definitely associated with that moment of solidarity with a poem of Tom Wayman, and others. But I'm wondering if you can sort of set up this dynamic between Operation Solidarity, the Solidarity Coalition in terms of like, what was working, but also those fissures that happen inside of social movements where things can really start to fragment?

David Spaner  11:33 
Well, I think what happened is you have to look at the big picture of how these groups emerged at that moment. You know, I think that, you know, people, basically, you know, around the world, you know, they're trying to, like, they cope individually with all sorts of problems and sort of alienation and difficulties in everyday life. And usually, they're just coping with it on their own. And then people try to get through all of this. But every once in a while, something happens, and you're no longer on your own. And there's all sorts of simmering discontent that exists around the world. You know, I mean, just like I was saying, the alienation, the exploitation, the kind of lives that a lot of people, you know, live. Yeah, and what happens every once in a while, though, something triggers a movement that brings people together, a transformative movement to sweep away a lot of the stuff. And you can't really predict the rising of these movements, they happen almost spontaneously, and sometimes they disappear as quickly as they come. I mean, you can go through history, a couple of recent examples, the Occupy Movement of 2011, and the Anti-Racism protests of 2020. And you can go way back, you know, the whole continuum of all sorts of movements like that.

David Spaner  12:56
These are these euphoric uprisings that take place, and they express the repressed potential that exists in advanced capitalist society that's being repressed by the system as it exists. And these movements just explode. And they're expressions of long simmering discontent in people's personal lives, people's social working lives. And these movements explode. But they're very rare. But when they come, they're like a huge euphoric uprising. And it happened in Paris, 1968, Cairo, 2011. I mean, you can go through history and see these movements.

David Spaner  13:36 
Now, the thing that's interesting was the solidarity uprising in BC, it was a Canadian version of these movements. It didn't get the same publicity as it might have gotten if it had happened in Paris or New York. But it was a massive, exhilarating experience for the people who went through it. And it basically was a transformative thing in which you felt that major social change could actually take place, it seemed real. And part of the reason it seemed so real is you had the components that you mentioned, to start this long answer. One component being, the unions were involved. The second component, social movements were involved. But the third component, which was equally significant, it's just a lot of citizens of BC who had never been activists, never been union activists, never been in social movements, also, were completely outraged by the injustice of this budget and they were involved. They got involved, just people who have never been active before. So, what you had was this coming together in a way that you really hadn't seen before, in BC and it's the kind of thing that, you know, happens, I was going to say, once in a generation, but a generation is like 15 years, it's, it's not even once in a generation. They're very, very rare. And it happened right here.

David Spaner  14:52 
And in terms of the components you mentioned, the union component was interesting because the union movement at the time had some fairly militant elements within it, you know, but it also had some pretty conservative elements within it. And they were all thrown into this whole drama that was taking place. Then on the social movement side, it was almost like, it was an interesting time because you know, people talk about identity politics now. This was almost the emergence of identity politics, happened in the 70s and 80s. I mean, if you look back at the history of capitalism, and the resistance to it, it's not that it hasn't existed forever, like some people might think. I mean, it's a couple of 100 years old, in the early 1800s, the rising of industrial capitalism, which was a very injustice movement, created societies that were based on child labour, you know, sweatshop labour, unlivable wages and working conditions. It was a terrible situation with the rise of industrial urban capitalism. And so, the resistance to that was a new movement called socialism. And for the first 150 years of socialism, it was primarily organized around class and unions and confronting what I just talked about.

David Spaner  16:08 
But in the 1960s and 70s, there was suddenly the emergence of new movements that people were just as passionate about as the working-class, left-wing movements had been about class and unions. And there was the rising of the feminist movement, for example, there was the rising of the gay movement, the environmental movement, countercultural subcultural movements, and this started exploding. And so back in those days, we didn't call it identity politics, we call it liberation movement, politics, yeah, and youth liberation and women's liberation and gay liberation and black liberation. But there were these new movements were emerging. And Vancouver had been very active during what was called the New Left of the late 60s and 70s. It involved these movements, student movement, as well, and anti-war movement, and these and so these social movements had become a really major, significant part of the left by 1983. And so, a lot of the people who were involved in what was called a Solidarity Coalition had come out of those movements, for example, a major component of the solidarity coalition was a group called Women Against the Budget, which was a feminist organization that was really, really active during solidarity, and played a major role in a lot of the protests and the activism and solidarity.

David Spaner  17:28 
And that's one example of that, but people from all of the movements, I just mentioned, had representatives at the weekly Solidarity Coalition meetings. So, you had the rising of this really powerful movement, Solidarity Coalition, of social movements, it was a movement of social movements. At the same time, you had the unions, which was called Operations Solidarity. And they, you know, Jack Munro, not Jack Munro, Art Kube, who was at the time, the president of the BC Federation of Labour was a very decent man, who was very sensitive to the social movements, very aware of them, and very supportive. And it was actually his idea to create that component, the Solidarity Coalition. And so, what you had is, which was really quite remarkable when you think about it, you had the rising of the unions, and the rising of the social movements, and the rising of just other citizens all happening simultaneously, in one place. And I mean, I'll just give you a couple of examples of how that manifested. There was a massive rally at Empire Stadium, that people still, you know, remember very fondly, there was a huge march on the Hotel Vancouver where the Socreds were having their annual conference, you know. I don't know how many people were there. But the, you know, it was just absolutely massive though. There were occupations, for example, of the Premier's office in downtown Vancouver and occupation of the Tranquille mental health facility in Kamloops. And on top of all of this, ultimately, there was talk of a general strike.

Am Johal  19:03 
And I imagine that was quite polarizing within the labour movement as you articulate it. Can you speak a little bit to that dynamic between Art Kube, Jack Munro, other leaders in the labour movement, Larry Kuehn, and others, because a lot of this sort of conversation was happening in the background? And there wasn't necessarily a kind of similar viewpoint in terms of how to deal with the crisis that was unfolding in terms of both in the media and in terms of negotiating with Bennett. There's of course, the famous moment of Jack Munro going to Kelowna to negotiate with the Premier and a feeling of the social movements being sold out in the process. So, I'm wondering if you can sort of set up the moment in terms of how that dynamic unfolded.

David Spaner  19:51 
Yeah, well, it was more like capitulate rather than negotiate, I would say, when he went up to Kelowna. Well, you know, the thing is it was the labour movement was quite divided. There were the business unions, you know, the, probably most notable representative of that way of thinking would be Munro, who basically saw the purpose of unions primarily as the next contract. For him the idea of social movements or, or striking for social justice issues, was just anathema to him, you know, the idea. And so, what came to kind of define solidarity during, it was lasted for four months, by the way, the Solidarity Movement from July to November of 83.

David Spaner  20:34 
And what I would say what ultimately came to define it more than anything, was, to general strike or not to general strike, the issue of whether all of this activism and all of this energy was going to where was it going to go? And a lot of people, it became evident that if you're going to take it to the next level, and actually back the Socreds down, we have the forces right now to engage in a general strike. And that's a huge thing. I mean, these do not happen that often in the 20th century. You know, you have to go back to 1919, Winnipeg, you know, and there's one in Quebec as well, later on, but it's very, very rare. So, I would say that was the defining question, was, whether or not to move to a general strike. Now the solidarity coalition was on side with a general strike. Now the union movement was divided.

David Spaner  21:27 
In the book I wrote, I talked about obsolete unionism, and I want to stress I'm talking about the Jack Munros of the world, not a lot of the progressive components of the union movement, who were far from that. And there were quite a few of them at the time. And just an example of some of them they would be like the fisherman's union was very progressive. The postal workers were very progressive. There were the CAIMAW, you know, which was a Canadian union movement, and Jess Succamore and that movement. And there were several movements, several unions involved in that were also very, very left. I think, the left at the time, the left wing union movement, which it's hard to put a specific number on it, but I would say maybe 20-25%, 20%, of the union movement, they tended to have three backgrounds, the left wing union leaders at the time, they were either expats, like Raj Chouhan, and Jess Succamore, who had come from England and Raj Chouhan, who had come from India, or they were, had come out of the new left I talked about before, like Larry Kuehn had been a student radical and all of that down in the US before he came up. You know, I mean, they came out of those kinds of areas, or the third component to the radical would be Communist Party leadership, and some of the unions at the time, including the fishermen and the carpenters.

David Spaner  22:45 
So those are kind of the left unions, which are quite substantial for North America at the time didn't have that many left-wing led unions. And so, I want to stress that when we talk about the great sell out of some of the unions in Munro, and whatnot, there were also unions that were totally on side with general strike and onside with solidarity coalition. So, this is the split that was taking place. And it was really over that issue. And it all comes down to how you see this thing. Do you see it just as a word, see people, general strikes, there's a long history that goes back to the beginning of the 1800s? And, you know, some people see it as kind of just something to deal with a specific set of issues. But there are other people on the left, who actually see it as a transformative thing. And I'll just give you one quick example, France, 1968, which had a legendary general strike. It started as some student protests, the police ruthlessly attacked the student protests till the unions joined it. Before long, there was a French general strike across the entire country May-June, 1968.

David Spaner  23:52 
And the thing that was interesting is they instead of just walking out, they occupied and they started running things collectively. You know, there's different terms for that kind of general strike. But there have been a lot of people on the left, whether it's a Marxist to anarchists, left wing democratic socialists, that have been very aware of this idea of a general strike, in which people assume control of the means of production, and transform the society. And so, within the Solidarity movement, you had people from that perspective, all the way to people like the Munros who just hated the idea of any kind of general strike. And then in between you had other people saw it more so like a tactical thing or something just to deal with the Socred legislation. So yeah, I mean, I don't know if that sort of explains some of the dynamics around the general strike.

Am Johal  24:42 
Yeah, the French philosopher, Alain Badiou, who comes out of the May 68. He calls these moments of eruption, events, and he does talk about it in the way that you do that they're very rare. They're exceptional. They happen maybe, you know, something even beyond a generation and certainly Operation Solidarity or that moment of solidarity could be viewed that way. What I really loved about the book as well, were these interviews that you did with people who are still living in and around Vancouver who were involved in various ways. You talked to Patsy George, Marcy Toms is mentioned, Stuart Alcock, people like Raj Chouhan, who had come out of the development of the Farmworkers Union, but also anti-racist work that was burgeoning at the time, and really coming out into the open and wondering if you can speak a little bit to some of these figures like Patsy George, Marcy Toms, Raj Chouhan in terms of how they were situated within the solidarity struggle?

David Spaner  25:41 
Well, you know, the reason I did that, I actually do that a lot with my writing, is that, other writing as well, is, I think it's really, the idea of telling their personal stories, as well as their activist histories, is important, because they're intertwined. And I think it has, it's more powerful to talk about an issue, if you're talking about through a human being’s experience working on that issue, and how they came to that issue. And so, it's the whole idea of like, the personal is political and political is personal and whatnot. And so, it's a very conscious thing, actually, to sort of look at these issues and these different movements through the life experiences of individuals who were heavily involved.

David Spaner  26:28 
And I think in doing that it kind of became sort of a history of BC. Of not just 1983, but of a significant chunk of the 20th century, because you have a lot of people there. And some people, you know, there are activists, you know, more in 83, or they're the first-generation activists, but you know, people who had like a grandfather, for example, one of the staff members of Solidary Times, David Lester—his grandfather was a Vancouver Wobbly, like back in the 1910s. And so, I think in looking at the history of people that way, and their personal lives, its kind of, A) sort of personalizes political struggle, and B) sort of you see where people came from and, and how the issues develop, and how all of these choices are very personal, you know, the choice to become an activist, the choice to put yourself on the line, like a lot of people did then.

David Spaner  27:25 
And so, I think that's a big part of the reason why I wrote that stuff. But it wasn't just to sort of be folksy or something, you know, it was actually to combine those two things and try to explain the issues to people's experiences. As far as some of the people you mentioned, I was, you know, deeply moved by a lot of their stories. You know, I'm talking to a lot of the people who had been active in that, and what it meant to them and their own lives and how different experiences in their life. I mean, you mentioned Marcy Toms, for example. She was one of the founders of the first feminist organization in Western Canada, one of the first feminist organizations in the world, the Simon Fraser University Women's Caucus, in the late 60s, because, you know, at the time, feminism was a new movement, and this group came together there. And later on, during solidarity, by that point, she was very active in the BC Teachers Federation. So, it's an interesting, there's links between all of these different movements, and a lot of it's very personal, you know.

Am Johal  28:28 
And Patsy George is still in in Vancouver these days, but she lost her job in the middle of this.

David Spaner  28:35 
That's right. That's one thing to keep in mind that the BC Government Employees Union was the first one hit as far as job loss. Part of the legislation, they could fire government workers without cause even if they had a union contract. So of course, they went after the Patsy Georges of the world, who were activist union, you know, as well as government workers. And so yeah, she lost her job, and then was hired on at the Solidarity Coalition and became one of their paid staffers. And, you know, she talks about traveling the province. So, like, again, I want to stress, you mentioned Williams Lake, she talks about going to Prince George, and just walking into a bar on a Friday or Saturday night, you know, with all these hulking, you know, workers, you know, they have a night off, and just going up to them approaching them, this small woman with you know, who had never experienced that, that kind of politics with them and just approaching them and talking to them about solidarity. She was a province wide organizer, and she really was successful, she really reached these people, just because she has such a presence herself and she's such a strong woman and had insights that could cross bridges, you know.

David Spaner  29:46
And so that's an example of how, you know, people just went out, fanned out, you know. I want to stress at what seems tend to be kind of Vancouver centric in BC sometimes, and there was an element of that, you have to be honest about it, but at this time it went considerably beyond that, like Victoria had massive rallies, but also right across the province that were Solidarity Coalitions and Operation Solidarity offices. And they were, you know, doing rallies and teachings and all sorts of activism from Williams Lake to Prince George to Terrace. Terrace had a lot of activism at the time during that period. The Kootenays. I mean, yeah, it was just a thing where people everywhere, it was, it was very interesting, you know, because people don't think of those kinds of rural areas as people who are receptive to left politics, they think of it as, a lot of people think of it as more of an urban thing. And they think that there's a lot of redneck-ism in those places.

David Spaner  30:44 
But it's interesting that a movement, if it's popular enough and mass enough, and it's reaching people in a creative way, a left movement, this showed that a left movement can reach those people in those towns. And that in every one of those towns, like I was saying, bet it was at least 25% of the Williams Lake population came out to that rally. And you have other situations where the pop— there’s even more. A higher percentage. And so yeah, in terms of the people, you know, they were, the core organizers, whether it's Patsy George, Marcy Toms, other people like that Larry Kuehn played a major significant role in all of this, of course. There was a real strong group of personalities that would meet, you know, around these tables at the Solidarity Coalition office once a week during the whole thing and it brought together in one room. A lot of legendary figures, you know, like you mentioned Jim Green, he was at those meetings. Patsy George was at those meetings, Stuart Alcock, who you mentioned was at those meetings. Early in, you know, environmentalist activists and student activists. I mean, it was just a really amazing group of people who normally didn't engage in each other's issues. They worked in their own silo. And suddenly, everybody from all these different areas of activism, were going to the same protests together.

Am Johal  32:04 
Yeah, it's great to hear the backstory of people's political awakening that preceded Operation Solidarity or solidarity in general, that people rose to the political moment. You know, you mentioned in the book, people like John Shields, and others, Raj Chouhan, but there was something about, you know, their politics had been formed before maybe 5-10-15 years from other social movements. And in this moment when the crisis emerged, that people could act out the politics in a way that brought things together.

David Spaner  32:35 
No, that's a very good point. And I think that this thing wasn't in a vacuum. If you're going to write about 1983, you can't just write about 1983 if you want to understand it. These people came out of Vancouver and BC as a whole, but talking about Vancouver in particular, this time, has a real long history of activism, you know, that goes back to the Wobblies, for example. They were named in Vancouver, the legendary anarcho syndicalist union, the Wobblies. Greenpeace was coined in Vancouver, even Occupy Wall Street was coined in BC, the term, and so I mean, there's a really long history in the during the Depression, there were mass movements. The CCF was quite a left organization back in those days, they were more Tom Douglas than Tom Mulcair, if you know what I mean. And, and they were very activist, left the movement that was really important in BC, the Communist Party in the 30s 40s, the Wobblies. So, you had this long history of activism. Like BC was really, I mean, it was known people call it, jokingly, the Left Coast. But there's an element of truth to that, and a large element of truth to it. And it continued on in the 60s and 70s, new left movements, you know. And so, yeah, I mean, I think to understand 1983, you have to understand some of the stuff and the union movement as well, you know, has had periods in which a lot of militancy and a lot of, they have quite a storied history in BC as well.

Am Johal  34:05 
So, what do you think Solidarity has to teach us today? And why write this book now? Like what drove you to bring this book into existence right now? Why did you think it was important to tell this story?

David Spaner  34:20 
Well, like I said, I had come out of the underground press. So, I had a perspective already, a political, critical political perspective, when I got a job at the Columbian which was the third daily and I became the labour reporter while Solidarity was going on. And over the years, it seemed like such a remarkable bit of Canadian history that had been ignored. I mean, it's very seldom mentioned in history books. There's been very little written about it, or, I mean, if it had happened in New York, or Paris or places like that, there'd be a long litany of books and documentaries. So, I kind of thought it had been lost in history to a certain extent, and I kind of experienced it as someone writing about it. And I thought it was important while people are still around to talk about it, to document it.

David Spaner  35:10 
So that was sort of why the significance of it to me when I started working on it, but while I was working on it, it became even more significant. It became more timely, because what you saw over the last couple of years, last few years, that was the rising of far right governments and movements, you know, like Trumpism in the US, Brazil, Hungary, I mean, and to different extents all over the place, you know, the rising of these far right government. And so, it became more timely and significant than, you know, when I initially started it, to document it, in the sense that what it provides, if you look at this movement, it's a lesson in how to resist far right governments, you know, because it was actually very, very successful. And they were on, it was on the verge of a general strike, and it had all of the pieces in place to do that, which is quite unusual, more than quite unusual. It's remarkable, and, and if that general strike had happened, who knows what might have happened, how far they might have backed that government down? So, I think when you asked me the significance, I think it's a lesson in how to confront those kinds of far right, governmental policies.

Am Johal  36:31 
David, is anything you'd like to add?

David Spaner  36:33 
Well, one of the things I thought was interesting about it too, is there's a cultural component to the whole thing, right? And BC, and I mentioned this in the book as well, that there was kind of a BC, and you know, I was talking about Vancouver before, but it does sort of, you know, there's all sorts of pockets across the province of really interesting things that go on. And, and one of the things is that BC has a remarkable left-wing history, but it also has a remarkable sub-cultural history. I mean, starting with, sort of in the magazine that came out of UBC called Tish, which kind of dealt with a lot of the beat style writings and new poetry of the 50s and 60s, and it was really known all over the place. And then the counterculture here, and then the punk scene here. And then a lot of these people were involved as well. And were drawn to this. And I think, you know, BC is an interesting place. I mean, it's an interesting place to write about, because you have, if you're coming from a progressive perspective, because you have the political stuff, but you also have the cultural stuff. And so, it was a moment, you know, it definitely was a moment.

Am Johal  37:40 
Yeah, David, thank you so much for bringing this book into existence. It was a wonderful read. And for those of you out in the audience, I highly encourage you to get out and get a copy. It feels like recent history, and certainly my memories came back in reading through it and seeing those photographs as well. So, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.

David Spaner  37:40 
I appreciate it. I enjoyed being here. Great talking with you.

[theme music]

Kathy Feng  37:53 
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to our conversation with David Spaner. Head to the show notes as always to find links to David’s other work and to the full transcript of this episode. If you like our show, hit subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode. Thanks again, and see you next time on Below the Radar.

Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
May 03, 2022

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