Review of ‘Citizen Docker’, a book by Andrew Parnaby

This is a synopsis of “Citizen Docker” written by Associate Professor of History Andrew Parnaby from Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia.

The book “Citizen Docker – Making a New Deal on the Vancouver Waterfront 1919-1939” is about the evolving relationship between the employers, the workers and the government during this period. 

Local 500 Executive Member Todd Elliott donated a copy of the book to the Union after returning from a Labour History seminar in Portland.  Here is part of what I learned from reading this book.

Because this is a scholarly book it is full of footnotes to the sources where all this information comes from. 

The parts of the book in quotes are taken directly from the book.  The indented stuff after the bullet is my commentary. 

Peter Haines #15227

Introduction: ‘A Good Citizen Policy’

“In 1906 Aboriginal workers, most of them Squamish, organized IWW (International Workers of the World) Local 526, thereby joining in the broader upsurge of support for the Wobblies that took place among loggers, miners, railroad workers, and seafarers prior to the Great War.  But like many IWW outfits, this one’s life was short.  Local 526 was broken in 1907 after a titanic battle with waterfront employers, a confrontation that according to one source, was characterized by impressive levels of racial solidarity; four years later its membership joined the more mainstream ILA.  Reformers, rebels, and revolutionaries: collectively, they were responsible for a level of militancy on the waterfront that was unmatched by most other occupations, provincially or nationally.  Vancouver waterfront workers went on strike at least sixteen times between 1889 and 1923; the four largest and most dramatic strikes were in 1909, 1918, 1919, and 1923.” (Page 9)

“Echoes of that spirit could be heard six years later during the 1923 strike, a lengthy, all-or-nothing affair in which the Shipping Federation, feeling the winds of political change at its back, moved decisively to break the ILA and establish an open shop, an objective that waterfront employers from Prince Rupert to San Diego were itching to accomplish.  For its part, the union was pushing for a five-cent wage increase and, as was often the case in waterfront disputes, greater control of the hiring process through a union-run despatch hall.” (Bottom of page 9, top of page 10)

“After two months on the picket line, the ILA, which had mounted ‘one hell of a fight,’ was broken.  ‘There are now some eight hundred strike breakers employed on the waterfront,’ a representative from the federal Department of Labour reported late in the confrontation.” (Page 10)

•    Professor Parnaby’s thesis is that from the ashes of the 1923 strike arose the concept of the Citizen Docker promoted by the employer.  This was known as “welfare capitalism”.

“On the waterfront, work was a casual affair and the ‘workplace’ geographically dispersed; the pursuit of welfare capitalism here required more than the creation of a company union and promotion of a cooperative workplace ethos, also required was the ‘decasualization’ of the waterfront labour market itself.  While Vancouver waterfront employers had long resisted any attempt by workers to formally regulate competition for work on the city’s docks, in the period after 1919, they [the Shipping Federation] saw decasualization as a means to break down workers’ customary work practices and oppositional temperament, limit the excesses of particular stevedores and foremen, and promote greater efficiency.” (Page 11)

“Like their colleagues in the lumber industry, waterfront employers saw labour strife not simply in terms of specific workplace grievances, but as a byproduct of a wider problem: labour turnover.  Like loggers, longshoremen were thought to be voteless, rootless, and without families; as such, they had no stake in civil society and thus were prone to agitation.  To rectify this condition, the Shipping Federation hoped that by weeding out the foreign-born and the radical, recruiting white married men, and promoting middle-class values of discipline, sobriety and thrift, it could shape a new, more compliant working-class identity.” (Page 12)

•    The 1937 Canadian Waterfront Workers Association (CWWA) Constitution and By-laws limited membership to white males of the full age of twenty-one years who had been residents of Greater Vancouver for the period of one year.

“With the Great Depression, however, workers’ faith in welfare capitalism and decasualization, and the limited understanding of citizenship that sustained it, was destabilized, pushing many to call for an expanded role for government, not just in labour relations, but in society generally.  It was a new deal, not a square deal, that they now desired.  Straddling labour and gender history, Aboriginal studies, and the literature on state formation, Citizen Docker examines this deep and abiding shift in working people’s aspirations – its origins, development, undoing, and implications – as one era on the waterfront ended, another began, and a third appeared on the horizon.” (Page 17)

Chapter 1 – Welfare Capitalism on the Waterfront

•    This chapter describes how the new relationship between management and labour was implemented.

“Major William Crombie was the Shipping Federation’s labour manager.  A farmer from Saskatchewan, a member of the 27th Light Horse based in Moose Jaw, and a veteran of the Great War.  Crombie was hired by waterfront employers right after the war to look after ‘protection and protective measures’ during the tumultuous days of the national labour revolt.  During the 1923 strike, he was the personal driver and bodyguard for several members of the Shipping Federation and, at the tail end of the fifty-three day conflict, ‘took over the employment end of the game’ [hiring scabs] as despatcher.  A year later he was promoted to labour manager, a position that paid approximately $350 per month, which was about three times what the highest-earning longshoreman earned.” (Page 20)

“In Crombie’s opinion, however, it was doubtful that waterfront workers would back an organization that was merely a puppet of more powerful political masters.  In this sense, it was important that the Shipping Federation retain or, at the very least, be seen to retain some distance from the Association [Vancouver and District Waterfront Workers’ Association (VDWWA)] and cultivate simultaneously a managerial instinct among its elected leaders and executive.  ‘I feel that we must be very careful in regard to how much leeway or latitude we give the men,’ Crombie told the head of the Vancouver and Victoria Stevedoring Company in 1924.  The politics of latitude and leeway were particularly evident in the Federation’s approach to union democracy.  According to the labour manager, the Association’s leaders and executive should, ideally, be drawn from ‘the respectable’ and saner elements of longshore labour.” (Page 25)

•    It is important that we understand that the Company Union, the Vancouver and District Waterfront Workers’ Association, was known as “the Association”.  This is confusing because we refer to the employer (BC Maritime Employers Association, the BCMEA) today as the Association.

Chapter 2 – Securing a Square Deal

•    This chapter analyses the extent to which the reforms undertaken by the Shipping Federation secured labour peace, boosted efficiency, and cultivated a wider appreciation for its sense of appropriate workplace relations in the years running up to the Great Depression.

“Indeed, a large proportion of Vancouver’s longshoremen were veterans of the Great War, and many had helped beat back the socialist menace on the waterfront in 1919 and in 1923: given this history of sacrifice and service they viewed themselves as uniquely deserving of a square deal – no more, no less.” (Page 43)

•    What is referred to as the “socialist menace” was the political position that workers had the right to have their own rank-and-file organization to freely bargain their working conditions, benefits and wages.

“Major Crombie’s vision of workplace reform rested on a simple idea: only the most efficient workers should be members of the Vancouver and District Waterfront Workers’ Association, the company union.  In the aftermath of the 1923 strike, it was estimated that there approximately 2,900 men on the waterfront, about fifteen hundred of whom were former ILA members; the remainder were replacement workers [scabs].  Given that the number of men needed to meet the average daily demand for labour on the waterfront – what Crombie called the ‘Balance of Power’ – was between eight hundred and a thousand, only a select few [emphasis added] from the ranks of the strikebreakers and former ILAers were allowed back on the hook.  Decasualization was a numbers game, but it was also about ensuring that all new men were able to ‘hold their end up’ and that former employees, hired back at the insistence of the stevedoring companies, were not followers of high-profile labour radicals.” (Page 44)

•    The “select few” was the employers’ prerogative to determine who could work on the waterfront.  The concept was to keep people who had “socialist tendencies” out of the industry.

Chapter 3 – ‘The Best Men That Ever worked the Lumber’

•    This chapter considers the impact of the Shipping Federation’s reform initiatives from a different vantage point, that of the Aboriginal workers, most of who were Squamish.

“Flexible and mobile, this kin-ordered social formation, with its deeply embedded rituals, underwent an important adjustment after the first sawmill appeared on Burrard Inlet in 1863.  Shortly after its construction, Squamish families began to gravitate to the area and incorporate wage labour into their seasonal migrations.” (Page 78)

“The number of ‘Indian’ gangs working on Burrard Inlet between 1863 and 1939 varied.  Estimates by veteran longshoremen, who were thinking specifically about the early 1900s, put the number at between four and six – which means that, depending on the size of the vessel, and whether it was being loaded or unloaded, anywhere between forty and ninety Indian lumber handlers could be found on the docks on a given day.  The figures available for the early 1920s, drawn from union records and the Department of Labour, are higher, placing the number at about 125.” (Page 83)

“This dialectic of polarization is captured by the nickname adopted by Aboriginal dockers – the Bows and Arrows – an assertion of difference and identity at a time when white society was bent on political marginalization and cultural assimilation.” (Page 88)

“The Bows and Arrows lengthy tenure on the docks did not go uninterrupted, however.  After the 1923 strike, the Shipping Federation sought long-term industrial peace by creating a company union and reconfiguring the waterfront labour market through decasualization.  Aboriginal workers were marginalized during this period . . . As Andrew Paull once remarked: ‘Conditions were better back in the early 1900s, we didn’t have so many white men breathing down our necks.’” (Page 98)

“Not surprisingly, when labour strife came to the Vancouver waterfront in the 1930s, white and Aboriginal workers found themselves on the opposite sides of the picket line – the former seeking to defend their jobs against austerity-minded employers, the latter attempting to take back the positions they had lost throughout the previous decade.”  (Page 99)

Chapter 4 – Heavy Lifting

•    Chapter 4 examines the collapse of the interwar consensus, the emergence of the radical opposition, and the momentary eclipse of welfare capitalism during the early years of the Great Depression.  After almost a decade of paternalist labour relations, white waterfront workers had come to expect certain things from waterfront employers, most importantly a ‘little independence’. 

“For waterfront workers, as for workers throughout the industrialized world, the Great Depression brought the modest period of expansion that followed the First World War to an abrupt halt.  Lumber production, one of the pillars of the province’s economy, contracted by 30 per cent, as exports to the United States – a key market for logs and lumber – declined from 651 million feet in 1929 to 75 million feet in 1932, a drop of approximately 88 per cent.  As the fortunes of B.C.’s lumber, cement, and other producers waned, so too did the level of shipping traffic in and out of Vancouver; it plummeted by close to 50 per cent between 1930 and 1933.  As a direct consequence, the number of men employed on the docks declined drastically, a development captured by the 52 per cent reduction of the Shipping Federation’s total payroll disbursement – from $1,625,593 in 1928 to $772,529 in 1933.” (Page 100)

“Long-time longshoreman L. Bereton lost his waterfront job in 1933; in late March he wrote to labour manager Crombie to find out why: ‘I have proved without a shadow of a doubt that as far as Japan Dock is concerned I am not guilty of inefficiency and that goes for any Dock on the Waterfront,’ his letter began.  ‘I can still push a truck with the Best of Dock Men and not only that but where does patriotism come in.’ A veteran of the Great War, strikebreaker in 1923, and loyal company unionist for ten years, Bereton wanted his job back or, at the very least, an explanation of his discharge.  He continued, ‘Now then I served your firm all through the strike and now you want to get rid of me [emphasis added] and you go about it in such a manner as to deprive me of the Decency of a job where a Little Independence [emphasis added] was assured during such Depression which is worse than War and I ought to know having served through two now sir . . . I hope you give me this request as it means a lot to me and if you want to see me I shall be pleased.’  ‘I have not earned 25 Dollars since the 1st of Jan 1933,’ he added in a postscript. ‘You cant help but you have to show me where I have not given my interest to my Employer no matter who they are.’” (Page 101)

•    Bob Dylan said that, “We are only pawns in their game.”

“In spring 1932, as trade contracted and marine traffic slowed, the Federation, buoyed by its unequivocal victory in the 1929 negotiations, responded in the way all employers did when markets sagged and profits dropped – with austerity.  Backed by the agreement’s cost-of-living clause, waterfront employers moved to drastically cut wages by 5 per cent in 1930 and then by an additional 16 per cent in 1933.” (Page 103)

“Given both the Shipping Federation’s unwillingness to stick to the post-1923 pact and the Association’s [Company Union] inability to defend it, they [the Union Members] were willing to explore more radical options to secure what a ‘loyal’ ‘Canadian and British,’ working-class man deserved: an opportunity to secure his rightful place on the job, in the family, and in the nation.  The palette of political possibilities in Vancouver contained many shades: for many disillusioned waterfront workers, red was the colour of choice.”  (Bottom of page 105, top of page 106)

    Disillusioned workers were disillusioned because when the work dried up during the Great Depression they lost the jobs that they believed they were entitled to because of the service they had provided during the previous 10 years.  Red was the colour of choice because workers across the country and worldwide were expressing their desire to have control of their working lives.

“In short, Salonen and the others were precisely the kind of workers, the kind of citizens, that the Shipping Federation had sought to attract and retain.  Amid the economic calamity of the 1930s, however, they were not acting as a bulwark against labour militancy, but were its vanguard.  This ‘Progressive Group’ made its public debut with the publication of Heavy Lift, a small mimeographed newspaper that appeared on the waterfront in May 1933.  The centerpiece of Heavy Lift’s political program was a call for union control of the despatch hall.” (Bottom of page 121, top of page 122)

“Buoyed by this support, a slate of candidates [including: Ivan Emery, George Brown, Oscar Salonen] with ties to the communist movement, running exclusively on the agenda laid out in Heavy Lift, launched a bid for the leadership of the VDWWA in late 1933, the year the Depression hit rock bottom.  The old executive, having signed a contract in 1929 that, in the end, paved the way for massive wage cuts and the ‘reclassification’ of hundreds of men, was removed from office.  In the words of Heavy Lift, the 1933 election was a ‘clean sweep!’” (Page 126)

Chapter 5 – ‘From the Fury of Democracy, Good Lord, Deliver Us!’

•    Within months [of the ‘clean sweep!’] the waterfront was engulfed in its first large-scale confrontation since 1923.  Chapter 5 dissects this 1935 battle, and in doing so locates an important irony: the Shipping Federation’s vision of industrial relations contained the very ideals that would, by the 1930s, be used to combat it.

“In autumn 1933 the three-year deal inked by the Vancouver and District Waterfront Workers’ Association and the Shipping Federation expired.  The following October the two parties signed a new multi-year agreement based on the majority award of an arbitration board convened under the auspices of the federal Industrial Disputes Investigation Act.  With the ascendancy of Emery, Salonen, and Brown – whom the Shipping Federation would later call the ‘Big Three’ – the Association [the Union] staked out a bold position:  ‘[the Union] will not accept an agreement that will restrict or share its right to control its own internal affairs, discipline its members, or otherwise carry out its aims and objectives.’” (Page 128)

“Just as waterfront workers were prepared to step outside the confines of welfare capitalism, so too were waterfront employers, albeit for different ends; the watchword, now was coercion, not consent.  Key to the Federation’s counteroffensive was the creation of the Citizens’ League – a secretive organization that brought together the biggest and the most powerful of British Columbia’s business interests – and its close collaboration with all three levels of government.  This chapter scrutinizes the politics of confrontation on the waterfront; especially significant are the tensions between radicals and moderates within the ranks of the VDWWA, the campaign of repression waged by the combined forces of capital and state, and the ultimate demise of the Clean Sweep movement following a lengthy – and bloody – strike in 1935.”  (Page 129)

“’Our Board has definitely decided that the longshore labor situation here is going to be cleaned up, the radicals eliminated and new arrangements made with loyal, suitable, and competent men,’ Hall [Shipping Federation President J.E. Hall] wrote.  ‘The Board’s objective is to have this housecleaning at a time when it can be accomplished with the minimum of interruption to the traffic of the port.  Ways and means of attaining this objective are now being developed and will be brought to a head as quickly as possible.’ Significantly, the ‘ways and means’ necessary to ‘clean house’ were being developed long before the Association [Union] took control of the despatch hall, the stand-off over ‘hot cargo’ from Powell River, and the beginning of the strike [June 5, 1935].”
(Page 143)

“A similar attempt to ‘disorganize’ longshoremen was under way too, as all three police forces, with the assistance of the mayor and the Shipping Federation, worked together to carry out ‘waterfront protection work’ – a multi-faceted endeavour that involved ‘street-end protection, intelligence, escort duty, liaison, and reserves.’  By late spring 1935 about 360 officers, six police cruisers, and one patrol boat were assigned to the waterfront.  One officer accompanied J.E. Hall, president of the Shipping Federation, at all times to ‘watch over protection work’ and advise the authorities ‘of movements for which additional protection would be required.’  Other members of the employers’ organization were sworn in as ‘special constables’ so that they could move more easily to and from work and assist the police when and where help was needed, while additional ‘reserves’ were ready at ‘their respective H.Q. for use wherever the occasion demand[ed].’”
(Page 149)

“At a mass meeting attended by approximately three thousand men, women, and children on 16 June, Ivan Emery laid bare the union’s next move.  ‘We have heard the rattle of machine guns.  I believe we have enough ex-servicemen on the waterfront who are prepared to listen to them again.’  he exclaimed.  ‘We are going to elect a delegation and we are going to go to Ballantyne Pier peaceably to talk to the strikebreakers.  If they [the RCMP] will turn their guns on us; if they will shoot us down, then you will know that fascism in Canada has taken off the mask and we are up against stark reality.  Two days later, after last-minute attempts to broker a settlement failed, a long procession of strikers, unemployed workers, and other allies, led by veterans wearing their medals and carrying the Union Jack, marched to the pier.” (Page 151)

“Further signs that the strike was faltering were not hard to find.  More and more replacement workers, many of whom were Aboriginal men who had lost their jobs in the years following the 1923 strike, were working on the waterfront with each passing day.  As the number of police officers walking the beat in the waterfront district declined, the number of deep-sea vessels sailing past Siwash Rock, at the opening of Burrard Inlet, and heading for open water increased steadily.  Finally, on 9 December 1935 – six months after it started – the union officially called the strike off.” (Page 155)

“The strike was crushed, the VDWWA eliminated, and the notion of possibility – of entitlement – that had burned so brightly for many waterfront workers, dimmed.  It did not, however, entirely go out.” (Page 157)

Conclusion: From Square Deal to New Deal

“In the aftermath of the 1935 strike the Shipping Federation set about re-establishing the institutions and practices of welfare capitalism that had served it so well during the 1920s and early 1930s.  At the top of its agenda was finding a replacement for the defunct Vancouver and District Waterfront Workers’ Association.  With the crushing of the old company union, the CWWA [Canadian Waterfront Workers’ Association] was formally activated.  The CWWA executive had to be nominated or approved by the Shipping Federation, and its membership was restricted to ‘white’ men who had been ‘residents of Greater Vancouver’ for at least a year.  In addition to creating the CWWA, the Shipping Federation revitalized the North Vancouver Longshoremen’s Association (NVLA), thereby re-establishing the organizational fragmentation that had characterized waterfront politics prior to the election of the Clean Sweepers in 1933.” (Page 158)

“Created with the assistance of the North Vancouver Board of Trade to reward ‘Indian’ workers for opposing the ‘forces of disruption,’ the NVLA [North Vancouver Longshore Association] was guaranteed 10 per cent of waterfront work; it had eighty-six members, forty to forty-five of them Aboriginals.  ‘Some would call us strikebreakers,’ Tim Moody recollected.  ‘But that is a matter of opinion.  The men whose jobs we took were those who broke the strike in 1923.  My father said my grandfather had been a longshoreman and we had to hang on to what we had started.  It was all we had.’  Dan George and seven of his relatives belonged to the new North Shore union; so did Simon Baker and five members of his family.  After a long hiatus, the Bows and Arrows were back ‘on the lumber’ – a situation that prevailed throughout the Second World War and after.” (Page 159)

“The 1935 strike illustrates this dynamic.  Few in the ranks of the Clean Sweep movement thought that the state was critical to the success of their agenda.  They believed that they could and should achieve their objectives on their own.  It did help, however, to convince many longshoremen that industrial legality, despite the compromises necessary to exact its full protection and benefits, was a more desirable option than what they had once faced on Ballantyne Pier.  Thus, when bona fide unionism returned to the Vancouver waterfront in 1945, in the form of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, it did so under the guise of a state-supervised collective bargaining framework made possible under PC 1003 – a wartime order-in-council.” (Page 165)

    I have provided a synopsis.  The book is 173 pages, which includes 44 pages of notes on sources.  My synopsis is about labour relations on the Vancouver Waterfront.

•    What I really liked about this book is that it gives a Vancouver Longshore worker the historical perspective of what we are a part of.  I know I saw reflections in this story of 1919-1939 that are still relevant to our solidarity today.  We are part of writing the future history of this great organization.

•    What I learned from this book is that all we have to protect our jobs is Union Solidarity.  When we fall into the employer’s trap of fighting among ourselves we lose and the employers win.