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Former city councillor celebrated in staged reading

Jim Green’s Against The Tide was brought to life in annual memorial event

The fourth annual memorial for Jim Green, former Vancouver City Councillor and community activist, celebrated his life with a staged reading of his book, Against the Tide: The Story of the Canadian Seamen’s Union.

While studying at UBC in the early 1970s, living in the Downtown Eastside, and working as a casual longshoreman, Green became acquainted with former members of the Canadian Seamen’s Union (CSU), and was approached by a committee with the request that he record the history of their union.

The staged reading was commissioned by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and shone light on a lesser-known chapter of Canadian labour history, featuring the CSU. The memorial was held in partnership with the Institute for the Humanities at SFU, SFU’s Department of History, and the BC Labour Heritage Centre.

Vancouver City Councillor Geoff Meggs, who was the original editor of Green’s Against the Tide, explained in the foreword to the event guide: “Most Canadians have forgotten, if they ever knew, that our country once boasted one of the largest merchant navies in the world, a key to victory in the Second World War crewed by men and women organized into the Canadian Seamen’s Union.”

Charles Demers, a local writer, and SFU history alumni, adapted Against the Tide for this special performance.

The production was directed by Amiel Gladstone, and featured Andrew Wheeler as Jim Green, Carmen Aguirre as Labour, and Kevin MacDonald as Capital. Local musician and SFU MFA graduate Corbin Murdoch performed live on the set, singing lyrics that originated as poetry in the CSU’s newsletter, Searchlight.

“SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement’s backing of this production, particularly one that is so focused on the struggles and solidarities of working people in Canada, fills an important gap.”

Robin Folvik, Director of Research at the BC Labour Heritage Centre

Am Johal, Director of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, explained that “the story of the Canadian Seamen’s Union is not just an historical tale. The relationship between labour and capital is also a very contemporary story.

“Taking this book that is rarely read these days and giving some life to the first-person narratives that are in the book was a great way to bring to life these memories in a way that they wouldn’t be forgotten,” he said.

Director of Research at the BC Labour Heritage Centre, Robin Folvik, explained, “it is important to acknowledge all of the information contained in this book that would likely otherwise have been lost without Green’s research and writing. His extensive interviews across the country and access to former CSU members’ memorabilia and clippings captured things that otherwise would have been impossible for us to access today.”

Their reading highlighted some of the key moments in the history of the CSU, including the 1949 strike, which ended in victory for the union.

The lines were divided between the three actors: Wheeler read the words of Jim Green, Aguirre read testimonies from members of the CSU, and MacDonald read the lines of the government and corporations who opposed the CSU and its ties to the Communist Party.

“Jim did these interviews in the ’70s and the ’80s — many of the people he interviewed have passed on. The interviews are held at the national archives, but it’s a very obscure story and hard to find. Jim spent a lot of time traveling the country trying to capture these stories so they wouldn’t be forgotten,” said Johal.

“We thought that at this annual memorial event, it would be an interesting time to land this text down in the present in a way that still resonates with us today.”

The reading was filmed and is currently being made into a documentary.

Folvik reflected, “although working people have always been cultural producers, using a wide range of creative practices to reflect their experiences, they are rarely the ones to receive funding or support to bring their projects to a broader audience.

“SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement’s backing of this production, particularly one that is so focused on the struggles and solidarities of working people in Canada, fills an important gap.”

Article by Samaah Jaffer for The Peak

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Photo credit: Josh Berson