Magazine Review: Current Issue of the Labour Journal


7-17-09, 9:28 am

Magazine review: Labour/Le Travail/Journal of Labour Studies 63 Spring, 2009. Published by the Canadian Committee on Labor History

Canadian readers of Political Affairs will find the new issue of Labour/Le Travail of interest. The current issue of the Labour Journal offers several invaluable, engaging articles on the history of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) and more.   

Historian Stefan Epp’s “A Communist in the Council Chambers: Communist Municipal Politics, Ethnicity and the career of William Kolisnyk” looks at the career of the CPC’s first elected official. Running as a party candidate for Winnipeg’s City Council, Kolisnyk was elected in November,1926. The Single Transferable Voting system – that British Columbian voters just rejected in a province wide referendum – existed in Winnipeg at the time and enabled Kolisnyk’s electoral victory. 

Kolisnky was born in the Ukraine in 1887 and immigrated to Canada in 1898. He became a party leader in the 1920s as a result of his work in the Ukraine community and was a popular speaker at party functions, according to Epp. He was also a small businessman who owned a bike shop.    

While on Council, Kolinsky fought for affordable and accessible public transit and a better social safety net for the unemployed. He also advocated for the right of city workers to unionize. After the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, City Council had forbidden civic workers from unionizing. He worked closely with Aldermen from the Independent Labour Party (ILP). At the time, the business backed Civic Progress Association dominated council.  

“Rather than being an isolated ultra-revolutionary, Kolinsky’s efforts were primarily based on the needs of the North End’s working class community”, writes Epp. The CPC was primarily based in North Winnipeg at the time which had a large number of poor European immigrants.  

In 1928, voters re-elected Kolisnky to Council.  

Kolisnky was an outspoken Alderman who was not afraid to criticize his left wing allies in the social democratic ILP. He accused one ILP Alderman of betraying the unemployed. This led Council to pass a motion calling for Kolisnky’s removal from Council Chambers unless he apologized. He refused and was dragged out by a Sheriff, leading to a prolonged conflict with Council. In 1930, Kolisnky was defeated in his third bid for Council. The one weakness of the article is Epp’s failure to analyze how many votes he lost by and speculated on the reasons for his defeat.   

Kolisnky never reentered the electoral ring – even though he wanted to – because of opposition from sections of the Party’s rank and file. Kolinsky was a controversial figure within the CPC, according to Epp.  

When the federal government banned the Party in July 1940, the police imprisoned him with other leading Communists. Kolisnky, whose health had always been fragile, went blind in captivity. He spent the rest of his life living in BC where he worked for the  National Institute of the Blind until his death in 1967.   

In “Fellow Traveler: A British Columbia Fisherman Writes Home from the Eastern Bloc, 1952”, University of Victoria historian Benjamin Isitt examines Elgin Scotty Neish’s travels through the former socialist countries to a peace conference in Beijing, China.  Neish was a member of the Labour Progressive Party – as the CPC was known by from 1943 to 1959 – and President of the Victoria local of the United Fisherman and Allied Worker’s Union. Neish – whose travels lasted nearly five weeks – traveled to Prague, Moscow, Ulan Bador (Mongolia) and then finally to Beijing. His union’s newspaper The Fisherman published regular letters from Neish about his trip, from which Isitt heavily draws. Isitt reveals that Communists sought to build a peaceful world during the 1950s.

British historian Kevin Morgan in “The Trouble with Revisionism: or Communist History with the History Left in” persuasively challenges the view that Communist Parties were mechanically subservient to Moscow during the 1920s and 30s.   

Economist Ingo Schmidt provides an penetrating analysis of the working class after World War Two in both East and West Germany.   

The new issue of Labour/Le Travail is a well researched, fascinating read.