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Comics & Graphic Novels Nonfiction

Direct Action Gets the Goods

A Graphic History of the Strike in Canada

by (author) Graphic History Collective

with Althea Balmes, Gord Hill, Orion Keresztesi & David Lester

Between the Lines
Initial publish date
Jan 2019
Nonfiction, Labor & Industrial Relations, Social History
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2019
    List Price

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Art has always played a significant role in the history of the labour movement. Songs, stories, poems, pamphlets, and comics, have inspired workers to take action against greedy bosses and helped shape ideas of a more equal world. They also help fan the flames of discontent. Radical social change doesn’t come without radical art. It would be impossible to think about labour unrest without its iconic songs like “Solidarity Forever” or its cartoons like Ernest Riebe’s creation, Mr. Block.

In this vein, The Graphic History Collective has created an illustrated chronicle of the strike—the organized withdrawal of labour power—in Canada. For centuries, workers in Canada—Indigenous and non-Indigenous, union and non-union, men and women—have used the strike as a powerful tool, not just for better wages, but also for growing working-class power. This lively comic book will inspire new generations to learn more about labour and working-class history and the power of solidarity.

About the authors

The Graphic History Collective is made up of activists, artists, writers, and researchers passionate about comics, history, and social change. They produce alternative histories—people’s histories—in an accessible format to help people understand the historical roots of contemporary social issues. Graphic History Collective comics show that you don’t need a cape and a pair of tights to change the world. Members of the Graphic History Collective are organized with the Canadian Freelance Union, a Community Chapter of Unifor.

Graphic History Collective's profile page

Althea Balmes is a multidisciplinary visual storyteller and arts educator interested in collaborative creative expression. Her work is informed by Filipino culture, her diasporic experience, and her background in anthropology, international development, and interest in decolonial aesthetics. She takes a self-reflexive, intersectional, and constructivist approach to arts education to help build and bridge communities

Althea Balmes' profile page

Gord Hill is a member of the Kwakwaka`wakw nation whose territory is located on northern Vancouver Island and adjacent mainland in the province of "British Columbia." He is also descended from Scottish and Tlingit great grandparents. Since 1990, Gord has been involved in the Indigenous people's movement, including solidarity with the 1990 Oka Crisis, the 1992 500 Years of Resistance campaign, solidarity with the 1994 New Year's Zapatista Uprising, the 1995 Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash standoffs, the Native Youth Movement (including the 1997-98 occupations of the BC Treaty Commission offices), the 1999 anti-WTO protests, the Cheam fisheries dispute (1999), the 2001 Summit of the Americas riots, the Skwelkwek`welt campaign (Sun Peaks, 2003-06), and most recently the anti-2010 Olympics campaign. He lives in Vancouver.

Gord Hill's profile page

Orion Keresztesi is an artist and activist inspired by the history of working people’s struggles—how they have shaped the world we live in and how they can help us to do the same today. He works as a research and policy analyst for the Nova Scotia NDP caucus. He is a member of SEIU Local 2.

Orion Keresztesi's profile page

David Lester is a painter, graphic designer, cartoonist, and the guitarist in the rock duo Mecca Normal. His book, The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism went into a revised second printing and is taught as part of an English course on Academic Writing Stratagies at Capilano University. He has created the poster series "Inspired Agitators," archived at The Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles, and designed the popular t-shirt "Actually, I like crap." Lester also does a weekly illustration, with text by Mecca Normal bandmate Jean Smith, for Magnet Magazine. As well, his cartoons appeared regularly for a year in the San Diego Reader. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

David Lester's profile page

Editorial Reviews

The strike is the workers’ ultimate weapon. It demands what the boss never wants to concede, be it more wages, less time on the job, benefits of all kinds, even dignified treatment. The Graphic History Collective shows us how strikes punctuate our history with incisive reminders that we live in a fundamentally divided society, one in which the haves and the have nots routinely do battle.

Bryan D. Palmer, author of Working-Class Experience and co-author of Toronto's Poor: A Rebellious History

Direct Action Gets the Goods is a brilliant and essential resource. Through well-researched history and powerful graphic art, it shows how the strike is key to revolutionary unionism and social movement solidarity. This book will inspire future generations to fight and win against bosses and capitalism.

Harsha Walia, community organizer and author of Undoing Border Imperialism

A lively, colourful reminder that for generations workers in Canada have repeatedly walked off the job together to demand their rights. Great artwork takes the reader through that long and fascinating history.

Craig Heron, author of <i>Lunch-Bucket Lives</i> and <i>The Canadian Labour Movement</i>

Visually dynamic, with different artists contributing a range of compelling styles, Direct Action Gets the Goods depicts how important strikes are as a tool of protest against injustice and inequality.

Judy Fudge, co-author of Labour Before the Law and Professor, School of Labour Studies, McMaster University

Direct Action Gets the Goods brings working-class history to life and reminds us that the power of working people lies not in moral appeals to the rich and powerful, but in our ability to disrupt “business as usual” and shut it down. Read on and resist!

Simon Black, Assistant Professor of Labour Studies, Brock University

The Graphic History Collective has done it again! Direct Action Gets the Goods follows the Sabo Cat, Ralph Chaplin’s timeless symbol of direct action and the strike, on a voyage through Canadian working-class history, from the Knights of Labor and the Wobblies to the CIO and CUPW. Sabo Cat leads the way, and striking and solidarity win the day!

Gregory S. Kealey, founding editor of Labour/le Travail and author of Workers in Canadian History

These graphic histories were enjoyable reads and I look forward to see what the Graphic History Collective is up to next.


A timely and passionate reminder of the power that resides in all working people – to withdraw our labour power in the name of collective struggles. Vividly illustrated and written, Direct Action Gets the Goods is an invaluable tool for teaching and for organizing.

Kendra Strauss, Director and Associate Professor, Labour Studies Program, Simon Fraser University

Not only is learning about the history of workers’ organizing important, this book–and a certain black cat–make it very enjoyable. The Graphic History Collective has created another gem.

Kendra Coulter, author of Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity and Revolutionizing Retail and Associate Professor of Labour Studies, Brock University

At a time when fewer people have first-hand experience with strikes, we should be grateful that the Graphic History Collective has created this illustrated history of strikes in Canada. The authors and illustrators understand that this history matters because it can inspire people today to use the strike as a tool for social change.

David Camfield, author of Canadian Labour in Crisis and We Can Do Better and Associate Professor in Labour Studies and Sociology, University of Manitoba

Brilliant in narrative power and artistic expression, Direct Action Gets the Goods offers more proof of the Graphic History Collective’s prowess with the graphic form. This book offers an antidote to the apathy of our uncertain times. It will encourage people to learn from labour’s past and to use direct action and the strike in today’s struggles for justice. Magnificent!

Paul Buhle, editor of Wobblies! and co-author of A People’s History of American Empire

This is a most inspiring and timely account of strikes in Canada. The iconic black Sab-Cat, as the narrator, reminds readers that workers’ gains are the result of organization and struggle. Direct Action Gets the Goods should be in every union hall and school library.

Andrée Lévesque, author of Making and Breaking the Rules and Re´sistance et transgression and editor and translator of Madeleine Parent

Rounding up the circumstances and goals of strikes in Canada from as far back as 1800, Direct Action Gets The Goods presents these not as aberrations in social order but part of the continuum of history, where workers routinely utilize the strike format in order to not only demand rights that aren’t being met, but also keeping power in check. Besides meticulously laying out a history that’s the book’s real accomplishment, and the sequential format helps it unfold smoothly.

The Comics Beat

The Graphic History Collective shows us that art can inspire hope for radical social change.

Noam Chomsky, author of Manufacturing Consent, Understanding Power, and Who Rules the World?

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