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Law Labor & Employment

On the Line

A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement

by (author) Rod Mickleburgh

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Apr 2018
Labor & Employment, Post-Confederation (1867-), Labor
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2018
    List Price

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The BC tradition of fighting back against unfair pay and unsafe working conditions has been around since before the colony joined Confederation. In 1849 Scottish labourers at BC’s first coal mine at Fort Rupert went on strike to protest wretched working conditions, and it’s been a wild ride ever since. For years the BC labour movement was the most militant in the land, led by colourful characters like Ginger Goodwin, murdered for his pains, and pull-no-punches communist Harvey Murphy, who brought the house of labour down on himself with his infamous “underwear speech.”

Through years of battles with BC’s power elite and small victories followed by bitter defeats, BC unions established the five-day work week, the eight-hour day, paid holidays, the right to a safe, non-discriminatory workplace and many more taken-for-granted features of the modern work landscape. But unions’ enemies never sleep and, well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, battles still go on, like that of BC teachers in their long and ultimately successful struggle to improve classroom conditions. On the Line also highlights the role played by women, Indigenous and minority workers in working toward equality and democracy in workplaces and communities.

In prose that is both accessible and engaging, accompanied by over two hundred archival photos, Mickleburgh tells the important story of how BC’s labour organizations have shaped the economic, political and social fabric of the province—at a cost of much blood, sweat, toil and tears. This volume is the most comprehensive overview of labour’s struggle in BC and will be of particular interest to union members, community activists, academics and readers of regional history.

About the author

Rod Mickleburgh is a senior writer for the Globe & Mail, based in Vancouver. During his long career he has worked for the Penticton Herald, Prince George Citizen, Vernon News, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province and CBC TV. In 1994, he was a co-winner of the Michener and in 1993 was nominated for a National Newspaper Award. His previous book, Rare Courage (McClelland and Stewart, 2005), profiled Canadian veterans of World War II.

Rod Mickleburgh's profile page


  • Long-listed, George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature

Editorial Reviews

[Mickleburgh has] the gift of bringing the past to life.

Dr. Jean Barman, author of The West Beyond the West

You cannot read [On the Line] and not be overwhelmed by all the forces that opposed the progress of workers over more than a century of labour history. And you cannot read this book and not marvel at the tenacity and the capacity of workers to organize and fight back.

Irene Lanzinger, president, BC Federation of Labour

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