OLE BOY: MEMORIES OF A CANADIAN LABOUR LEADER J.K. BELL
Volume 20 Number 6
J.K. Bell was described by Gerald Regan, former Nova Scotia premier, as "the conscience of the Nova Scotia trade union movement" and "a great, great leader at a time when leadership was sorely needed." From many interviews his own words have been capably pieced together by New Brunswick journalist Sue Calhoun, author of two other books on Maritime labour history.
Born in Halifax poverty and raised in Saint John, Jim learned after fifth grade to fend for himself, and participated in his first strike at the age of fourteen. During the Depression years in Toronto, J.K. learned union methods and made contacts while serving as secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Single Unemployed Union, organizing people in R.B. Bennett's 20-cents-a-day relief camps.
When war broke out, he worked in the dockyards in Saint John, and founded Local 3 of what became the Maritime Workers' Federation. He served as secretary-treasurer for forty years and secretary-treasurer of the Federation of Labour for twenty years, being "purged" from the latter job during the McCarthy years when falsely labeled a Communist. He almost died from an attack by Hal Banks' goons when the gangster unions moved into Canada.
Organizing workers was very important, but J.K. did more than that; he educated members and improved their social conditions. He educated himself enough to fight capably for political and legislative changes - job creation programs, improved working conditions, health and safety standards, pensions, and workers' compensation benefits.
Locally, he was active in establishing a credit union, a co-op, a burial society, and coop housing. He tried to convince the government to rebuild the merchant marine fleet in the Maritimes and to promote shipbuilding.
This very readable book should be in public and high school library collections for students of Canadian history. It will counterbalance books containing the politicians' and businessmen's perspectives. A selected bibliography provides supplemental sources for those whose interest has been piqued by this stimulating memoir.
Jean Farquharson, a retired secondary school teacher-librarian living in Paris, Ontario, now serves as a trustee on the Paris Public Library Board.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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