Operation Solidarity

On July 7, 1983, the Social Credit government of William Bennett introduced a vicious set of bills in the BC Provincial Legislature known as the “26 Lashes.” The legislation attacked social services, education, unions and minorities while reallocating funding to Expo 86, the big Vancouver 100th birthday celebration along 170 acres of False Creek land the Province was intent on converting from industrial wasteland into a real estate dream pie. Human rights protections were terminated and thousands of workers fired overnight– almost every family in British Columbia was affected. The Solidarity mobilization against these measures was swift and broad, coming from a coalition of organized labour and the full political spectrum of community groups. Through four months of escalating walk-outs, work stoppages, militant actions and ever larger mass demonstrations, the whole Province edged toward a General Strike. However, on November 13 the movement was sold out by the big union leadership in a back-room deal

 with Premiere Bennett, an agreement never presented to their members for ratification. Despite this betrayal and the laying on of the 26 Lashes, the 130 days of Solidarity represents a historic and heroic coming together of the progressive people of British Columbia.

During the July 7 to November 13 period, there were literally hundreds of political actions, demonstrations and rallies across the province of British Columbia. I photographed a few of the biggest ones in Vancouver and picked three of the most dramatic crowd moments to form a representative sampling of those events. I have also added a fourth image to the series for what I consider an Operation Solidarity related activity – the occupation of the Kerkoff construction site by construction Unions determined to defend their hard-won workers rights and jobs against the introduction of non-union and scab labour just as Expo 86 construction was getting under way. I include this in the Solidarity series because the action of the Socred government against the civil service of British Columbia in 1983 affected the outcome of the Kerkoff

 occupation in 1984. The government enjoined against the blockade in the courts and upon winning an injunction, ordered the police to clear the Unions. But the police, having been the victims of the 1983 firings, refused to get involved and the Unions emerged unbroken and victorious. Union labour would be used to build Expo 86.

The panoramic photographs in this series have been widely exhibited:

Lisa Walker's video Henri Robideau: Vancouver Solidarity Era 1983 -1984

Presentation House exhibition c.1983 Part II

C.U.P.E. Local 15 commission.

grunt Gallery Eraser Street exhibition.

July 23, 1983, Giant Crowd of 50,00 people march to show their disgust for the Socred government's mass firing of 5000 teachers and government workers, elimination of the human rights code, cuts to legal aid, dismantling of rape relief centers, huge slashes to health care and education, all in the name of "restraint" but really so they can pay for the new bubble dome (a giant marshmallow in bondage) and a big glitzy Expo in 1986.

August 10, 1983, Giant Crowd of 30,000 unionized workers book off their jobs for the Operation Solidarity rally at Empire Stadium to protest the Socred government's firing of 5,000 public sector employees and cuts to social services.  Over a two hour period each union took a turn marching around the track and when the police, firemen and bus drivers entered the stadium everybody leaped to their feet and clapped and whistled like crazy. Afterwards there were speeches.

October 12, 1983, Giant Crowd of 70,000 people (the largest mass demonstration in B.C.'s history) march a second time against the Socred's so-called "restraint". In front of the Hotel Vancouver the fluffy sweater hip capitalist flat top entrepreneur Socred convention delegates come face to face with the plaid shirt working class minority disabled single parents on welfare unemployed.

Giant Blockade by organized labour and the building trades of anti-Union contractor Kerkoff's False Creek construction site, March 12, 1984, Vancouver, B.C.