June 23, 2016

Battle of Ballantyne Pier ~ remembering June 18, 1935

It's one of those stories all of us should know. It's the kind of history that should be taught in our schools in this province and across the nation. It's the Battle of Ballantyne Pier. and on a dull and rainy Saturday this year, we joined over 100 others at New Brighton Park to remember
what happened 81 years ago in Vancouver.

Most braving the steady rain were union members, mainly men and mainly older. Flags were unfurled, speeches offered, hands shaken and smiles exchanged.

Just after noon on June 18, 1935, about 2000 striking longshoremen and various supporters, mainly men, left the union hall on East Hastings to peacefully march to Ballantyne Pier with the intention of talking down the replacement workers that were working on the ships in the dock. In the past the Union had been somewhat successful in convincing the scabs of the error of their ways. The strikers had been locked out since June 4th, and the employers had taken on scabs that they had been busy recruiting for several months.

The employers' group, otherwise known as the Shipping Federation, had prepared for this day and had organised politicians to support a plan to deal with the waterfront situation. That plan included the hiring of scabs, police specials, and the coordination of three levels of police.

Vancouver Labour Heritage photo

The photos of the day tell a powerful story. Men, dressed in their Sunday-best, including many veterans from the First World War with medals pinned to their chests, walked, peacefully by all accounts, towards the Pier.

When the longshoremen and their supporters arrived at Ballantyne Pier they were greeted by hundreds of city police, with Provincial police hiding behind boxcars with Thompson machine guns. RCMP officers carrying long batons, and mounted on horses, rounded out the heavies.

Vancouver Sun archives photo

Tear gas was fired and the mounted police rode into the crowd of marchers, swinging long clubs. The police pursued the fleeing marchers through the surrounding streets, even riding up the steps of houses where women and children were gathered.

1:20 p.m. Tear gas bombs were fired by Royal Canadian Mounted Police over the heads of the crowd, mounted city and Provincial police charged them at full gallop and foot police swung into action with batons this afternoon when thousands of longshore strikers and sympathizers tried to break through the guard and march onto Ballantyne Pier.
  The Vancouver Sun from March 18, 1935
At day's end, over 100 marchers were treated in hospitals. Many others were injured but afraid to go to hospitals or doctors. At least two were shot. No one was killed.

In the end, the strike was broken. The employers' group broke the union in 1935 as they had done four other times since 1909. Ultimately, in the 1940s, union members prevailed and the ILWU was formed.

Shane Simpson MLA

A monument was erected at New Brighton Park in 2010 to remember the Battle of Ballantyne Pier. It's a tribute to the workers who faced down guns, batons and tear gas to achieve something of lasting value for all Canadians.

As speaker after speaker mentioned in the day's service, including Simpson Shane MLA, Vancouver-Hastings, the rich and powerful are constantly looking for ways to take more and more from working people in Canada, be it through their "free trade" agreements, the dismantling of public school system, or the privatisation of health care.

To remember the Battle of Ballantyne Pier is not just about remembering; it's about standing on guard and being willing to take a stand, no matter the consequence.

Photos, except where noted, by Jeem. 
Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray. 

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