On the Line: Stories of BC Workers

Episode 19: Union Maids in Action - The 1918 Steam Laundry Strike

January 30, 2023 Season 1 Episode 19
On the Line: Stories of BC Workers
Episode 19: Union Maids in Action - The 1918 Steam Laundry Strike
Show Notes

 A five-month long strike in 1918-1919 by Vancouver laundry workers, most of whom were women, is told through the words of one of its leaders. Ellen Goode began working in a steam laundry at 15, toiling over 10 hours a day, sometimes 60 hours a week. She and her fellow workers formed a union in 1918. In September 1918 they went on strike.  Supported by the rest of the union movement in Vancouver, they gave as good as they got, going after strikebreakers and doing whatever else was necessary to prevail. 

Workers ended their strike in early January 1919. But that wasn't the end of union support for the laundry workers. Eighty strikers—60 women and 20 men—were not rehired by the vindictive laundry companies. The union movement provided financial assistance to all those blacklisted until they found work. This is truly an extraordinary example of union solidarity and an illustration of just how much the formidable laundry workers had touched union hearts. 

Nicol, Janet Mary. “Girl Strikers” and the 1918 Vancouver Steam Laundries Dispute, BC Studies no. 203, 53-81 Autumn 2019. 

Ellen Goode interview, Sara Diamond fonds, Women’s Labour History Project, VIVO Media Arts Centre retrieved at http://archive.vivomediaarts.com/ellen-barber/#1541915730445-ba5d9b8e-af6e


"Union Maid" (words by Woody Guthrie) modernized and sung by Peggy Seeger with Jack Warshaw retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CCOx1hqrKI

"Union Woman", (music and lyrics by Peggy Seeger) from Different Therefore Equal Folkways Records FS 8561 1979

Episode image: "Girls working at mangle in Bonanno Laundry, 12 Foster Wharf. All are 15 years old and go to continuation school." Location: Boston, Massachusetts / Lewis W. Hine, published 1917. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection, LC-DIG-nclc-05196

See also:

BC Teachers' Federation (2020, September 26). Classroom Resources: The 1918 Vancouver Steam Laundries Strike. TeachBC. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://www.bctf.ca/classroom-resources/details/the-1918-vancouver-steam-laundries-strike

 RESEARCH: Research and script for this episode by Patricia Wejr & Rod Mickleburgh. Production by John Mabbott.