A lot of people are talking about a “revolution” nowadays.
Although what that actually means isn’t clear to Mark Leier, it’s piqued the SFU history department chair’s interest.
“Do I see something like Spain in the 1930s?” Leier asked in a phone interview with the Straight. “Not really. But again I’m a historian, not a predictor of the future. But what I would say is that this is the kind of situation where lots of things are up for grabs in a way that they weren’t...that when people start to move, we don’t know where the end point is going to be.”
As a historian, Leier is reminded about the demonstrations that swept across Canada and the United States during the 1930s Depression era.
He specifically points to the On to Ottawa Trek in 1935, an iconic event in labour history that started out in Vancouver when striking workers boarded box cars to bring their demands for better working conditions to the capital.
“Who would have thought Trek to Ottawa would capture the imagination of Canadians from coast to coast?” Leier said.
The SFU historian also recalled the trekkers had “two great slogans: one was ‘Create unemployment insurance’, and the second one was ‘Abolish capitalism’”.
“I don’t know that anybody believed that they would be able to abolish capitalism but they certainly managed to get unemployment insurance,” Leier said.
“This was just a few hundred guys saying, ‘We’re just exhausted, and we’re angry. We have to do something. We don’t necessarily think this is the best plan but this is the plan that we got.’ And no one thought that they would get past Kamloops and the fact that they were put down by the police ended up changing governments in the 1935 election and to help pave for the welfare state that’s been under attack for the last 30 years,” Leier said.
So is a revolution coming?
Joey Hartman, president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, said that she had “felt like something was going to come along”.
“What would be the right moment that would coalesce people around an issue? Or it’s been feeling for a while now like...I’ve been using the word ‘flashpoint’ or some moment that captures people’s imagination. You can’t call these things and say, ‘Okay, you know, make this happen,’” Hartman told the Straight in a phone interview.
According to Hartman, many have used the word “revolution” in the past and there’s nothing new about the word being liberally used in the context of the Occupy phenomenon.
“I think the question is what are they looking at?” Hartman said. “Revolutionary ideas or are they looking to overthrow government and capitalism? And I think we’re kind of far from that. I think there’s a lot of distance that we need to capture and to rebalance. It was really never balanced in favour of the labour movement and for people who are out jobs and poor and all of that kind of stuff. It’s so out of balance right now that I think there’s a lot of room for us to make great success without it having to be revolution.”