Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
A Study of British Columbia’s Labor & Oriental Problems
By Agnes C. Laut
Just before the outbreak of the Great War, members of the Industrial Workers of the World—the infamous Wobblies who enlivened the nightmares of capitalists across North America—went on strike in British Columbia, calling for humane conditions in the mines and mills.
The action followed years of racist incidents in BC about “Orientals” (Chinese, Japanese, and Indians). In the mind of Central Canada, these two obviously distinct facts were somehow linked, if only by the province’s climate of extremism. Saturday Night, a fearless champion of the overdog, sent the popular historian Agnes Laut to investigate. Her articles—outwardly so reasonable to Canadian ears at the time but now shocking and repulsive for their bigotry and hatred—were so popular that they were quickly reprinted in pamphlet form. The work was entitled Am I My Brother’s Keeper? A Study of British Columbia’s Labor & Oriental Problems. Only a few copies survived—and these have been gathering dust for ninety years.
Now this curious piece of propaganda has been republished with great care, with a contextualizing introduction by Mark Leier, the author of Where the Fraser River Flows: The Industrial Workers of the World in British Columbia and other important works in Canadian labor history. For all its incendiary wrong-headedness, the text speaks to us clearly of how labor, race, immigration, radicalism and gender were understood (and practiced) in western Canada at the time.
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