In 1918 in the wake of World War I, working class anger at eroding wages, unemployment and wartime profiteering resulted in high union membership and a determination among labour to forge a radical new path. In March 1919 the BC Federation of Labor abandoned its long demand for Asian exclusion.

The One Big Union (OBU), created in 1919, embraced direct action and the use of general strikes to end political repression and win breakthrough measures such as the 8-hour day. Delegates to the 1919 BC Federation of Labour Convention declared “this body recognizes no aliens but the capitalist”.[1]

“The organized white workers in the past have been recreant in their duty with respect to organizing the Asiatic workers; they have allowed the virus of race prejudice to poison their mind…it is a class problem, and not a race problem that confronts the white millworker of BC. The Asiatic workers are just as keen in trying to get good wages and working conditions as the white workers, in fact in some cases, more so.”[2]

The OBU’s platform echoed many principles which propelled the IWW to success a decade earlier. Chief among those was its anti-racist views which appealed to South Asian radicals.

OBU activists included people like Ernest Winch and William Pritchard who had connected with the South Asian community through Husain Rahim at the Socialist Party’s Western Clarion newspaper in 1912.

One Big Union (1919) Preamble to Constitution

The OBU therefore seeks to organize the worker not according to industry; according to class and class needs; and calls upon all workers irrespective of nationality, sex or craft to organize into a workers’ organization so that they may be enabled to more successfully carry on the everyday fight over wages, hours of work, etc., and prepare themselves for the day when production for profit shall be replaced by production for use.

In early 1919, Ernest Winch became secretary of the BC Loggers’ Union, a new organization dedicated to organizing loggers across BC. Though most South Asians worked in sawmills, not as loggers, the union still made inroads among millworkers. The union soon changed its name to the Lumber Workers Industrial Unit of the One Big Union.

Ernest Winch was Secretary Treasurer of the BC Loggers’ Union who became part of the OBU and organized among South Asians millworkers. Dorothy Steeves, The Compassionate Rebel, (Boag Foundation: 1960), 53.

  1. Mickleburgh, On the Line, 65.
  2. A Millworker, "Should Asiatics Be Allowed in White Unions", The British Columbia Federationist, September 17, 1920, 7.


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