By Cathy Fischer
Focus on Socialism
The U.S. invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April. Kennedy sent advisors to Vietnam. The Soviets erected the Berlin wall. In 1961 president Lumumba was assassinated in Zaire. The assassination was thought to have been orchestrated by the CIA and the Belgium government, and in February, 2002, the Belgium government formally apologized for its role. In Canada, in November Tommy Douglas was elected national leader of the newly-formed New Democratic Party, and Woodrow S. Lloyd became premier of Saskatchewan. In the fall the Saskatchewan Medicare Act was passed, to take effect April 1, 1962, and Keep Our Doctors committees were formed in opposition. The Saskatchewan Power Building was under construction in Regina.
Womens Voices are Heard
The year 1961 was a time of recession and high unemployment. An Unemployed Committee was set up in Regina with help from the Regina Labour Council, and which we as communists supported. In February, the Unemployed Committee decided to send a delegation to the Saskatchewan government and to present a brief outlining their plight and asking for assistance. My husband and I were both working, but took the afternoon off to go along with the delegation. We were joined by several other [Communist] Party members, including Betty Beeching, and by Nettie Dabeka, the latter active in the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians. Betty, Nettie and I were the only women on the delegation.
Those taking part in the delegation gathered at the offices of the Labour Council, and we had a preliminary meeting and discussion there, with Ernie Smith, who I believe was the head of the Labour Council at the time, in the chair. (Ernie Smith is on the left of the three men leading the delegation into the Legislative Building, as shown in the picture above) Of course, in the discussion several of the men said married women should stay home and not take jobs away from the men. I knew Ernie had a pretty good head on him, so I was waiting for him to say something about the married women question.
|Labour Delegation to Saskatchewan Legislature, 1961|
But he didn't, so I figured I'd have to. I got up and said I was working, and was married, but had thought the question of unemployment was serious enough to take the afternoon off to go on the delegation; that as soon as unemployment went up the first line of attack was that married women should stay home; that there should be jobs for everyone who wanted to work; that in a country as rich as Canada there was no reason everyone who wanted to work shouldn't have a job; and we should be fighting for that, not about who would get the jobs that were available. I was very nervous, but well received, and no one offered to argue the point with me.
At the parliament buildings we were met by premier Tommy Douglas, and an official government photographer. I don't know how many there were in the delegation but the room they had arranged for us was too small, and since the Legislature was not sitting at the time, they had us all sit in the Legislative Chambers, in the seats of the M.L.A.'s, while Ernie read the brief.
Late that same year, in early winter, Claude Jodoin came to town to speak, and I think the meeting was at Government House. Jodoin had made a name for himself leading the Postal Workers Union, even ending up in jail. I was astonished to hear him say that for married women to work was like moonlighitng! Again I waited for some of the trade unionists that were there (including my husband and Ernie Smith) to get up and say something - but not a word. I was obviously pregnant at the time, but I got up and nervously challenged Jodoin, and said basically that everyone who wants to work should have a job. After the meeting several people came up to me and commended me for what I had said. I asked Ernie Smith why he hadn't said anything, as he was much more used to speaking than I was, but he just laughed and said he had been sure I would handle it.