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The Reddest Rose – A Partial Biography

September 27, 2016

The Turbulent Life and Times of a Communist Trade Union Organizer in British Columbia

harvey-caricatureHarvey Murphy is not a name that echoes loudly throughout the annals of 20th-century British Columbia labour history. In fact, the tireless trade union organizer, negotiator, and active Communist Party of Canada (CPC) bureaucrat has almost disappeared from most histories of the Canadian labour movement. A brief study at the very active life of the man who called himself the “reddest rose in the garden of Labour” suggests that he merited more than a few paragraphs or a few pages in scholarly works dedicated to a study of labour’s past.[1] And yet Murphy, who stood at the barricades of many labour struggles throughout an era of radical union and left politics, seldom receives more than footnote-length treatment. Hated by some labour leaders, he was long deemed a workers’ friend by Alberta and BC mine and smelter workers. He was at the clamorous forefront of the struggle for union and worker rights in Canada’s West for more than a decade. Why then has so little attention been paid to a man that BC historian Allen Seager called “the most influential communist in the Canadian trade-union movement in the 1940s”?[2]

[1] Stephen L. Endicott, Raising the Workers’ Flag: The Workers’ Unity League of Canada, 1930-1936 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 126, mentions the phrase but does not source it.

[2] Allen Seager, “Harvey Murphy,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica-Dominion Institute, Toronto, 2011, http://www.encyclopediecanadienne.ca/articles/harvey-murphy.

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