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Human Welfare, Rights, and Social Activism

Human Welfare, Rights, and Social Activism: Rethinking the Legacy of J.S. Woodsworth

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 304
  • Book Info
    Human Welfare, Rights, and Social Activism
    Book Description:

    Taken as a whole, these essays pursue a careful consideration of the historical and contemporary exclusions to polity that occur around gender, ethnicity, class, and race.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6034-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. 1 A Common Interest? Reflections on the Social Legacy of J.S. Woodsworth and the Contemporary Politics of Social Change in Canada
    (pp. 3-41)

    ‘Who is this Woodward’s (sic) person? Who is he to me? Who are you to me?’ A young Aboriginal man stands up and directs his questions to the panel of First Nations speakers and then to his fellow, largely non-Aboriginal, audience. His words, tone, and manner, provocative and aggrieved, challenge the proceedings. In the uncomfortable silence that ensues, amid conflicting feelings of surprise and initial discomfort, clearly echoed in the restless hushed movements and murmurs of those in the room, I am compelled by the intervention. The young man resumes: ‘What you are doing isn’t enough. We need to push...

  6. 2 The Historical Woodsworth and Contemporary Politics
    (pp. 42-64)

    An earlier generation called him a saint and a prophet.¹ In more contemporary, demotic language, though equally prepossessing, James Shaver Woodsworth (1874–1942), when he is still remembered, is regarded as an ‘icon’ of the Canadian left, an object of secular veneration and nearreligious reputation. In his lifetime he engaged in myriad forms of politics, from social movement-type advocacy to political party representation and leadership. Woodsworth continues to be esteemed as a model of social and political action that is both principled and effective. This essay looks at his life and legacy and poses, I hope, critical yet sympathetic questions...

  7. 3 Labour Rights in an Interregnum: The Ambiguous Legacy of J.S. Woodsworth
    (pp. 65-90)

    The author of this quote of course is not J.S. Woodsworth but his contemporary, Antonio Gramsci, writing from his prison cell in 1930, reflecting on the conditions of his time – of their time. I will shortly elaborate on those conditions in Canada and on Woodsworth’s approach to labour rights, but first I want to draw a parallel with our time, for we too, I argue, are living in an interregnum – in a time when the old is dying and the new cannot be born – and for this reason it is particularly appropriate that we refl ect on the legacy of...

  8. 4 The Changing Struggle for Rights: A Critical Look at the Origins and Fate of Human Rights
    (pp. 91-113)

    The presumed absoluteness and universality of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) hide a long and conflict-ridden history and continue to disguise the contradictions of a world in the midst of transformation. This brief critical history is an attempt to trace schematically the trajectory of the struggle for rights in a capitalist society and to outline the dilemma that marks their current status.

    In this history, J.S. Woodsworth played a prominent role, at least as it unfolded in Canada in the fi rst half of the twentieth century. At this time he was at the forefront of the...

  9. 5 Social Rights Are Human Rights: Furthering the Democratic Project
    (pp. 114-135)

    Woodsworth’s words seem as relevant today as they were eighty-five years ago. As frequent witness to the oppression of the working class and jailed as a sympathizer and presumed instigator of the Winnipeg General Strike he was no stranger to issues of human rights and the protection and promotion of democracy. I am interested in his insistence on the role of government in the assurance and maintenance of human welfare. I am further interested in the idea that human welfare represents a set of rights that constitute social rights and that these rights are human rights. Without these social rights...

  10. 6 Human Rights and Poverty: A Twenty-First Century Tribute to J.S. Woodsworth and Call for Human Rights
    (pp. 136-160)

    The Canada for which J.S. Woodsworth and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party struggled – a society in which everyone has an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, clothing and housing, health care, workers’ rights, and social programs are vigorous (MacInnis, 1953), is not the Canada of today. This is a moment in Canadian political history when government commitment to social programs is at a low ebb.² It has become shockingly ordinary that people in Vancouver, and other major cities in Canada, have to line up at food banks, beg, steal, sleep in doorways and on church pews,...

  11. 7 Human Needs above Property Rights? Rethinking the Woodsworth Legacy in an Era of Economic Globalization
    (pp. 161-179)

    In the contemporary world, there seems less and less space to envisage a better, or at least a more tolerable, world than the one we currently inhabit. As inequality within and between national states continues to grow, the rules and institutions we associate with the idea of economic globalization are intended to narrow the compass of options available to states and their citizens to redress these developments. Rather than expanding the range of social policy choices, states from the global South are expected to follow pre-determined paths of development according to abstract economic hypotheses and the imagined histories of powerful...

  12. 8 Zones of Abandonment: The Cultural Politics of Public Health in Vancouver’s Inner City
    (pp. 180-198)

    This chapter addresses a series of paradoxes at play in the delivery of public health care and social welfare for the urban poor in Vancouver’s inner city. It examines public health practices and policies surrounding the inner city poor and the unhoused within a larger contemporary landscape – one marked by declining social welfare and health services, gentri fi cation and urbanization, intensi fi cation and privatization of policing, the contemporary e ff ects of a colonial history, an increased global focus on HIV infection and treatment, and a local public health care industry enmeshed with the politics of the left....

  13. 9 ‘Re-construction’ from the Viewpoint of Precarious Labour: The Practice of Solidarity
    (pp. 199-220)

    In May 1919 thousands of workers in Winnipeg walked off the job, instigating one of the largest strikes in Canadian history. These striking workers demanded rights that are now taken for granted by many working in the formal labour market,¹ including the right to collective bargaining, minimum wages, an eight-hour workday, and safe working conditions. As a key organizer and community leader, James Shaver Woodsworth participated in the Winnipeg strike, confronting the state and contesting the power of ‘the pro fi teers.’ He later weathered several years as a voice of dissent and leadership within government. He advanced principles central...

  14. 10 J.S. Woodsworth and the Discourse of White Civility
    (pp. 221-243)

    How does one assess a legacy? Many Canadians would agree that J.S. Woodsworth has left us a legacy that includes practical social provisions such as old age pensions and workers’ rights legislation as well as the intellectual groundwork for the democratic socialism that produced the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party and evolved into its successor the New Democratic Party (NDP). But others have also noted that his most (in)famous book, Strangers within Our Gates (1909), with its hierarchy of more and less desirable immigrants, betrays a legacy of Anglo-centrism and racism in the very midst of Woodsworth’s progressive social vision,...

  15. 11 Embodied Memory: Universal Citizenship and Indigenous Cree Identity
    (pp. 244-265)

    My father, Jerry McLeod, told me a story aboutnimosôm,¹ my grandfather, Gabriel (Gabe) Vandall, who was involved in the battle of D-Day in the Second World War. Gabriel Vandall was part of the initial wave of the D-Day landing and demonstrated great bravery. His friend was shot as they went towards the beach, and he said years later that the blood of his friend was the only warmth he felt that day:

    When they had first come ashore and onto land at the event that has been called D-Day they were standing on a large boat with his friends...

  16. 12 Canadians of Tomorrow: J. S. Woodsworth and the New Ethnicities
    (pp. 266-286)

    In 1913, Woodsworth published a series of articles entitled ‘Canadians of Tomorrow’ in which he explored, with considerable anxiety, the fate of his own ideals of cooperation and social justice in light of the increasing presence of ethnic minorities in Canada. Woodsworth introduces his concerns by describing his recent encounter with a foreign-born census-taker. ‘Vat nationality you?’ the census-taker appears to have asked. ‘I looked down,’ Woodsworth tells us, ‘ I’m afraid somewhat contemptuously, at my li .. le foreign interlocutor ... Here was a question concerning which I had no hesitation. Though living in the midst...

  17. Index
    (pp. 287-299)