Socialist Voice, November 25, 1985
By John Steele
On October 9, Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) member Bill White died in Vancouver.
Under the impact of the first decade of the October 1917 Russian Revolution and the hardships of the great depression of the early 1930s, Bill became a staunch working-class fighter and revolutionary unionist which he remained to the end of his life.
Bill was born on April 7, 1913 in Aberdeen, South Dakota. As a child of six in Winnipeg where his father worked as a railway porter, Bill was drawn into the l919 general strike. Bill and his childhood companions did their part to aid the strikers by throwing their collection of marbles under the hooves of the RCMP‘s horses.
In his teens while working at a sawmill in Thunder Bay, Bill helped build the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1933 at the time of its foundation, he joined the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the forerunner of the NDP. At the age of 22 he was a member of the Bridge River miners union in British Columbia.
At the outbreak of World War II, along with many other young workers, Bill found himself in the Canadian army. Following his stint in the army he found work as a riveter in the government-run shipyards at Prince Rupert, B.C. He became a member and leader of the Boilermakers’ union.
In the wake of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler’s army, a sharp controversy erupted in the union over a proposal that workers support the Liberal government’s war effort through a "no-strike pledge." Supporters of the Stalinist bureaucracy that had taken over the Soviet Union after the death of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin and the forced exile. of his close collaborator Leon Trotsky, were behind the proposal.
Trotsky supporter Paddy Stanton took the floor to explain that the no-strike pledge would ultimately weaken the defense of the world’s first workers state and the struggle for socialism in Canada. After discussions with Stanton, Bill joined the Trotskyist group in Prince Rupert and became a communist. "That’s when I changed from a rebel looking for a cause to a revolutionary with a cause," he explained.
Bill was among a small number of revolutionary workers active across Canada defending the communist perspective upheld by Trotsky against Joseph Stalin after the death of Lenin. In 1928, under Stalin’s pressure, central leaders of Canada’s first communist party, formed in 1921, were expelled for "Trotskyism," as they were in the United States.
In 1934, Canadian Trotskyists formed the Workers Party of Canada (WPC). It was one of five parties which called for the formation of the Fourth International, which was established in 1938. Shortly before the start of World War II, the WPC became the Socialist Workers League. It was declared illegal under the Defense of Canada Regulations in 1939.
Under conditions of illegality, the work of Bill and his comrades helped lay the groundwork for the first pan-Canadian conference of Trotskyists which took place in Montreal in 1944. The decisions of the conference resulted in the launching of the Revolutionary Workers Party (RWP), the Canadian section of the Fourth International, in 1946.
The RWP was the direct descendant of the 1921 communist party and there is a direct line of continuity between the RWP and the RWL which was formed in 1977 through the fusion of three revolutionary parties. The work of Bill and others of his generation ensured that the thread of communist continuity was not broken.
Bill was a determined fighter against racism. The July-August 1947 issue of the RWP’s paper Labor Challenge reports that: "The Jim Crow eviction of a Negro worker and his wife from a Vancouver hotel is arousing vigorous protests from workers here." Bill along with the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers at the Britannia Beach mine where he worked, the Boilermakers in North Vancouver and the Vancouver Labor Council, carried a strong public campaign against the hotel’s racist management. Four decades later, inspired by the rising anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Bill said with typical optimism: "It [the racist apartheid system] can’t last much longer. The workers are going to take over."
Sick with silicosis, the fatal lung disease he contracted in the mines, Bill was unable to work after 1971. Nonetheless, along with his union, then the United Steelworkers, Bill fought a landmark battle forcing the B.C. Workers Compensation Board to recognize his illness an occupational disease.
Bill was inspired by the 1979 decision of the RWL to take on the job of building a Marxist current inside the major pan-Canadian industrial unions. He saw this as a guarantee that in the years to come a Marxist workers party would be built with the capacity to lead the workers and farmers to political power.
During his final years, Bill used his considerable skills as an educator to pass on his experience and knowledge to the younger members of the RWL taking their first jobs in industry. His decades-long contribution is a solid and irreplaceable part of the foundation of the communist movement being built today.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All