Book Review – Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggles

By Gerard Di Trolio

There are some books you always want to have handy on your coffee table or bookshelf. The latest anthology edited by the Graphic History Collective, Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggles, is one of those books. DTC-CoverWeb-468x600

Drawn to Change clocks in at 200 pages which may seems like a lot for a graphic novel, but it’s a very easy read thanks to the diversity of the stories. Though there are depictions of the already well known moments in Canadian labour history, like the On-To-Ottawa Trek, there are many other stories that are lesser known but deserve our attention.

This diversity is Drawn to Change‘s strength. One of the strongest pieces in the anthology is Working on the Water, Fighting for the Land, by Tania Willard, Robin Folvik, and Sean Carleton which details how Coast Salish peoples dealt with the emergence of sawmills along Burrard Inlet in the 1860s. This was a colonial encroachment upon Indigenous land. But it is also a tale of class struggle, as Indigenous workers went to work as longshorers in the area and had to deal with the bosses while seeking to protect their land. It is an important reminder of how labour and Indigenous struggles intersect and a lesson for activists in the present on how to think about these struggles.

And with the attention that temporary foreign workers have received in the past few years, Drawn to Change offers up the piece Kwentong Bayan: Labour of Love by the Kwentong Bayan collective of Althea Balmes and Jo SiMalaya Alcampo. Their piece details the decades long activism of Filipinas in and around Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program. It’s another example of the strength of Drawn to Change – highlighting struggles that have received little attention.

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From the comic, “Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labor in Canada, 1880-1900. Writers: Sean Carleton, Julia Smith, Robin Folvik. Illustrator: Sam Bradd.

This attention to overlooked struggles also brings us a comic by Julia Smith, Robin Folvik, and Sean Carleton about the socialist-feminist Service, Office, and Retail Workers Union of Canada (SORWUC), which though went defunct was ahead of its time in organizing women and the service sector in the 1970s and 1980s. And in something that is often overlooked despite its sheer size, Rankandfile.ca’s own Doug Nesbitt and Orion Keresztesi retell the story of the Ontario Days of Action against the Mike Harris government. It’s still an important example how how to build a broad anti-austerity coalition and issues of the labour bureaucracy and direct action.

Comics about Madeleine Parent, Bill Williamson, the Knights of Labor, the Battle of Ballantyne Pier, and the 1935 Corbin Miners’ strike round out the anthology. It remains a page-turner throughout thanks to the very different art in each story.

Part anthology, and part graphic novel, it is something that can be enjoyed by long time radicals and those looking to learn more about the class struggle in Canada. Over time, it is destined to be carried across all corners of your home.

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