Telephone Girls: Maria Dunn’s Anthem for the Great Labour Revolt, 1919
Glenbow – GL – NA-3452-2, telephone operators wearing face masks to protect against the Spanish Flu.
Maria Dunn’s “Telephone Girls” is her song commemorating the workers’ uprising of 1919, a song commissioned by ALHI to mark the Great Labour Revolt of that year. Women telephone operators were the first Winnipeg workers to stay off the job at the start of the Winnipeg General Strike in May 1919, so Maria imagined what a conversation would have been among “telephone girls” here in Alberta, where about 10,000 workers in various industries also went on strike, in sympathy with Winnipeg and for their own good reasons. As the working people most in contact with all elements of society, the “telephone girls” tell the story of the injustices against which workers revolted in 1919 from their own standpoint as working women and from the standpoint of all the working people they communicated with on a daily basis. From World War One to its aftermath–the Spanish flu pandemic, mass unemployment, an employers’ assault on workers’ efforts to organize, and government indifference to workers’ precarious lives–women telephone operators experienced both oppression and militancy and heard the specifics of other workers’ similar experiences. The song reflects both the fighting spirit of workers and their optimism that their grassroots efforts to change society would make a real difference.
© Maria Dunn, 2019 (SOCAN)
Maria Dunn – vocal
Chris Andrew – piano
Don Bouzek – video