A maritime tale of struggle and betrayal

Betrayed: the story of Canadian Merchant Seamen” is a hardhitting new Canadian documentary on the struggle of Canadian merchant seamen against the Canadian Government and ship owners which led to an international strike in 1949.

Maritime workers in New Zealand lent their support to the Canadian seamen who fought a desperate battle to protect their jobs and conditions.

Documentary maker Elaine Brière is promoting “Betrayed” in New Zealand with two screenings in Auckland and Wellington, hosted by the Maritime Union of New Zealand.

The Auckland screening of “Betrayed” is at the Maritime Club, 39 Beach Road, on Saturday 23 April. The Maritime Union is hosting the event and will be putting on drinks and snacks beforehand at 6.30pm. The screening is free and open to the public.

The Wellington screening of “Betrayed” is at B4 café, 222 Willis St (next to Waterside House) on Tuesday 26 April at 7.30pm. The screening is free and open to the public.

Elaine Brière is a well-known Vancouver documentary photographer and filmmaker. Her first film, “Bitter Paradise: The Sell-out of East Timor,” won Best Political Documentary at the 1997 Hot Docs Festival. Her book,”Testimony: Photographs of East Timor,” was published in May 2004.

Although Canada is surrounded by three oceans, there is not a single deep-sea ship flying the Canadian flag today, but sixty years ago, Canada had the fourth-largest merchant fleet in the world. Canadian ships brought vital supplies to Allied forces in Europe during World War II. The men sailing those ships were war heroes who suffered terrible losses. Their union, The Canadian Seaman’s Union (CSU), brought the eight-hour day, sick leave and pay increases to an industry known for low wages and brutal working conditions.

After the war, when the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent began to privatize the merchant fleet, the CSU strongly opposed the sell-off. The Canadian government and ship owners initiated a campaign to discredit the CSU. It was a time of fear, confusion and betrayal.

This documentary tells the little-known struggle of merchant seamen to save the merchant fleet and their livelihood. It traces the history of Canadian shipping from the international strike of 1949 to the globalization of coastal shipping in Australia by Canada Steamship Lines – owned by the family of Canadian prime minister, Paul Martin.

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