Fast Facts: Jim Silver has built a remarkable career as an academic, author, and activist

By Elizabeth Comack and Wayne Antony,

Jim’s academic studies started at the University of Winnipeg, where he graduated with a B.A. (Honours) in Political Science in 1975. He went on to complete a Masters in Political Science at Carleton University in 1976, and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Sussex in 1981. Jim returned to the Department of Political Science at the UW in 1982, launching him on a long and successful academic career as a teacher, researcher, and author.

Jim was recognized as an outstanding teacher early in his career, receiving the Clifford J. Robson Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1985. Over the past four decades, he has helped to shape the lives of hundreds of students, many of whom have taken his teaching about the pressing need to tackle social inequalities and put those ideas to work in giving back to the community.

Jim has also made a difference in making education more relevant and accessible. He was instrumental in establishing the Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies at the UW, as well as in the development of Merchant’s Corner, where that department is now located (along with student housing and a community meeting place) in the heart of Winnipeg’s North End. He also played a key role in the redevelopment of Lord Selkirk Park (Winnipeg’s largest public housing complex), which now features an adult learning centre and a daycare. His efforts at community building have been recognized with the Clarence Atchison Award for Excellence in Community Service in 1997 and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013. In 2014 he received the Honouring Our Allies Award from the Aboriginal Circle of Educators for his work in support of Indigenous education in Winnipeg.

Jim is committed to doing research that matters, research that engages with community issues to expose the gaps in how we think about those issues and animates public discussion to encourage innovative solutions. In the process, he has worked tirelessly with community members to ensure that their standpoints and needs are being heard and addressed. For the past two decades, he has also been a key participant in the Manitoba Research Alliance, a broad coalition of academics, students, and community partners exploring possibilities for transformative change in Indigenous and inner-city communities.

A prolific researcher and writer, Jim is the author or editor of eighteen books and scores of journal articles and book chapters that span a range of important social issues — from the role of unions in “building a better world” to public housing as “good places to live” to adult education and literacy to the role of colonialism in generating Indigenous street gangs. The driving force behind his research and writing has been Jim’s abiding concern for social justice. His work is widely read and its import has been formally recognized. In 2007 he was awarded the Erika and Arnold Rogers Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship. In 2014 he received the Alexander Kennedy Isbister award for his co-authored book, “Indians Wear Red”: Colonialism, Resistance and Aboriginal Street Gangs.

For Jim, ideas matter. Meaningful social activism has to include presenting alternative, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial ways of seeing. That tenet informed his involvement in the Socialist Education Centre in the 1980s, which offered a wide range of free courses on social justice issues. It also informed his activist work as the co-chair of CHO!CES in the 1990s, a social justice coalition that engaged in public advocacy on behalf of people being left behind by government austerity, globalization, and neoliberalism. That tenet was also what motivated him to become an active participant in Thin Ice, which organized to oppose a plan to provide public funding for an arena to keep an NHL hockey team in Winnipeg.

“Ideas matter” also prompted Jim’s work in co-founding the CCPA–MB in 1997. Along with Errol Black and Wayne Antony, Jim saw the need for an antidote to the domination of right-wing think tanks in framing public policy. Twenty-five years later, he still plays an integral role in CCPA-MB, serving on the steering committee and the national board, engaging in fundraising, and writing innumerable reports, Fast Facts, and newspaper op-eds. Jim was also instrumental in developing the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues as a way to continue Errol’s passion for doing research and writing that promotes the advantages of a strong and healthy labour movement. 

Jim Silver brings a down-to-earth, egalitarian perspective to all that he does — in his academic work as a teacher and a researcher, in his writing, and in his activism. He has been a tireless advocate for social justice, challenging the colonial, capitalist, patriarchal mainstream and offering practical alternatives for creating a more socially just society. 

Elizabeth Comack is professor Emeritus in Criminology at the University of Manitoba and a CCPA Manitoba Research Associate.Wayne Anthony is a CCPA MB Steering Committee member and co-founder of the CCPA Manitioba with Jim Silver and Errol Black.