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The Winnipeg General Strike

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2015 words Published: 9th May 2017

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In all of Canadian history, with Labor union movements and protests against the employers, the Winnipeg General Strike was one of the most explosive and meaningful of all previously recorded General Strikes throughout history. A strike is defined as a strike by workers in all or most of the industries in a country at the same time. Of which the Winnipeg General Strike managed to kill the city in a few hours where movement was delayed because of the lack of workers. However, including the strike events the before and after effects are what made this General Strike so historically significant.

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The Winnipeg General Strike began shortly after the First World War. Ironically, in the case of the soldiers their purpose of their 4 years of service in the war had the undesired outcome, Robert Walker a western miner stated that they “ought to be able to work a little less and enjoy a little more.” However this was not the case immediately after the war the cost of living continued to rise and the return of the soldiers offered unprecedented numbers of workers returning to the force while at the same time forcing people out of work, creating a serious unemployment problems and a general strike.

In the spring of 1919, a labor argument over union recognition gradually expanded or “snowballed” into a dramatic general strike in multiple stages. First, on May 1st after three months of negotiations with the Winnipeg Builders Exchange, all the unions grouped together with the “Buildings Trade Council” go on strike. Then next, the day after a strike is called by the “Metal Trades Council” of workers, all at the three main locations distributed among the city join in and abandon all work efforts as they join the strike. Then, both the Winnipeg Building Council and Metal Trades Council tell the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council (TLC) about there employers refusing to bargain with the workers. Thus the TLC comes to a decision about polling all unions on a sympathetic strike; a strike in support of all other workers on strike. The result of this poll on May 13th was 8,667 for and 645 against; from there a general strike committee of 300 people is created. Finally, on May 15 at 11:00 AM, the general strike begins. Within 2 hours, factories, workers, and in the bigger scheme, the city comes to a stop, as workers follow the union members at walking off their jobs; a total of 30,000 union and non union people.

Thus with every action there is an equal or opposite reaction, some people didn't like the strike as their city was dead and lots of local businesses, shopping centers, some of the police force, no phone operators, non circulated newspapers, no working street cars, undelivered mail, etc just to name a few that were non existent. The effect of this was drastic: retail was crippled, transportation by motorized vehicle was almost non existent and factories were closed, eliminating any progress in manufacturing. Thus, On May 16 a Winnipeg Citizens Committee of 1,000 is announced, its goal is to fight the strike. In an attempt to stop the strike on May 25 Senator Robertson issues an ultimatum to the postal employees giving them 1 day to return to their jobs, on pain of dismissal. Multiple ultimatums were formed for provincial and civic government jobs, as they were owned by the government. Through this battle back and forth, 5,000 strikers refused all ultimatums in the Victoria Park Stand on May 25th. After simple negotiations of words the government had come to realization that this is bigger than they previously thought.

A key event On May 30 was the refusal of the anti-strike pledge by the Winnipeg Police force and the clear understanding of what the terms the strikers wanted, in a more in depth version. It was clear that the strikers were in favour of 3 principles: First they wanted the right of collective bargaining, second a living wage, and third reinstatement of “all” strikers. Basically the Winnipeg Strikers wanted to be noticed that they have the right to form a union Also mentioned by the Strike Council was the list of principles they didn't want: One was no revolution, two no disorder and three no dictatorship. The result of the refusal of the police anti-strike pledge triggered and 1800 man force called “Specials” they were a group of special workers in charge of taming the strike with the equipment of horses wagon spokes and baseball bats. The angered strikers continued to rally together and when they were refused newspaper support, they were accused of “Bolshevism,” of being “enemy aliens” and of “undermining British values.” As a Bolshevik revolution had just previously occurred in Russia, many of the workers saw this as a successful socialist revolution. From this same idea minister of Justice Arthur Meighen put an accusation on the Winnipeg strike leaders, that they were performing acts of communism and Bolshevism

On May 22, the federal Minister of Labour Senator Gideon Robertson and the federal minister of the interior also an acting minister of Justice, Arthur Meighen refused to meet and negotiate with the Central Strike Committee. Within a week from this inconclusive meeting the municipal workers, federal government employees and provincial government employees were ordered to return to work. However this order was not followed through and the strike was back to where it began, the government was left to dry and had to think of some resolution. Then an amendment or change in the Immigration act and Criminal Code was sent to Canadian Parliament. It stated that the government had approval of deportation of all British Born strike leaders and a new definition; sedition (incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government … www.dictionary.com)was added to the Criminal Code.

This brought a dire consequence, one of the major movements within the Winnipeg General Strike. Because of the exploding numbers of strikers, the government employers were lead to believe that this was not just another strike but rather Winnipeg was experiencing a revolution against the remaining authority in the city. This rumor circulated until the attention was increased, the city used all of the force it could get, and troops were rushed in to the site. Before dawn on June 17 agents arrested multiple of the strike leaders and sent them off to jail with refused bail right, this was done during late night raids. These were 10 leaders of the “Central Strike Committee (CSC)” and 2 propagandists of the newly formed groups “One Big Union.” Of the leaders arrested were: J.S Woodswoth, R.E Bray and Abraham Albert Heaps. These arrests sparked anger within the Strike Committee, and thus the final major movement in the Strike began. As the furious strikers gathered in Winnipeg's Market Square leaders read the Riot Act as they taunted the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP). This lasted minutes until the RNWMP descended upon the strikers beating them with clubs and firing weapons. As a result 2 people were killed; a child and Mike Sokolowski a striker, and 30 plus people were injured. This day of the strike was known as Bloody Saturday because it was the day that involved the most violence. The army was also on the streets, and they patrolled with machine-guns mounted on their vehicles because they feared more violence. On Thursday, June 26 at 11:00 am, exactly 42 days from the beginning of the Winnipeg General Strike it ended. The leaders of the Strike committee feared that the RNWMP would engage in more acts of violence and they voted to finally end the strike.

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The Winnipeg general strike is referred to as Canada's largest general strike, it is a key event in Canadian history as it lasted 6 weeks and sparked multiple supportive strikes across Canada. Of which were called in Brandon, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Regina, Vancouver, New Westminster, Victoria, and in as many as 20 other towns scattered across Canada. It was important simply because it managed to capture the attention of local and national politicians as well as the general public. The Winnipeg General Strike was a turning point in history as it was and illegal six week stand with a collation of general public workers organized to bargain against the workplace in manners of a strike. Through the traumatic events of the Winnipeg General Strike it is clearly shown the importance of establishing a permanent federal police force. In the city the local police force were dismissed by the higher authorities because they could not be relied upon. If local law enforcement can't be relied upon it is important to have an alternate force on reserve to maintain the order of the people. Thus the permanent RNWMP (Royal North West Mounted police) or simply the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) was permanently established as of February 1, 1920.

On top of the permanently created RCMP, there were several government related changes in relation to expansion and amendments to several laws. The first major law change was the amendment to the Immigration Act which was sent to Canadian parliament stating that the government had the right to deport all British born leaders/strikers that were involved in the strike that committed sedition; this same law was also added to the Canadian Naturalization Act. The term sedition was also new that was added to the Canadian Criminal Code in this special instance, it means “incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government” (www.dictionary.com). Not to mention Canada's improvement upon labor laws and worker rights; which before the Strike were almost non existent.

The introduction of the changes in the Immigration Act disallowed many groupings of no entry into Canada, culturally postponing many groups. Of these groups banned from entry into Winnipeg were the “Stalwart Peasants” of the Sifton era. These were, according to Sifton, people who have aged 10 years on the farm and have many children. Thus the major people briefly not allowed into Winnipeg were the Hutterites, the Mennonites and the Dukoubours, however this later changed. There were also people in the strike specifically J.S Woodsworth that had a hand in developing certain aspects of the Canadian society. For example he led the Church to lay a foundation of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, Canada's first socialist political party. This same foundation CCF would later be known as the NDP party in which we still associate with today.

In conclusion the strike the Winnipeg General Strike was a stand against the employers and the government in order to agree upon better work conditions, collective bargaining, and an agreement to allow all strikers back to work after their terms have been met. In the case of the Winnipeg General Strike, the word strike was embellished by the federal government as they believed that this strike was a revolt in favor of a revolution. It was very threatening towards the Canadian communities as this strike occurred in the era of multiple revolutions; more specifically acts of communism. The result of the Winnipeg General Strike was generally a very successful protest, as it proved to increase the better working conditions of millions of Canadians in the future. To the government it was a success and they had managed to stop the strikers, unfortunately with force but also managing to create a new form of police service; the RCMP. Towards Canadian identity the Winnipeg General Strike was a key event as it managed to keep the government on “their toes” and prevent acts of injustice, improved millions of working conditions and managed to keep Canada unique in character successfully distancing Canada from acts of Bolshevism and Communism distancing ourselves apart from multiple countries in different parts of the world.


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