Winnipeg General Strike

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The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history, and became the platform for future labour reforms.

Although many Canadian companies had enjoyed enormous profits on World War I contracts, wages and working conditions were dismal and labour regulations were mostly non-existent.

In March 1919 labour delegates from across Western Canada convened in Calgary to form a branch of the "One Big Union", with the intention of earning rights for Canadian workers through a series of strikes.

Contents

Laying the Groundwork: The 1919 Strike

End of the War

The immediate post-war period in Canada was not a time of peace. Social tensions grew as soldiers returned home to find large numbers of immigrants crowded into cities and working at their former jobs.[1] High rates of unemployment among returned soldiers compounded their resentment towards the immigrants.

The Bolshevik Revolution frightened the leaders of Western countries. They feared the Bolsheviks would successfully export revolutionary ideology and sentiment to their own countries. Canada’s large immigrant population was thought to hold strong Bolshevist leanings. The Canadian government and businessmen saw the Bolshevik Revolution as an example of what could happen if popular unrest got out of hand. Their fears of a possible uprising led to increased efforts to control radicals and immigrants at home.[2] Threats and incidents of strike action, which could be considered radical criticism, were thought to require prompt, harsh responses.

Cause

With the cost of living rising due to the inflation caused by World War I, the City of Winnipeg's teamsters, electrical workers, water works employees and office workers approached City Council in April 1919 for a wage increase. Their proposal was rejected and City Council offered the four departments war bonuses, with a promise to revisit the topic after the war. City Council's new proposal was unsatisfactory to the four departments, and the municipal Electrical Workers took action and began striking on May 1, 1919, with the waterwork and fire alarm employees joining a few days later. City Council considered the strike actions of the civic departments unacceptable and, after warnings to strikers, the Council dismissed the striking workers on May 4. This action, however would not discourage the strikers but strengthened their cause as other civic unions joined the strike out of sympathy with the dismissed strikers.

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