Winnipeg
General Strike
Background to the Winnipeg
General Strike
• At end of World War I,
the situation for working
people was difficult
• the cost of living had risen
by over 50% from 1913
• wages had only risen by
an average of 18%
• Therefore, it was harder
for those Canadians who
did have jobs to support
their families.
Also…
• Drop in demand for
goods; factories lay off
workers
• Soldiers returning have no
work waiting for them,
AND
• They are pretty sure that
big business has been
making lots of money
from the war that they’ve
risked their lives in…
=
Anger
Enter…
• Labour Movement
– Which means
organizers who are
trying to get a fairer
deal for workers
– They form One Big
Union (OBU)
Now, remember…
• Back in Russia, in 1917, the
Bolsheviks had revolted against
the Czar (like a Russian king)
and killed him and taken over the
country’s government – a
“people’s” government
• For Canadian businessmen and
government, this…
Tsar Nicholas II
=
Yikes!!!
They really thought
• That the union leaders might want a similar
revolution, overthrowing the government
and big business:
• a “Communist” revolution.
All in all…
• There was an atmosphere of distrust and
suspicion
What did the workers really
want?
•
•
•
•
The Metal Trades workers, in Winnipeg, wanted:
a raise of 85 cents an hour
a decrease in their work week from 60 to 44 hours
the acceptance of the collective bargaining
process by their employers – that the union would
be able to negotiate a contract on behalf of all of
the workers, instead of each worker bargaining for
themselves
And they wanted it badly enough
• That they would go on STRIKE for it.
• Approximately 30 000 people walked off the job
on 15 May 1919
• Strike spread from industry to industry and
Winnipeg shut down (mail, streetcars, newspapers,
garbage collection, phones, milk delivery, etc.)
• Central Strike Committee organizes strike
• Citizen’s Committee of 1 000 opposes strike as a
communist conspiracy
• Sympathy strikes started across the country
Which resulted in riots and death.
•“Bloody Saturday”, June 26, broke the strike, 6
weeks after it started
Impact of the Strike
• In short run – disaster for workers (leaders
jailed, workers “blacklisted” from work)
• Union organizers were discredited (called
Communist) – union movement took awhile
to recover
• BUT, on the other hand
• Union workers had learned to become
political and work within government
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Background to the Winnipeg General Strike