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The Winnipeg General Strike

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Winnipeg strikeAn impressive display of working-class solidarity, the Winnipeg General Strike saw almost 30,000 workers walk off their jobs in a matter of hours. Management and labour had failed to come to an agreement in negotiations regarding collective bargaining, better wages, and the improvement of working conditions, and when negotiations broke down, the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council called a general strike.

Response by Winnipeg's workers was almost unanimous. Not only did private-sector workers walk off the job, but in a show of solidarity, public-sector employees joined them—including policemen, firemen, postal workers, telephone operators and employees of waterworks and other utilities. In a matter of hours, widespread strike-action essentially shut the city down.

Winnipeg riotsShortly after the strike began, Winnipeg's most influential manufacturers, bankers and politicians created the Citizens' Committee of 1000 to oppose the action. Winnipeg's leading newspapers published allegations that the strike was initiated by a small group of "alien scum"—European workers and Bolsheviks. Thus, management waged a public relations war by stereotyping the working class as dangerous foreigners—a ploy that proved successful.

No reconciliation between employers and workers seemed forthcoming, so the federal government, afraid that the strike would spark confrontations in other cities, decided to intervene—and threw its support behind the employers. Federal employees were ordered back to work immediately—on threat of dismissal. The Immigration Act was amended so that British-born immigrants (strike leaders) could be deported, and the Criminal Code's definition of sedition was broadened.

A government crackdown began on June 17, with the government arresting 10 leaders of the Central Strike Committee and two propagandists from the newly formed One Big Union. Four days later, the Royal North West Mounted Police charged into a crowd of strikers resulting in 30 casualties, including one death. Known as "Bloody Saturday," the day ended with federal troops occupying the streets of Winnipeg. On June 25, the strikers decided to return to work, an admission that they could not win.

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