An 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.
Shortly 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.