The Winnipeg General Strike was a landmark in North America. The strike officially began on May 15th, 1919 at 11:00 AM and continued until late June, 1919, and approximately 35, 000 workers, basically the entire workforce of Winnipeg, walked off their jobs, risking their entire lives (Naylor, 2009). This strike has been one of the most studied historic moments in Canadian history. The General Strike had been brewing for many years prior to 1919, a large series of circumstances contributed to the strike, from international to local (Beszterda, 1975).
The strike began in the beginning of May, 1919, after months of labor negotiations the workforce finally had enough and the strike began. The metalworkers were next to participate the strike, the employers of the main factories in the town refused to negotiate their contract. There was a committee that was composed of 1,000 manufactures, bankers, and politicians; they called themselves the Citizens Committee.
The Winnipeg General Strike was caused by many reasons. One reason was the immediate reasons for the building of trades and metal workers going on strike for better wages and to improve the conditions that they worked in daily. The workers were payed a low wage and worked in horrible conditions that would automatically be condemned today. The money that they worked extremely hard for made it difficult to leave comfortably, as many people do today.
The sweep of the strike involved non-unionzed workers as well, which arose from problems with World War 1. They sacrificed years of high expectations suring the war and its aftermath were greeted with high unemployment instead, an industrial turndown, and inflation. The tight labour market had led to an increase in unions, the success of the Russion Revolution in 1917 had led not only to an increase in ideas, but it also provoked a fear on the part of those in authority. (Munroe, 2010)
The One Big Union was a major part of the strike. They did not organize or lead the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, although its history was closely intertwined with that of
the strike. Their radical ideas were getting warm response from many trade unionists. Once the delegates from western Canada unions arrived in Calgary for the meeting in the spring, they were no longer interested in fixing the Trades and Labor Congress. By moving to create the One Big Union, the Candians in the west had created many enimies for themselves, the business world, government officials, and all the craft unions all felt threated by the One Big Union.
Spring of 1919, the newly formed Winnipeg Building Trades Council opened their doors for negotiations with their employer, the Winnipeg Builders Exchange. The workers were looking for increase in pay that would allow them to regain what they had lost to the war inflation. Builders stated that without the increase in construction, they could not afford to pay the higher wages that were demanded. Once this negoation was over, the employers agreed to a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach, stating that if they did not like the wages, then they did not do it and it was over.
In results of fearing that the strike would spread to other cities, Senator Robertson was ordered to mediate the dispute and make a final ruling. Once both sides have been heard, he decided that the strikers and the City Council to accept the employee’s proposal. Once they learned of their success, they knew for sure that they would be using striking again in the future (Wikipedia, 2010).
After the strike, the metal workers finally received the pay increase they were fighting for and went back to work satisfied with the outcome from the Winnipeg Strike. Some of the workers were not so lucky, they were thrown into jail for the reckless behavior they exhibited during the strike. Seven of the strike leaders were thrown into jail for conspiracy to overthrow the government, they were imprisoned for two years. They won 11 seats on the provincial election in Manitoba, four of them were the strike leaders. After 20 years, collective bargaining was finally looked at again in Canada. Due to the fact that nobody was working and the majority of the workforce were participating in the General Strike, Winnipeg’s economy went into decline. (Munroe, 2010).
The effects from these outcomes are still in effect today. We are still receiving higher wages yearly. Minimum wage standards keep increasing at a constant in all provinces per year. This strike may have caused the working conditions today to be as good as what they are. If people hadn’t fought years ago for this then employers today would still be trying to do whatever they can, there would be no standards for employment and the basis for strikes would not be there.
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