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95th anniversary of Winnipeg General Strike
May 12, 2014 - 1:15pm CST
In Winnipeg, workers within the building and metal industries attempted to strengthen their bargaining ability by creating umbrella unions, the Building Trade Council and Metal Trade Council respectively, to encompass all metal and building unions. Although employers were willing to negotiate with each union separately, they refused to bargain with the Building and Metal Trade Councils, disapproving of the constituent unions that had joined the umbrella organization, and citing employers' inability to meet proposed wage demands. Restrictive labour policy in the 1900s meant that a union could be recognized voluntarily by employers, or through strike action, but in no other way. Workers from both industrial groupings therefore struck to gain union recognition and to compel recognition of their collective bargaining rights.

The Building and Metal Trade Councils appealed to the Trades and Labour Union, the central union body representing the interests of many of Winnipeg's workers, for support in their endeavours. The Trades and Labour Union, in a spirit of solidarity, voted in favour of a sympathetic strike in support of the Building and Metal Trade Councils. Ernest Robinson, secretary of the Winnipeg Trade and Labour Union, issued a statement that “every organization but one has voted in favour of the general strike” and that “all public utilities will be tied-up in order to enforce the principle of collective bargaining".[8] By suspending all public utilities, the strikers hoped to shut down the city, effectively forcing the strikers’ demands to be met. The complete suspension of public utilities, however, would prove impossible. The Winnipeg police, for example, had voted in favour of striking but remained on duty at the request of the strike committee to prevent the city from being placed under martial law.[8] Other exceptions would follow.

At 11:00 a.m. on Thursday May 15, 1919, virtually the entire working population of Winnipeg had gone on strike. Somewhere around 30,000 workers in the public and private sectors walked off their jobs.[1] Even essential public employees such as firefighters went on strike, but returned midway through the strike with the approval of the Strike Committee.

Although relations with the police and City Council were tense, the strike was non-violent in its beginning stages until the confrontation on Bloody Saturday.
 
   
 
 
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Last Updated: May 12, 2014 2:36:28 PM