Thursday, 22 November 2018

Walker Theatre Meeting sets Stage for 1919 Winnipeg Strike


There were two very visible events that fed the view that The Strike was a revolt, not merely a protest. One was an important meeting at the Walker Theatre on December 22, 1918, organized by the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council and the Socialist Party of Canada. It was “dedicated to the purpose of finding no good at all in the government.”  The meeting was planned because the workers realized that the Trades and Labour Congress officers were “impotent in the matter of securing from the Government redress of the grievances complained of, and were determined that the voice of protest should be heard."  (Defense Committee 1920:4)
The 1,600 workers at the meeting were protesting the use of Orders-in-Council (Dominion Cabinet orders) to deal with issues they believed parliament should have responsibility for. They believed Orders-in-Council were undemocratic in suppressing union action, limiting freedom of the press and curtailing political party activity. The meeting was also a protest against the continued imprisonment of political prisoners and sending military forces to fight the revolutionary government of Russia. The meeting endorsed a resolution (copied from a similar Toronto meeting), "that conditions in this country do not, and never have warranted such an unjustifiable interference with the liberties of the people. We view with apprehension the introduction of autocratic methods and the increasing tendency of a few men to usurp the prerogatives of the people which are alone vested in their elected representatives.” (Defense Committee 1920:7)
The report on the meeting in the Western Labor News of December 27 noted that John Queen, “then called for three cheers for the Russian Revolution. The meeting ended with deafening cries of ‘Long live the Russian Soviet Republic! Long live Karl Liebknecht [a German Socialist who was murdered by nationalist troops the following January]! Long live the working class!’ The meeting ordered that, if possible, the message of congratulations be cabled to the Bolsheviki.” A follow up meeting at the Majestic Theatre, only organized by the SPC, reiterated the critique of government made at the Walker, but laid on more of the socialist critique of government. Despite these meetings, there was never a formal alliance between the unions in The Strike and any political party.  

Video Statement

Introduction to Victoria Park 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

100th Anniversary The Strike

Next year will be the centenary of the General Sympathetic Strike.
Events are being planned now for 2019, so mark your calendar:

2019 WINNIPEG STRIKE CELEBRATIONS:

STRIKE  Speakers Series               March 20 - April 17, Millennium Library

1919 STRIKE Exhibit                     March, Manitoba Museum

Book Launch: Magnificent Fight     April 25 (tentative) McNally Robinson

1919 Strike Conference                   May 9-12, University of Winnipeg

Myers LLP Social                          May 11, 2019, Ukrainian Labour Temple

Mb Building Trades Gala Dinner      May 15, Convention Centre

UFCW Parade & CUPE Concert         May 25th,  Exchange District to Memorial Park

Sympathetic Strike Tour                   May 26, North end/South End/Exchange

MGEU Concert                           June 8,  Old market square

STRIKE the musical                    June 19 - July 9, Rainbow Stage

Memorial of Blood Saturday         June 21, @ corner Market Ave. / Main St.


OTHER RELATED CELEBRATIONS:

100th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Labour Temple
(February 14 actual anniversary) Commemoration event TBA

Social Planning Council of Winnipeg 100th
(April 14 actual anniversary) April  26th Celebration

MayWorks Festival of Labour and the Arts
May, numerous locations

Heritage Winnipeg, Open Doors                   
May 25 & 26, various important historical sites

Premier of  movie STAND (was known as STRIKE the musical)
June ???


Art Exhibition: “Revolting”       Edge Gallery 621 Main Street.                                    
            August 2 to August 30




Friday, 1 June 2018

2018 STRIKE Tour


During MayWorks each year, there is a 1919 General Sympathetic Strike Tour on the last Sunday in May. The City Transit bus was full in previous tours so it is wise to book space early.
To register for the 2019 Strike Tour, contact commgroup@mts.net or call/text 204 793 3289.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Labour Action in May 1918

PRELUDE TO THE WINNIPEG SYMPATHETIC STRIKE 1919
Civic Workers versus City of Winnipeg, May 1918 
While many people know of the Winnipeg Sympathetic General Strike of 1919, only a few are aware of how Winnipeg civic workers a year before set in motion the political dynamics for 1919.
     Pressure to change the relationship between workers and employers, between the unions and industry, started building around the turn of the 20th century. While there were certain definable trends that were predicable – for example, demands for wage increases met efforts to limit wage increases – the situation was very unstable and chaotic, evolving. 
       Leading to the Winnipeg strike were significant years when both parties were testing each other on what was possible in asserting some control over their opposing interests. Though much of the tension of the time was confined to specific workplaces, they were starting to coalesce in both the traditional trades and in the more progressive industrial unions, into union councils and federations representing a collective of unions.
 In 1906 a series of strikes in Winnipeg brought out the military, private security and legal injunctions to stop union picketing of employer’s facilities. The situation was dramatic. With the commercial growth and large immigration that created a booming economy there was more space for demanding increases in wages and some reduction in work time. Workers were more plentiful and there was work for both skilled and unskilled labour as industry was being resourced and encouraged to produce more. The Street Railway Union (Local 99) was bargaining with the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company (that owned and ran the street cars) and went on strike. The company hired a detective agency to protect drivers they brought in from Toronto to keep the streetcars moving and to break the strike. Violence would often break out on the picket line as union members tried to stop the trolleys and the hired security would respond aggressively. The Mayor threatened to bring in the military but because the public was generally sympathetic to the workers and the union, he held back and instead agreed to allow mediation that did find a position both parties ratified. The workers got a wage increase but employers did not have to accept the union as a representative of the workers.
Later that summer, workers for the big three metal companies went on strike for wage increases and union recognition. To bring in strike breakers the employers sought and were given a court injunction to stop union picketing which minimized the union’s ability to pressure the employer. Within a month workers went back to work with a small wage increase but again without union recognition. The result of these strikes was that workers saw more clearly how the government and the courts were positioned to support employers, to the union’s disadvantage.
      During the First World War, the growing need to support injured soldiers and their families left behind also influenced the development of government involvement in social welfare. Schemes to provide rehabilitation services, income support and pensions started so that in Manitoba the first mothers' allowances legislation was passed in 1916. Several provinces followed with mothers' allowance legislation of their own, which were initially restricted to minimal support for ‘deserted’ and widowed women.
In the final decades of the 19th century there were examples of strikes that made small gains for the unionized members. For example, the International Typographical Union started in 1894 went on strike in 1896 and was able to secure an eight hour work day. Boiler Makers, Brakemen, Bricklayers, Stonecutters and Plasterers Unions in 1884 struck and were able to increase wages from $3.50 a day to $4. Railway unions in 1883 and 1892 were able to get jobs back for union members fired by their employer. Incrementally the unions were demonstrating the value of collective bargaining for members, and while employers were making concessions there was still overall resistance to accepting union representation.
The Dominion Government Department of Labour issued a report in 1918 on Strikes and Lockouts in Canada 1901-1916. In that period, there were almost 1,600 strikes (about 100 a year though peaking in 1911) involving 9,430 employers and almost 400,000 employees, at a loss of over ten million working days. “The majority of the disputes in the period 1911-1915 were due to questions of wages and hours, about 70 per cent of the disputes and 63 percent of the time loss being due to this cause,” was reported in the document (page 7 and 10).
In 1916 the Manitoba government set up the Fair Wage Board to help define minimum wages for government and private sector employees. It would issue wage schedules but had very little power to enforce the schedules, so that there was still a fair amount of discretion employers could apply. The Norris government also introduced the Industrial Disputes Commission that gave labour and employers a forum for dealing with some workplace issues, but it still allowed court injunctions to stop union picketing which the unions vociferously wanted removed. Federally the Borden government issued Orders-in-Council in 1918 which acknowledged workers could form unions which could negotiate hours of work and wage standards.
By 1918 there was a cadre of workers and union leaders who had experience dealing with intransigent employers and extracting small wage gains but who had failed to secure collective bargaining recognition. They were testing their union muscle in an environment where issues of rights, wages and democratic input were being discussed in public. In May, contract negotiations with Winnipeg City officials stalled for electricians, water works staff, sanitation workers and stablemen, over a wage increases. City officials had recommended increases of 12% that the unions basically agreed with. When the City responded with a straight $2 a week increase, the unions refused and threatened to strike.  Immediately there was talk in other unions about a general strike in support, particularly from the Steam and Operating Engineers, Telephone Operators and the Typographical workers. 
City Council passed the Fowler Amendment (presented by Alderman Frank Fowler) which stated, ”All persons employed by the city should express their willingness to execute an agreement undertaking that they will not either collectively or individually at any time will go on strike.” (May 15th) The employer’s actions infuriated the unions, turning a wage oriented confrontation into a battle over the right to strike. Of particular concern for the City, was the firefighters right to strike. The result, both sides dug in their heels and for three weeks, 40 unions and about 15,000 workers were on a general strike.
The spectre of a long general strike brought in the Dominion Government which was still embroiled in the war and therefore very sensitive to the effect of a work stoppage, particularly if the railway workers were involved. Senator Robertson, on behalf of the Minister of Labour intervened (May 24th) in Winnipeg to find a settlement that gave the City unions recognition and the right to strike, withdrew the Fowler amendment and modified the wage schedules which the unions wanted. He went on to help settle a Vancouver shipyard strike in June and a postal strike in July using a similar approach of finding compromise. Within a few months, there were three other unionized sectors that were in bargaining and on the brink of striking. The metal workers were bargaining with the big three steel companies, and as usual the employers were not willing to increase wages or decrease hours of work and were especially resistant to recognizing collective bargaining. A strike of letter carriers brought out support from across Canada at the same time.
All of the 1918 strikes made some small wage gains but only the civic workers were able to get Winnipeg Council to accept their unions as official representative of the workers in contract negotiations. However, the tactic of a general strike demonstrated a union solidarity that encouraged the workers and threatened employers and the government. Both parties to this confrontation saw a mounting ability of the unions to backup their contract demands with significant economic action and consequences.
The labour agitation in early 1918 set the stage for a number of union and government actions that would lead to the 1919 sympathetic strike, and lay the foundation for labour-management relations for decades to come. The Dominion government for example, by Order-in-Council passed in July, 1918, made a policy declaration that "All employees have a right to organize in Trade Unions, and this right shall not be denied or interfered with in any manner whatsoever, and through their chosen representatives they should be permitted and encouraged to negotiate with employers concerning working conditions, rates of pay, and other grievances."
Coming out of 1918 and what the civic workers in Winnipeg achieved, unions felt empowered. Government felt threatened.

Monday, 23 October 2017

City STRIKE Memorial


   Looks like the City’s ‘interpretive centre’ for the Winnipeg General Strike is complete. And once again we can see how the legacy of the General Strike is being downgraded and denigrated by those in power today.
   The steel billboard commemorates a few key words from a textbook description of Strike events. There is an emphasis on the placement of the Strike in this part of the city. If the intention was to create something photogenic for tourists, it has succeeded.
   Clearly the intention was not to recognized the courage and commitment of the thousands of working people who stood up for their rights in 1919. This thing certainly doesn’t reflect any of the values and principles that played an important role in the Strike. And to add insult to injury this passive structure ignores what the Strike means to Winnipeggers of the past and present.

   Come to Market Avenue and Lily Street to see it. Tell me what you think. See if you can pick out the historical inaccuracies they have cut into steel!


October 2017

Unveiling November 3rd, 2017
Without a great deal of publicity and community participation, the billboard was unveiled today. See the CBC report;

Monday, 13 June 2016

1919 General Strike Memorial
Reflecting today’s Complacency, not yesterday’s Courage

When I do the annual General Strike tour I like to end at Victoria Park, to show how the legacy of the Strike resonates with politicians and the public today. And no there isn’t a huge monument there to the most significant political event in the city’s history. And that is the point of my approach to the Strike and the tour – there is nothing to mark the significance of the place, only a condo development and a boutique hotel.

Somewhat ironically but consistent with how City officials have treated the Strike for 97 years, the design for a General Strike Interpretive Centre has maintained a cancerous official neglect. The City has decided to play down the political meaning and social importance of the Strike with a bland and pedantic design that reflects more of today’s attitude than what actually happened in 1919.

First the location for the memorial is innocuous and irrelevant to the Strike. A tiny sliver of land next to a building at Lilly and Market is virtually invisible unless you are facing it and standing within meters.

Second, the City has allocated only $250,000 for the design and construction of the memorial.

Third. The design is based on text and rusting steel to reflect “multiple conflicting meanings.” As Monteyne Architecture Works describes their design, “It is a monument made primarily of weathering steel and multiple, conflicting meanings. The archetypal struggle for a fair deal that gripped the city almost 100 years ago mirrored the clash between classes and values that was occurring in other places, and the various oppositions that existed then continue to dominate our political and social discourse to this day.”

And fourth, there was no public input or consultation on the design. I had hoped the Selection Committee handpicked for the competition would have the creativity and courage to treat the task with more respect. But an open public process would have been commensurate with the nature of the Strike.

A historical period that was imbued with honour, sacrifice, solidarity and courage is written off as a mere competition and extension of class conflict in this winning design. An event that sent ripples of change to labour laws, social services, economic relations, urban design and the cultural character of Winnipeg is given a miniscule reference in an ambiguous sterile structure. Instead of having a monument that helps Winnipeggers and visitors understand and appreciate the contribution of the Strike, we get an abstract architecture that only vaguely reflects a calendar event with a scattering of benign references.

In 2019 the centenary of the Strike will be celebrated and that will be an opportunity for the citizens of Winnipeg to reflect their appreciation for what happened in and for Winnipeg. We will be able to expose the sacrifices and significance of the Strike and I’m fairly confident the people who supressed the Strikers will not be celebrating or holding events that commemorate ‘conflicting meanings.’

Information on the selection process and chosen design is at:
Dennis Lewycky