May 15, 1919. At 7am workers started walking out of their workplaces across the city. By the end of the week the city was shut down by the workers in what became a historic moment for Canada, though they did not know it yet.
From the book Magnificent Fight, “There was a huge cast of players in the drama that was acted out in the Winnipeg General Strike, mostly divided by class but with many cultural, ethnic and gender alliances or antagonisms providing a complex script. The issues that motivated the protagonists were both simple and complex, some contentious and others confused. All of which stimulated different perspectives of what was at stake in The Strike. Ultimately the drama ended in a violent confrontation that left the Winnipeg working class disappointed but not defeated.”
The Strike represented issues still at play today. The workers were fighting for the right to organize in unions and for a living wage. Veterans were protesting their treatment by the government. Immigrants wanted respect and a fair place in society. The main strategic action promoted by the strike leaders was to withdraw their labour, to stop working. As William Ivens wrote in the Western Labor News on May 21, that the “only thing that the workers had to do to win The Strike is to do nothing”.
Today workers are also consumers. And there is power in what we buy, when, where and how.
Today there is a strategic suggestion from The Strike. In addition to taking a public stand on what we believe, also withdraw participation in what is exploiting us. Don’t shop!
Just think the reaction we could have when we refuse to buy products wrapped in useless and wasteful plastic (covid restrictions showed how quickly the air could be clearer). Think what we can tell business leaders if we don’t shop at Walmart or Tim Horton’s (which I admit would be difficult for me). Think what power we could have if we seriously and vigorously buy local, not imported. Think what will happen when we cancel Netflix.
There are instructions and inspirations in our history. What we do with history is up to us.