The House of Commons Essay
The House of Commons
In the House of Commons on May 27, 1919, Sir Robert stated that “the government has taken no sides in that dispute. ” But he also observed that the government occupied a position’ different from that of the private employer.
He asserted that “if the needs of the people as a whole are to be regarded we cannot have in this country a complete dislocation of public services founded upon such reasons as have been put forward by the postal employees of Winnipeg,” and he announced with some satisfaction at the close of his speech that “seventy of the postal employees have returned to work and no difficulty has been experienced in filling the places of those who have not returned. ” He made no mention of the cost of living as a cause of the strike but did recognize the necessity of arriving at a definition of collective bargaining acceptable both to capital and labour.
The attitude of the central government on this subject is of great importance, as it meant that Ottawa gave wholehearted support to the employers and governments at Winnipeg. On June 6, although there had been no serious violence, Mayor Gray banned all parades and forbade the congregation of crowds. On the same day the Dominion Parliament passed, with a remarkable economy of time, an amendment to the Immigration Act, which extended to British-born subjects the Act’s provisions concerning deportation by executive order.
This amendment, which was the cause of considerable resentment in organized labour groups across the country, passed all three readings in both Houses and received the royal assent in less than an hour. Its significance lay in the fact that it implied that the leadership of the strike was not in the hands of European-born aliens-an implication now definitely proven correct. This was the stage reached in the development of the strike when Woodsworth arrived in Winnipeg on June 8.
As he approached the city across the prairies, stopping frequently to fulfil his speaking engagements, he kept himself as well informed about the strike as was possible from outside. He was anxious to use whatever influence he might possess in the city to further a conciliation move, but discovered that there was, by that time, practically no chance of success, chiefly because of the insistence upon cessation of the strike before further negotiations, and the blunt refusal to admit the right of a general strike on principle.
Almost immediately upon his arrival, Woodsworth wrote a letter which was published in the Western Labor News, stating his own position and attempting to define the situation. In this statement he returned with great emphasis to one of his earliest established concepts, the “sin of indifference. ” Learning in more detail the preceding developments of the strike, Woodsworth concluded that the “general public,” or at least that part represented by the Citizens’ Committee and the three governments, was not prepared to concede any of the strikers’ claims.
Thus there appeared to be no alternative save for the workers to refrain from work to the limit of their resources, and to educate as many of the people on the sidelines as possible. The governments, he considered, were pursuing a course perfectly incompatible with the traditions of British liberty and, to add to his reasons for supporting the strikers, he was fully in sympathy with the goal of industrial collective bargaining.
He immediately threw himself into the fray, appearing with strike leaders and outside sympathizers, to address mass meetings in Victoria Park, and helping to raise funds for strikers’ families. As he observed at close quarters the evolution of the strike he became increasingly convinced that the real plot was not the revolution allegedly sponsored by the One Big Union advocates, but the concerted actions of the Citizens’ Committee and the three governments to suppress the whole idea of industrial unionism and the sympathetic strike.
Woodsworth continued to support the strike vigorously, speaking both at the Labour Church meetings and those of the “soldiers parliament. ” He had completely identified himself with the movement a week after his arrival. Probably Woodsworth sensed the turn that events were about to take and yet was prepared to maintain his stand, since the conduct of the strike itself was distinctly non-violent. Although startled, he was not bewildered by the sudden descent of the full force of government power upon the strike leaders.
In the early hours of June 17, the Royal North-West Mounted Police raided various homes in Winnipeg and made ten arrests. The men thus apprehended were hustled away in motor cars to Stony Mountain Penitentiary, and the books, records, and “seditious documents” discovered in their homes or at the Labor Temple were stored away for use at the trials. Four of the men arrested were “foreigners” who were later dealt with summarily by the Immigration Board, and who apparently had no intimate connection with the strike leadership.
The arrests constituted a very heavy blow at the strike, robbing it of its most vigorous leadership and depriving it of the directors of its chief source of news and exhortation. As soon as Woodsworth heard of the arrests he conferred with his close friend Fred J. Dixon and the two men decided to undo at least part of the threatened disaster by carrying on the labour newspaper themselves.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 15 May 2017
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