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In the spring of 1919, the residents of Winnipeg witnessed the most traumatic and biggest general strike in the history of the Canadian labor force. It took almost six tense week of anxiety and fear for almost all business sector including banks, food delivery, telephones, power, water, fire services, and mail were either reduced or extremely cut off by the strike of non- union workers and local union members from the public and the private sector. The strike was eventually sparked by an argument or dispute between the metal workers and their superiors; and quickly assimilated throughout the city’s work force, and further aggravated by unemployment, ideological ferment, and discontents over inflation.
In 1914, right after the World War I, Canada was snapped out of the pre war season by sending and shipping foodstuffs worth millions of dollar and almost half a million troops to the front not to mention ammunitions to Europe. These eventually eliminated unemployment that resulted in a tremendous boost on the Canada’s economy.
But the prosperity Canada has gained were soon replaced by inflation due to high overhead costs in the economy, the result of regional imbalance was eminent since the heightened demands for goods and services dropped down since the demand also went down, the number of demobilized troops, and severe unemployment were all contributing factors.
Those workers who retained their jobs were agitated for a considerable amount of wages to balance their standard of living with inflation. But those who were not given such grew restless across Canada and talks of forming a One Big Union to subsequently oppose capitalism were conceived.
The concept of forming such was inspired by the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rise of the British Labour Party. Later in 1919, Winnipeg became the center of dispute and agitation when the workers in the metal trades and building found both their union’s standing and wage demand completely rejected by their employers.
As a consequence, the metal workers moved for a strike by the beginning of May. The move quickly caught the attention and sympathy of the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council or WTLC, which was the umbrella organization of all local labor groups. The WTLC members unanimously endorsed the plight of the metal workers and eventually called for a nationwide strike on May 15. It brought Canada to witness the biggest strike over an industrial conflict with such magnitude compassing almost 30,000 workers- most of them were strategically and locally positioned at the center of the economy.
The strike was opposed by politicians and the business class, and was considered by some as the product of the radical aliens who wanted to undermine and cause restlessness to political and social values. It was perceived as a conspiracy aimed to dismantle the foundation of the nation To counter act the strike, they created a committee of One Thousand to restore the order and challenge the strikers: such as dismissing the police force who joined the strike and recruiting a special 2,000- man force to eradicate the strike. The federal government also acted on deporting British –born strike leaders through the Immigration Act. It was a big event in such a way the activity went on national and international news.
During the six-week strike, several leaders of the Central Strike Committee were apprehended and jailed outside the city. This made the WTLC furious and defied the ban on conducting parades. The members actually protested in front of the city hall wherein they were dispersed by the federal troops and the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. According to Radforth, “the result was catastrophic for hundreds of protesters were injured and one striker died. The event was termed Bloody Saturday.” 1
The strike was officially called to a halt on June 26. The metal workers returned to their respective works with no pay increase. Some, belonging to the other work- force, were rehired only after making a pledge that they will not participate to any forms of protest. The others were deported, imprisoned, and lost their jobs.
Though the workers did not meet their demands, the strike proved to be invaluable to the Canadian work force. Legislation soon created an act that obliged employers to honor and recognized the right of the workers for collective bargaining through their union. Eventually in 1920, 11 labor candidates won a slate in the Manitoba legislature, 4 of them were strike leaders. At that year, a person named James Woodsworth, was the pioneer independent Labor MP elected at Ottawa and then later became the founding leader of the so- called Co- operative Commonwealth Federation, now known as the New Democratic Party today.
The General Strike of 1919 proved to be the turning point in the Canadian labor force. The event made legislators to create an act for the plight of the workers in terms of collective bargaining through their union. The event resulted in formidable changes in the working conditions of the Canadian work force and left an influential legacy in the heart and mind of the workers.
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