Winnipeg General Strike (1919)
Regarding Canadian labor history, the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike represents a watershed event. It all started with a large labor protest in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which involved perhaps over 30,000 workers. Poor working conditions, low salaries, and the refusal of employers to recognize unions prompted the strike to begin on May 15, 1919.
Winnipeg’s lifeblood services and businesses were immediately paralyzed as the strike spiraled out of control. The government responded by sending in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (now known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and armed them with machine guns to keep the peace. On June 21, 1919, a disagreement between strikers escalated into violence, resulting in two deaths and numerous injuries.
The strike failed to accomplish its primary objectives. In spite of this, it had far-reaching consequences for workers’ rights in Canada. Improved working conditions, the expansion of unions, and the recognition of workers’ rights all resulted from the government’s response to the strike, which highlighted the need for labor reform and societal transformation. For Canadians today, the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike represents the fight for workers’ rights and labor unity.