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STRIKE 1919!


DATES AND FACTS


May 15, 1919
By noon, 20,000 people are on strike.

June 9, 1919
Special police officers are recruited by Committee of One Thousand.

June 10, 1919
Specials clash with strikers at Portage and Main.

June 16, 1919
Strike leaders arrested.

June 21, 1919
Bloody Saturday marks the defeat of the strike.

OTHER RESOURCES


Confrontation at Winnipeg: labour, industrial relations, and the General Strike by David Jay Bercuson.
Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1974.

The workers' revolt in Canada, 1917-1925 edited by Craig Heron.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

MAPS


Chataway's Map of Winnipeg New Edition highlighting Strike events.


FOR EDUCATORS


Strike 1919!
Page 5 of 6

The Committee of One Thousand

Shortly after the start of the General Strike, the leaders of the Winnipeg business community established the Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand. (Ref1, Ref2) It had far fewer than a thousand members, but it had access to the corridors of power both in Manitoba and Ottawa. Among its leading figures were such prominent businessmen and lawyers as A.J. Andrews, J.C. Coyne, Travis Sweatman, and Isaac Pitblado. It organized volunteers to replace strikers (Ref1, Ref2) and worked to ensure that the strike ended in a defeat for the unions. In its own newspaper, The Citizen, it attacked the strikers and their supporters as Bolshevik revolutionaries and implied that the strike was largely the work of Eastern European immigrants. (Ref1, Ref2) These charges were echoed by the leaders of Catholic Church in St. Boniface.

Shortly after the strike started, two leading members of the Committee met with federal cabinet ministers and told them the strike was a revolution in the making. The government was convinced, and A.J. Andrews, a lawyer and Committee member, was appointed as the government’s special agent in Winnipeg. Worried that an attempt to end the strike by force could end disastrously, Andrews believed the government had to proceed cautiously. He was, however, intent on crushing the strike: to that end he advised the government to pass a series of laws that would make it possible to quickly arrest and deport the strike leaders without trial. One of the Committee’s first moves was to force the city council to fire the entire Winnipeg police force for refusing to take an oath promising not to participate in general strikes. The dismissed officers were replaced by 1,800 special police officers recruited by the Committee. On the next day, June 10, the Specials, as they were called, clashed with strikers at the corner of Portage and Main in the first major violent confrontation (Ref1, Ref2) of the strike.

Andrews supported the employers’ decision not to negotiate, but he realized that he had to bring the strike to speedy end since workers in other cities across the country were showing support for the Winnipeg strikes. General strikes in support of the Winnipeg strike broke out in Brandon, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver and Victoria, and in towns as small as Dauphin and Minnedosa. The big fear was that the rail workers would join the strike, bringing the country to a standstill.

Andrews’ opportunity came when the owners of the metal shops made a small concession, announcing that they would negotiate with individual craft unions, but not the metal trades council as whole. This was a proposal that the workers would not accept, since they had gone out on strike to asset their right to choose who would represent them. When the unions turned the proposal down the Mounted Police took action. On the night of June 16, ten strike leaders were arrested in their homes and taken to Stony Mountain Penitentiary. Union offices across the city were raided and their contents seized. Andrews acted quickly, and on his own: federal officials in Ottawa were surprised to hear him announce that the strikers were to be prosecuted for sedition.

Returned soldiers had held parades both in opposition (Ref1, Ref2, Ref3) to, and in support (Ref1, Ref2) of, the strike. On June 21 the veterans who backed the strike gathered in downtown Winnipeg to protest the arrests. When the mayor banned their demonstration, the Mounted Police were called out. Charging into the crowd on horseback, the police fired on the strikers—one man died instantly, another a few days later from gunshot wounds. The special police that had been recruited by the Committee of One Thousand then moved in on the demonstrators: by the end of the day at least thirty of demonstrators were seriously injured. (Ref1, Ref2, Ref3, Ref4)

The arrests and the attack on the parade, which the unions referred to as Bloody Saturday, marked the defeat of the strike. The workers returned to work without contracts. Hundreds, possibly thousands of workers were fired for their participation in the strike. Others only got their jobs back if they signed agreements promising not to join unions in the future.

Digital Resources on Manitoba History