1919 Winnipeg General Strike: Lessons for Creating a Better World in 2019


4 guests assess the legacy of the Winnipeg General Strike and its meaning for today

The worker must get a more equitable share of the wealth of the world. And this Strike has already demonstrated the ability of the workers to get his if he consolidated their forces. Withdraw your labour power from the machine, said he, at once profits cease.” – published in Western Labor News, Strike Buletin (May 20, 1919). [1]


Click to download the audio (MP3 format)

The period following the end of the first World War was one of considerable labour unrest in North America and around the world. [2]

Revolutions had sprung up in Russia, Germany and Hungary. One in five wage labourers in the United States went on strike in 1919, including a general strike in Seattle, 300,000 striking steel workers, 400,000 striking coal miners, 120,000 striking textile workers, and 50,000 striking men’s clothing workers. General or near general strikes took hold in twenty Canadian cities from Victoria, British Columbia to Amherst, Nova Scotia. [3]

Winnipeg had the distinction of hosting what is now recognized as the largest labour action in Canadian history. More than 35,000 workers in a city of 180,000 walked off the job on May 15, 2019. This included workers in the metal, building, sewing, and manufacturing trades, along with telephone operators, carpenters, electricians, city and government employees, postal workers, and domestic workers. Restaurants were shut down. Print outlets stopped functioning as pressmen left their workplaces. Even city police and firefighters supported the Strike, although they stayed on the job, at the request of the Central Strike Committee to preserve public safety. Soldiers returning from the War demonstrated in support of the Strike as well. The city effectively ground to a halt. [4]

After six weeks, the strike ended following the events of June 21st when the Royal North West Mounted Police together with hired ‘Special Police’ violently attacked a crowd near Portage and Main, leaving two men killed and many others injured. Strike leaders were jailed, some workers were deported, and strike action demands generally unfulfilled. [5][6]

Given this apparent defeat, what significance does the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike have historically, and what instructive lessons are available for today’s organizers? On a week, marking the centenary of the start of the Strike, the Global Research News Hour attempts to address these questions with four special guest analysts.

We start the show with Professor Leo Panitch. In a discussion convened at host radio station CKUW 95.9FM in WinnipegProfessor Panitch places the Strike in an historical and international context, he discusses how the rise of the populist xenophobic right is connected to reformist approaches favoured by social democrats as opposed to more transformative struggles rooted in a class analysis, and he speculates on the possibility of social gains being achieved in Canada and around the world in an era of austerity and neoliberalism.

We continue this discussion in our second half hour with three guests: Winnipeg-based academic and author Julie Guard, Winnipeg-based anti-poverty and welfare advocate Harold Dyck, and Toronto-based anti-poverty organizer and crusader John Clarke. In this ‘round table’ conversation, we address the legacy of the 1919 Strike, useful bonds of solidarity beyond the trade unions, some of the failures of labour organizers in recent years, and the prospects for a similar mobilization of the working class in 2019.

Winnipeg-based listeners take note, a number of 1919 Strike commemorations are taking place locally throughout May and June. A complete list, including a May 25th “Solidarity Forever” parade and concert can be found on the Mayworks calendar of events at mayworks.org.

Julie Guard is Professor of Labour Studies and History at the University of Manitoba. She has authored numerous academic articles and chapters in books. Her research focuses on Canadian labour history, social movement history, history of dissent and repression, history of the Canadian left, women’s history, consumer and food history She is the author most recently of the 2019 book Radical Housewives: Price Wars and Food Politics in Mid 20th Century Canada.
Harold Dyck is a long time anti-poverty and welfare advocate based in Winnipeg. He has played prominent roles with a number of Winnipeg-based anti-poverty organizations including the Manitoba Committee for Economic Justice, the National Anti poverty Organization and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. He is also the long-time director of the Low Income Intermediary Project which conducts advocacy work for people on social assistance.

John Clarke is a long time organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, a grassroots antipoverty organization based mostly in Toronto that combines collective struggles on behalf of individuals fighting for tenant rights, welfare access, and those threatened with eviction and deportation, with larger political campaigns geared toward policy changes in support of the most marginalized in our society.

(Global Research News Hour Episode 260)


Click to download the audio (MP3 format)
The Global Research News Hour airs every Friday at 1pm CT on CKUW 95.9FM in Winnipeg. The programme is also podcast at globalresearch.ca . Excerpts of the show have begun airing on Rabble Radio and appear as podcasts at rabble.ca.
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  1. Dennis Lewycky (2019) Magnificent Fight: The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, p. 37, published by Fernwood Publishing
  2. http://newsocialist.org/the-winnipeg-general-strike/
  3. ibid
  4. Lewycky op. cit., pg ix, 2, 3, 14
  5. Lewycky op. cit., pg 43-45
  6. Lewycky op. cit., pg 153, 154

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