"Today, Mr. Borden is embarrassed. He had imposed conscription on the country: he notes, at the same time, that members of the workforce are increasingly rare, and that he needs them to save the country...what will the workers do? Will they give their cooperation to a government that has scorned them to the point of doing nothing for them? "

the labour movement

Class Struggle

The First World War, with its increased industrial demand and labour shortages, saw the rise of socialism, unions and workers’ rights movements.

Challenging many governments’ wartime measures, such as the imposition of conscription, workers fought for better working conditions with the best weapon at their disposal: strikes. In 1919, when the veterans returned to the country, expecting employment and finding few jobs, the movement reached its peak.

Premier Norris addressing anti-strike soldiers
(G.W.V.A. Great War Veterans Association) led by
Capt. F. G. Thompson, 4 June 1919

Archives of Manitoba
David Millar Collection, P8232/5

The Winnipeg General Strike, the largest strike in Canadian history, began on May 15th, 1919. In a matter of days, 30,000 workers and their families had stopped working. Factors leading to this unprecedented strike were common to many major cities in Canada: poor working conditions, low wages, high inflation, absence of union recognition, and, finally, a fear of ‘enemy aliens’ stealing jobs in factories. After six weeks, the city called in the North-West Mounted Police, who charged into the crowd, killing two strikers and ultimately crushing the movement.

Strikes across the country from May to July 1919

Ontario 90
Québec 57
british columbia 23
nova scotia 11
Alberta 9
saskatchewan 9
manitoba 6
new brunswick 6

War veterans protesting lack of work, [1919?]

City of Toronto Archives
William James Family Fonds (1244)
Item 903

Two Sides of a Coin

Hover to flip to the back

Veterans and the Strike

The Winnipeg general strike polarized veterans, who were almost evenly split for and against it. On the pro-strike side, Roger Ernest Bray, a former army private, became the spokesperson for veterans supporting the labour movement, leading a series of meetings and protest marches throughout May until he was arrested on charges of seditious conspiracy at the beginning of June. On the other side of the issue, Frederick G. Thompson, former army captain and lawyer, organized the anti-strike veterans’ parades. Thompson, like many other veterans, feared that the boycott was a revolutionary conspiracy led by Bolsheviks.