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