Little Bits of History

Job Insecurity

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 21, 2010

Gathering crowd in Winnipeg

June 21, 1919: At the end of the First World War, Canadian soldiers returned home to find few jobs and almost nonexistent labor regulations. In March 1919 delegates met at Calgary to form a local branch of the “One Big Union,” the premise of which was that all workers should unite in one and only one union. The plan was to hold many general strikes across Canada. The strikes were played out against the background of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia leading many government bodies to react more strongly than they otherwise might have.

In Winnipeg, workers were trying to unionize into two unions – the Building Trade Council and the Metal Trade Council without success. Management refused to negotiate with the Metal Trade Council. And so the workers decided to strike and garnered support from the Trades and Labour Union as well. Cost of living and inflation had risen during World War I. Wages had not risen at the same rate and incomes were no longer stretching as far. The City of Winnipeg denied teamsters, electrical workers, water works staff, and office employees wage increases in April.

On May 15, virtually everyone in Winnipeg, including essential public employees, went on strike. Civil servants – fire and police – returned to duty part way through the strike. Even though the strikers were generally non-violent, the wealthy elite created a committee entitled the “Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand” and stated to federal agents investigating the strike that there was a history of violence.

On this date, most of the local police were fired and replaced with Royal North-West Mounted Police. The strikers were read the Riot Act and Mounties charged. Reading of the Riot Act is a British formality whereby those in charge read a Parliament sanctioned document demanding the crowd disperse. This act was passed in 1715 and it must be read before any overt actions can be taken by authorities. When it is ignored, they are authorized to take other measures to ensure the common good. Or so the theory goes. The Mounties fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding at least 30 more.

“With all their faults, trade-unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed.” – Clarence Seward Darrow

“Now they’re being … associated with the ‘old economy’ aspect of their business — a unionized work force.” – Richard Klugman

“The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder, friction, and malperformance.” – Peter F. Drucker

“It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic modern nation that it have free and independent labor unions.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Also on this day, in 1948 the Manchester Baby is tested and the computer age gets a boost.

Tagged with: , ,