On May 15, 1919, over 35,000 Winnipeg public and private workers united to send a clear message to employers and to governments: they would strike in order to win better wages and the right to collective bargaining.
Workers overcame cultural and gender divisions to organize and effectively shut down the entire city of Winnipeg for six weeks while maintaining key services. Women were at the forefront – among the first workers to walk off the job.
While the strike was eventually broken and many of its leaders were imprisoned or deported, it left a legacy of labour law reforms that redefined fair and safe work across the country.
We have a far stronger social safety net than those workers could have ever dreamed of. We have universal health care, minimum wages, old age pensions, and employment insurance. We have maternity leave, weekends, health and safety standards, due in part to their sacrifices.
With a changing economic landscape that continues to threaten certain industries and create whole new ones, the key lesson from the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike must be for workers to overcome fear and division to unionize and safeguard their rights.
Canada’s unions are proud of the contributions they have made to raise the bar for everyone. We are committed to advocating on behalf of all working families – for universal pharmacare, pay equity, better pensions, safer workplaces, and much more.
But if history has taught us anything, it’s that we need every worker to stand up and be counted.