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Winnipeg General Strike 100 years ago led to bloodshed, political change


WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg General Strike, which started 100 years ago Wednesday, lasted only six weeks.

But the fallout from the unprecedented display of strength by both ordinary workers and anti-union forces continues to be felt to this day.

While the workers returned to their jobs — those who weren’t fired anyway — and strike leaders were arrested, the walkout by 30,000 unionized and non-unionized labourers led to a royal commission,  renewed unity in the labour movement, and the creation of a new political party.

“The workers may have been defeated in terms of their immediate objectives … but the work to change the world — certainly to change the city and their own neighbourhood — that didn’t come to an end. In fact, one might say it intensified,” said Nolan Reilly, a retired history professor from the University of Winnipeg.

Reilly and his wife Sharon, a former curator at the Manitoba Museum, have published a walking-tour book about the sites central to the strike.

The dispute erupted when a young Winnipeg was Canada’s third-largest city — a transportation hub with a population of roughly 180,000.

Veterans returning from the First World War wanted jobs. Workers already in the city were facing harsh conditions and low pay.

The walkout began as a sympathy strike for construction unions that were trying to form industry-wide bargaining groups. The walkout began at 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 15, 1919.

It spread quickly. The city effectively ground to a halt when telephone operators, firefighters, many police officers and others all walked off the job. 

Sympathy strikes sprang up in other cities as the days dragged on.

“Once the strike is declared, and people start going out on strike, the moment captures them. And there is a remarkable degree of social cohesion and class solidarity,” said Reilly.

Politicians and the business community labelled the strike a Bolshevik conspiracy and said it was an effort by foreigners to undermine democracy, law and order. Special constables were recruited and the North West Mounted Police’s ranks were filled.

On June 10,  the federal government ordered the arrest of eight strike leaders.

On June 21 — a day that became known as Bloody Saturday — police armed with guns and clubs charged on foot and horseback into a crowd on Main Street. One worker was shot and killed; another who was shot died later of gangrene. Thirty others were wounded.

Five days later, the strike was called off.

Strike leaders would stand trial on sedition. Seven of the eight were convicted.

The defeat spurred new efforts to change the system from within.

“A lot of people who went through the strike drew the conclusion that they needed to be involved in political action,” said David Camfield, an associate professor of labour studies at the University of Manitoba.

J.S. Woodsworth, who had charges of seditious libel dropped, would be elected in the next federal election under the Labour Party banner. He would later help found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner of the New Democratic Party. A.A. Heaps, another leader in the strike, also played a pivotal role in the CCF.

A royal commission into the strike concluded that the merchandising class had enjoyed increased prosperity during the war, while workers’ conditions had worsened. It said it might be time for government intervention.

“If capital does not provide enough to assure labour a contented existence with a full enjoyment of the opportunities of the times for human improvement, then the government might find it necessary to step in and let the state do these things at the expense of capital,” the report said. 

In the decades that followed, industry-wide unions would become the norm.

When he was still teaching, Reilly would take his students on his walking tour and show them the class divisions from 100 years ago that are still apparent today — working-class homes and labour halls north of downtown, contrasted with houses that grow more opulent toward the south where the mansions of Wellington Crescent housed many business leaders in 1919.

“I didn’t have to provide them with a lot of statistics. They could see it visually.”

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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Seamus O’Regan faces calls to visit Attawapiskat during state of emergency



Dwelling in Attawapiskat

OTTAWA — Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan is facing calls from the federal NDP to visit the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat First Nation.

Earlier this month, the community declared a state of emergency over concerns about chemical levels in tap water.

NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the federal riding encompassing the reserve, is meeting with the community today and says O’Regan needs to see the impacts of the issue first-hand, including that community members are worried about being able to safety bathe their children.

Attawapiskat has drawn national attention for its 2012 housing crisis and it has also faced issues with youth suicide.

Former chief Theresa Spence, who launched a high-profile protest over the housing situation, has also started a hunger strike over water concerns.

O’Regan’s office says that addressing the water issue in full partnership with the First Nation is a top priority, adding it knows recent test results have raised concerns.



The Canadian Press

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Trudeau to push trade pact in EU leaders’ summit as France moves ahead on CETA



Trudeau to push trade pact with EU

MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France begin their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal today.

Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.

Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.

But Wednesday’s legal development when the French National Assembly begins its consideration of France’s ratification bill is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.

Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.

Almost all of CETA — in excess of 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.

That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.

Carr will be meeting his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step in Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.

Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.

Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly — in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a staunch Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.

Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.

Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.

“Let us ask ourselves this question: If France cannot ratify a free-trade agreement with Canada, what country can you imagine doing it with?” Trudeau asked.

CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers, and a $24 trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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july, 2019

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