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Canadian Labor Revolt 1919. What is the Canadian Laborers Strike? (Essay Sample)

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What is the Canadian Laborers Strike? Canadian Labor Revolt 1919

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Canadian Labor Revolt 1919
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Thesis Statement
The Canadian Labor market was a unique market with minimal labor laws. With the prevalence of capitalism at the time the employers oppressed while demanding profits. This period was also marked with the rise of socialism. The Russian Revolution's success in 1917 and the prevalence of revolutionary theories, the Canadian workers became aware of their oppressive situation and slowly began to form labor unions that would advocate for their rights. The Canadian employers disregarded these unions and this led to the series of strikes over a long period with the Winnipeg strike marking the climax. This paper looks at Canadian Labor strikes with a focus on the Winnipeg strike and its causes, results, and lessons that can be derived from the events and outcomes of the strike.
What is the Canadian Laborers Strike?
These are a series of strikes by the Canadian Laborers and Labor Unions that took place in Canada over a period of 49 years (1872-1922). These ranged from the industrial level, provincial level, to the national level. The strikes gained momentum after the World War I when Canada was experiencing massive unemployment and inflation CITATION Kea84 \l 1033 (Kealey, 1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt, 1984). The Russian Revolution's success in 1917 further propelled the strikes, and this climaxed in 1919 when labor leaders of the small and large unions came together with the aim of creating One Big Union that initiated the labor revolt in Canada. The strikes continued for the next two years and started simmering down as the labor unions' demands started being met CITATION Kea84 \l 1033 (Kealey, 1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt, 1984).
What is the Winnipeg Strike?
The Winnipeg Strike was the climax of many years of the Canadian workers' anger and frustration. The strike began on 15th May 1919 at 11 Am when Winnipeg was shutdown as workers at the city stopped working CITATION Kra10 \l 1033 (Sager, 2011). The beginning of the strike was first marked by the metal workers walking out on their bosses, and they were then followed by the firemen, postal workers, and telephone workers. Later, office clerks, street car drivers and conductors, delivery people, and garbage collectors joined the band wagon CITATION Kra10 \l 1033 (Sager, 2011). Ninety-four out of the ninety-six unions when on strike and they were joined by even non-unionized workers, therefore, more than 30,000 Winnipeg workers went on strike. In addition, Thousands of World War I veterans put up support demonstrations and sympathy strikes were held by workers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Atlantic provinces with the additional support coming from the Winnipeg police. CITATION Kra10 \l 1033 (Sager, 2011)
Local Issues Caused the Strike
The strike at Winnipeg was a general sympathetic strike that aimed at showing solidarity with the Builders and Metal Trade Unions that had been on strike since early May. The employers were demanding higher wages as the wages were only 18 cents higher than in 1914 while the cost of living went up by 80% CITATION Kea95 \l 1033 (Kealey, Workers and Canadian History, 1995). Shorter working week and collective bargaining that would allow the union's leadership to negotiate with employers on behalf of the employees. The bosses at the time said that the demand of men were reasonable and necessary to maintain standard citizenship. However, others must take responsibility of the increased demands and this implied the poor workers. Such frustrations during the negotiation process led to the strike at Winnipeg. As the strike continued an additional demand was added on; re-employment of all strikers CITATION Kea95 \l 1033 (Kealey, Workers and Canadian History, 1995).
Causes of the Labors Strike
Following the end of World War I Canada and especially the Canadian industrial workers and the soldiers returning from the war experienced the economic strain that resulted from war. The experiences after the war propelled the Canadian poor population towards labor strikes. Several factors that are; first, the high cost of living CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.). Despite Canada's efforts to reduce the costs of food, the cost of other basic necessities continued increasing from 1914 to 1920. The cost per week of the families staple food, fuel, lighting, and rent increased from $ 14.39 in 1914 to $21.05 in 1920 CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.).
Second is the wage reduction. There was controversy on how wages were following the cost of living. The index for average weekly and hourly wage rates was considerably low compared to the Canadian average retail indexes. If the overtime payment and underemployment are considered, this pay envelope would be even lower CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.). Throughout the 1920 reports existed for the intended decrease in wages for railway workers, garment workers, and cobalt miners. A report in the May 6, 1921 issue of the Industrial Banner explaining the underlying cause of the labor strikes indicated that the workers from coast to coast are "showing a militant spirit to resistance of wage cuts" CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.)
Third is the high unemployment rate. This was predicted in June 1918 which was 6 months before the signing of the armistice. The return of the expeditionary forces created a major unemployment situation. Although the absorption of discharged forces and war workers was better in Canada, this still raised the percentage of the unemployed within Canada CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.). In February 1919, trade union reports indicated a 5.23% increase in unemployment which was the highest up to October 1920. This percentage further rose to 6.09% and 13.05% in December of the same year. In addition, returns from 5,000 firms indicated that 75,000 more men were out of employment CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.). Recommendations were provided for union members use their influence to inaugurate public works, to corporate in conducting relief measures by government, and impress employers with the urgent necessity to retain a large number of employees through reduction of working hours. These recommendations were later applied, and employers and government declined them and contributed to the labor strikes in Canada CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.).
Finally, is the housing shortage. The workers Houses in the industrial sections of Canada were unsatisfactory before 1914. The housing conditions worsened around 1915-1918 as the government did not undertake any housing projects during the war CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.). The poor economic times at the time raised the prices of building materials and labor, therefore, discouraged private investment in the sector. The living conditions threatened the health and welfare of the inhabitants. For example, in 1920, approximately 70,000 couples were married but only 11.700 had built houses. CITATION Mar68 \l 1033 (Marshall, 1968.)
These conditions were prevalent in all of Canada and formed the three major demands of the striking employees that are; reduction in working hours that would improve employment as extra employees would be required to work, improved working conditions not only at work but also at home, increase in wages that would improve the lifestyles of the workers, and reemployment of all the striking workers to avoid worsening the unemployment situation in the country. The workers saw the need to support the Builders and Metal Workers Trades Union as they were addressing concerns that were common among all laborers in Canada. In addition to this, they were inspired by some of the revolutionary theories such as those of Karl Marx that were successful in the Russian Revolution and that some of their leaders championed in Canada.
Results of Strike
Several positive and negative results were generated from the strike. For example, in 10th June, specialists on their horses charged workers and were pelted with stones, bricks, and bottles. On June 17, the leaders of the Winnipeg strike were arrested. On June 21 was the day of the Bloody Saturday where the strike leaders were arrested including their leader Woodsworth CITATION Mar21 \l 1033 (Mary, 1921). On the same day, the RCMP charged on the crowds with clubs and pistols and 1 striker was killed and over 30 strikers injured and the workers were defeated and returned to work without attaining their goal. Finally, Winnipeg's reputation declined and suffered from loss of business and investment as businesses and investors avoided the city CITATION Mar21 \l 1033 (Mary, 1921).
Apart from the negative results, more positive and enduring results came from the strike as this strike provided the basis for reform in Canada. For example, there was the placement of work approximately 200,000 of the Canadian males were engaged in the War work Dominion while an extra 350, 00 was overseas CITATION Mar21 \l 1033 (Mary, 1921). Replacing these men into peace-time pursuits was an immense task. However, in the 15 months of operation of the free employment offices created in 1919, 600,000 individuals were placed into employment free of charge. During the 10919-1020 winter season, $5,000,000 were distributed inform of gratitude to the soldiers who had returned and were unemployed CITATION Mar21 \l 1033 (Mary, 1921).
In addition, there was the dominion housing project. This by an order of the governor general in council on December 3, 1918, the Minister of finance was given the authority to provide loans at a 5% interest rate to the provincial governments to promote the construction of houses to relieve congestion CITATION Mar21 \l 1033 (Mary, 1921). Furthermore, there was the establishment of the Governmental Harmonizing committee this comprised of the Canadian industrial disputes investigation act ...
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