Probably the worst strike in Canadian history was the Winnipeg general strike in 1919. The most violent day of the strike was June 21, which became known as “Bloody Saturday.”
On May 1, 2,000 workers in the metal trades in Winnipeg walked out. They were asking for a forty-four hour week and a minimum hourly wage of 85 cents. Employers might have met these demands, but resented something new in labour bargaining: negotiation on an industry-wide basis and not with their own employees. Within a week, fifty-two other unions walked out in sympathy.
Winnipeg was paralyzed. Even essential services like fire, telephone, and food stores were closed down. Policemen were ready to strike but stayed on duty by request of the ‘Strike Committee. Later, all but fifteen of them were fired by the Police Commission because of their sympathy for the strikers.
The population of Winnipeg was 200,000, and 35,000 workers were on strike. Counting their families, it was estimated that the strike was supported by half the population. The other half formed a Citizens Committee which started with 1,000 members but grew to 10,000. They volunteered to work in the public utilities and gradually a number of stores were reopened.
There were many disturbances in which street cars were burned and people killed. The worst was “Bloody Saturday,” which took place when the federal Minister of Labour was in Winnipeg trying to settle the strike. A group of returned soldiers held an illegal parade in an effort to get him to make a statement of policy. At 2:30 when the parade was ready to begin, fifty mounted police and some soldiers rode down Main Street swinging baseball bats to get the crowds to disperse. They were booed and stoned. The khaki-clad riders disappeared but the police came back again, revolvers drawn.
They charged into the crowd on William Avenue firing their guns. Two people were killed, thirty wounded. It took the police and soldiers with machine guns six hours to break up the demonstration.
The General Strike Committee ended the strike because many of the strikers’ families were on the verge of starvation. Even so, it was an unpopular decision with many of the workers.
As you can imagine, there are many resources if you want to read more about this, so I’ve chosen a few for you. For instance, let’s start with About.com with an article written by Susan Munroe; and then Time Machine written by George Siamandas; as well as CBC Learning; and The Canadian Encyclopedia. Lastly, I suggest the Blog by “mrchristian”.