to rationalize. But the concept of collective bargaining at stake in Winnipeg in 1919 was an advanced one that had not yet become the standard anywhere in North America, except perhaps in the Vancouver shipyard industry under wartime conditions. To have won widespread recognition of this interpretation of collective bargaining would have been a great victory for Winnipeg labour in 1919. THE STRIKE AS LABOUR RADICALISM In order to achieve what were in 1919 fairly advanced labour objectives, the Winnipeg labour movement turned to the general strike as a weapon. The general strike had long been employed in Europe as the ultimate weapon of the class struggle. It involved a sufficiently total withdrawal of services to topple the capitalistic state, and some European syndicalists insisted that without a revolutionary intent there was not a genuine general strike. In British and North American labour development, the general strike was an inevitable result of the need to find new sources of leverage in labour disputes. Obviously the simultaneous withdrawal of services could be an effective labour weapon, if it could be executed without seriously threatening the political fabric. One way of limiting the damage had been by defining the time period of the withdrawal of services. Unfortunately, it was all too easy to confuse syndicalist general strikes with pragmatic general strikes, particularly when the Canadian labour movement simultaneously appropriated much of the terminology and rhetoric of syndicalism. The period after 1900 had witnessed a new radicalization of the Canadian labour movement, particularly in the West. The labour movement before the turn of the century had been largely dominated by traditional trade unionists, organized into unions of skilled crafts devoted to improving conditions of work "pure and simple". The "pure and simples" rejected the notion of the politicization of labour
J. M. Bumstead, “ The Winnipeg General Strike Reconsidered, ” Beaver , Vol. 74, Issue 3, Jun/July, 1994. 4 questions or the entry of labour leaders into the political arena. This attitude was often called "Gomperism" after its leading international exponent, Samuel Gompers, the head of the American Federation of Labor. In the years after 1900, however, Canada experienced a substantial influx of immigrants from the industrial centres of the British Isles, familiar with new views of unionism and new ideologies of the class struggle. These men were militant and articulate. They were also far less committed to traditional trade unionism. During the Great War the labour movement became allied and associated with political parties such as the Social Democratic Party or the Socialist Party of Canada. The membership criteria for political parties was considerably different than that of skilled trade unions, and a greater range of membership helped add to the ideological mix of these years. As well as the "pure and simples," the labour movement now contained reformers of a variety of beliefs (most of them Utopian in one way or another, some of them social gospel ministers). By the close of the war,
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- Fall '15
- DAVID CAMFIELD
- Trade union, Strike action, Winnipeg General Strike