Winnipeg General Strike – 1919

This year’s MayWorks Ottawa 2019 theme is Toppling the System: 100 years of the working class resistance and the arts. 2019 marks the centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike, the largest and most influential strike in Canadian history. MayWorks Ottawa will pay tribute to the workers involved in this strike through education and the arts.

The photo of strikers tipping a streetcar is an iconic image from the strike and has become symbolic of working class struggles in general, as well as inspiring the theme and imagery for MayWorks 2019. The action had a deeper significance at the time in that the streetcar was being operated by a scab (a strike-breaker).

“Angry at the strike-breakers hired to operate the transit system in place of the striking employees, several people in the crowd began rocking the car from side to side. Unable to tip it over entirely, they set it on fire,” reports CBC. “Soon, military personnel from the Fort Osborne Barracks arrived, along with machine gun units who marched into the melee, which had spread into what became known as Hell’s Alley… When the brawl ended, two people ​had died and 35-45 people, both strikers and police, had been injured. The day became known as “Bloody Saturday.””

The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history, and led to future labour reforms. Massive unemployment and inflation, dismal wages and working conditions, and the success of the Russian Revolution all contributed to labour unrest at the time.

“Never have the workers of Winnipeg had so much confidence in their cause as today.  Never has there been such unanimity as to absolute necessity of settling once [and] for all the two points at issue, namely: 1. The right to collective bargaining, and 2. The right to a living wage.”

Western Labor News, May 21, 1919 (Winnipeg)
Collective Tilt
By Adam Ashby Gibbard

Artist statement:
The design of the piece follows some aspects of Russian Avant Garde, the prominent art style in Russia during the Russian Revolution. Blue to represent authority/government and is the central focal point. Yellow as the impact of the crowd on the streetcar. Red circles as people’s individuality coming together into a red column, angled with the tilt of the streetcar. The collective becoming a force large enough to destabilize something otherwise immobile, much like the government.