1918 Vancouver general strike

The 1918 Vancouver General Strike was the first general strike in Canadian history[1] and was held 2 August 1918. It was organized as a one-day political protest against the killing of draft evader and labour activist Albert "Ginger" Goodwin, who had called for a general strike in the event that any worker was drafted against their will. The strike was met with violence from returned soldiers who had been mobilized and supplied with vehicles to storm the Labour Temple at 411 Dunsmuir Street (the present-day 411 Senior's Centre). Three hundred men ransacked the offices of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council (VTLC), twice attempted to throw the VTLC secretary, Victor Midgely, out the window, and forced Midgely and a longshoreman to kiss the Union Jack. A woman working in the office was also badly bruised when she prevented Midgely's from being thrown out the window. Labour activist and suffragette Helena Gutteridge was also at the scene, but was unscathed.

In response to virulent opposition from business and the middle class, strike leaders could point to the vote by VTLC delegates that supported the strike 117 to 1. After the strike, all the strike leaders resigned and nearly all were re-elected, demonstrating widespread support for the action amongst organized workers and that it was not the product of a Bolshevik conspiracy.

Although the strike call was province-wide, it was only in the city that it took general strike proportions. Numerous other strikes took place in the city that year, and the general strike was as much a show of labour strength as much as it was a political protest over Goodwin's death. War-time inflation reduced real income profoundly. Other factors such as the Bolshevik Revolution the previous year and the realization that capital profited immensely from the First World War while workers were cannon fodder fuelled the belief that labour deserved more than what employers were voluntarily willing to give. Although only one day in duration, the 1918 strike was thus an important marker in the Canadian labour revolt that peaked with the Winnipeg General Strike the following year. A 1919 Vancouver strike in sympathy with Winnipeg would be the longest general strike in Canadian history.

[edit] References

  • Allen Seager and David Roth, "British Columbia and the Mining West: A Ghost of a Chance," in Craig Heron, ed., The Workers' Revolt in Canada, 1917-1925, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 250.

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