Revisiting the Workers’ Revolt: Theme Week Conclusion and Further Resources

Sean Carleton and Julia Smith

100 years ago, in the spring and summer of 1919, thousands of workers across Canada went on strike to protest poor wages and working conditions and to grow workers’ power in society. In the century since, much has changed, but much remains the same.

Canada, of course, is still a capitalist settler society, complete with all of its deeply unequal features. High rates of unemployment and rising inflation, a growing gap between rich and poor, and the concentration of power in the hands of political elites and capitalists continue to define Canadian society today. These ills are compounded by increasing social inequality and climate crisis.

In our current conjuncture, as we argued in the Theme Week introduction, revisiting the 1919 strike wave and reflecting on the tactics and strategies of past labour battles does not give us a blueprint for social transformation, but it can yield important lessons for those battling to build a better world today.

Art by David Lester, Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike in Canada.

History is an important organizing tool. In that spirit, we offer this short conclusion and we have included a selected bibliography of further resources to learn more about the 1919 strike wave.

This Theme Week has not simply celebrated the workers’ revolt of 1919. As the posts highlight, many strikes failed—or were violently crushed—and there were a number of missed opportunities to develop wider circles of solidarity. Our goal has been to encourage critical reflection and contemplation on the strike wave in 1919 to inspire readers to think about what a strike wave in 2019 could look like.

Overall, the Theme Week was meant to revisit the workers’ revolt and showcase its national character to introduce new generations to the many lessons that working-class history holds for today. Learning those lessons—about organization and solidarity and the courage and sacrifices required to strike and challenge the capitalist status quo—can help reenergize our efforts to build a better world. Reflecting on the past can help working people today understand not only where we have been and where we are going, but also where we want to go and how we can get there together and leave no one behind.

Sean Carleton is an Assistant Professor at Mount Royal University.

Julia Smith is a Banting Fellow and Honorary Grant Notley Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta.

Selected Bibliography

Abella, Irving, ed. On Strike: Six Key Labour Struggles in Canada 1919–1949. Toronto: James Lorimer, 1974.

Avery, Donald H. “The Radical Alien and the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.” In The West and the Nation: Essays in Honour of W.L. Morton, edited by Carl Berger and Ramsay Cook, 209–31. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976.

Balawyder, Aloysius. The Winnipeg General Strike. Vancouver: Copp Clark, 1967.

Bercuson, David Jay. Confrontation at Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations, and the General Strike. Revised ed. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990.

Bercuson, David Jay. Fools and Wise Men: The Rise and Fall of the One Big Union. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1978.

Bernard, Elaine. “Last Back: Folklore and the Telephone Operators in the 1919 Vancouver General Strike.” In Not Just Pin Money: Selected Essays on the History of Women’s Work in British Columbia, edited by Barbara K. Latham and Roberta J. Pazdo, 297–313. Victoria, BC: Camosun College, 1984.

Black, Errol, and Tom Mitchell. A Square Deal for All And No Railroading: Historical Essays on Labour in Brandon. St. John’s, NL: Canadian Committee on Labour History, 2000. Digital and print copies available at

Bright, David. The Limits of Labour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883–1929. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999.

Bright, David. “‘We Are All Kin’: Reconsidering Labour and Class in Calgary, 1919.” Labour/Le Travail 29 (Spring 1992): 59–80.

Bumsted, J.M. The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919: An Illustrated History. Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer, 1994.

Conley, James R. “Frontier Labourers, Crafts in Crisis and the Western Labour Revolt: The Case of Vancouver, 1900–1919.” Labour/Le Travail 23 (Spring 1989): 9–37.

Campbell, Peter. “Understanding the Dictatorship of the Proletariat: The Canadian Left and the Moment of Socialist Possibility in 1919.” Labour/Le Travail 64 (Fall 2009): 51–73.

Conley, James R. “Frontier Labourers, Crafts in Crisis and the Western Labour Revolt: The Case of Vancouver, 1900–1919.” Labour/Le Travail 23 (Spring 1989): 9–37.

Damji, Alimohamed. “Militancy to Passivism: The Calgary Labour Movement, 1919–1924.” MA thesis, University of Calgary, 1987.

Dupuis, Michael. Winnipeg’s General Strike: Reports from the Front Lines. London: The History Press, 2014.

Epp-Koop, Stefan. We’re Going to Run This City: Winnipeg’s Political Left after the General Strike. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press, 2015.

Ewen, Geoffrey. “Quebec: Class and Ethnicity.” In The Workers’ Revolt in Canada, 1917–1925, ed. Craig Heron, 87–143. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Ewen, Geoffrey. “Montréal Catholic School Teachers, International Unions, and Archbishop Bruchési: The Association de bien-être des instituteurs et institutrices de Montréal, 1919–20.” Historical Studies in Education/Revue d’histoire de l’éducation 12, nos.1 and 2 (Spring/Fall 2000): 54–72.

The Graphic History Collective, with David Lester. 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2019.

Heron, Craig. Toronto 1919. Play. Directed by Aida Jordão. Toronto: Toronto Workers’ Theatre Group, 2019.

Heron, Craig, ed. The Workers’ Revolt in Canada, 1917–1925. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Horodyski, Mary. “Women and the Winnipeg General Strike.” Manitoba History, no. 11 (Spring 1986): 28–37.

Horrall, S.W. “The Royal North-West Mounted Police and Labour Unrest in Western Canada, 1919.” Canadian Historical Review 61, no. 2 (June 1980): 169–90.

Isitt, Benjamin. “Searching for Workers’ Solidarity: The One Big Union and the Victoria General Strike of 1919.” Labour/Le Travail 60 (Fall 2007): 9–42.

Jackson, Paul. History of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. Montreal: Red Flag, 1979.

Katz, Leslie. “Some Legal Consequences of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.” Manitoba Law Journal 4 (1970–71): 46–50.

Kealey, Gregory S. “1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt” Labour/Le Travail, 13 (1984): 11–44.

Kealey, Linda. “No Special Protection – No Sympathy: Women’s Activism in the Canadian Labour Revolt of 1919.” In Class, Community and the Labour Movement: Wales and Canada, 1850–1930, edited by Deian Hopkin and Gregory S. Kealey, 134–59. St. John’s, NL: Llfaur/Canadian Committee on Labour History, 1989.

Kehler, Ken, and Alvin Esau. Famous Manitoba Trials: The Winnipeg General Strike Trials: Research Source. Winnipeg, MB: Legal Research Institute of the University of Manitoba, 1990.

Kidd, Peter. The Winnipeg General Strike. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin in association with Jackdaw Publications, London, and Grossman Publishers, 1972.

Kramer, Reinhold, and Tom Mitchell. When the State Trembled: How A.J. Andrews and the Citizens’ Committee Broke the Winnipeg General Strike. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

Masters, D.C. The Winnipeg General Strike. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950.

McNaught, Kenneth, and David Jay Bercuson. The Winnipeg General Strike: 1919. Don Mills, ON: Longman Canada, 1974.

Mitchell, Tom. “‘To Reach the Leadership of this Revolutionary Movement’: A.J. Andrews, the Canadian State and the Suppression of the Winnipeg General Strike.” Prairie Forum 18, no. 2 (Fall 1993): 239–55.

Naylor, James. “Toronto 1919.” Historical Papers 21, no. 1 (1986): 33–55.

Naylor, James. The New Democracy: Challenging the Social Order in Industrial Ontario, 1914–25. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Norton, Wayne. Fernie at War: 1914–1919. Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press, 2017.

Pentland, H.C. “Fifty Years After.” Canadian Dimension 6, no. 2 (July 1969): 14–17.

Rea, J.E. The Winnipeg General Strike. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, 1973.

Reilly, Nolan. “The General Strike in Amherst, Nova Scotia, 1919.” Acadiensis 9, no. 2 (Spring 1980): 56–77. Reprinted in David Frank and Gregory Kealey, eds., Labour and Working-Class History in Atlantic Canada: A Reader. St. John’s, NL, 1995.

Reimer, Chad. “War, Nationhood, and Working-Class Entitlement: The Counter-hegemonic Challenge of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.” Prairie Forum 18, no. 2 (1993): 219–37.

Seager, Charles Allen. “A Proletariat in Wild Rose Country: The Alberta Coal Miners, 1905–1945.” PhD diss., York University, 1982.

Taraska, Elizabeth. “The Calgary Craft Union Movement, 1900–1920.” MA thesis, University of Calgary, 1975.

The Winnipeg Defence Committee. Winnipeg 1919: The Strikers’ Own History of the General Strike, edited by Norman Penner, introduction by Christo Aivalis. Toronto: Lorimer, 2019.

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