Revolution Postponed

100 Years after the Winnipeg General Strike

Following a spate of funding cuts to health and education programs by Ontario’s Ford government in early 2019, a series of collective actions were proposed for May 1st, International Workers’ Day. Hamilton filmmaker Dakota Lanktree and Toronto organizer Florence O’Connell organized the events and invoked the language of the “general strike” in their promotion and discussion of the planned actions 1 : their intent was “…to grind this province to a halt to make these ill-informed cuts stop.” 2 In the days leading up to May 1st, thousands of people flocked to the organizers’ Facebook event page to affirm that they were either interested in or planning to attend some two-dozen events taking place in a number of cities. 3 Yet, on the day of the action, the events failed to produce anything approaching the numbers required for an effective general strike and fell far short of bringing any of the cities to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, the occasion demonstrated how the idea of the general strike still resonates among activists, organizers, and the public in the struggle to resist neoliberal policies.

With the notion of “strike” re-emerging as an important tactic beyond the confines of the labour movement—evidenced by its use within housing and climate struggles—we take the occasion to look at the evolving significance of the “general strike” in mass mobilizations against class divisions, patriarchy, racism, settler colonialism, ecological ruin, and right-wing populism. Today, striking seems to be less radical and more repressed. In 2018, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) led successive rounds of rotating strikes across the country but were swiftly legislated back to work by the federal government. Even after the back-to-work legislation, illegal picket lines were held in multiple cities by other unions and allied groups in support of CUPW, but these too slowly waned. In 2017 and 2018 respectively, major strikes by education workers across Ontario Colleges (OPSEU) and at York University (CUPE 3903) both met similar fates: draconian back-to-work legislation after months of employer inaction at the bargaining table. Currently, education workers might be the leading opposition to the Ford government as both post-secondary and elementary unions begin bargaining. Even as the concept of the general strike begins to ring louder across Ontario—inspired by the waves of teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona (where striking is illegal)—many union leaders in Ontario attempt to distance their unions from the strike and vocally oppose any job actions that aren’t considered legal.

In this editorial, we want to understand what evocations of the strike means for the Left right now: what is the relationship between the general Left and labour unions in building a militant working class movement? Is the strike still a weapon for working class communities? How do we move the term “strike” from a symbolic expression of a feel-good protest to what union organizer and writer Jane McAlevey describes as “an organized cessation from work” and “labor’s weapon to enforce labor’s demands?” 4 And how can we build a general strike that is militantly anti-racist and anti-colonial? In asking these questions, we consider the challenges facing radical organizers today, as the Left continues in its struggle to inaugurate a revolutionary politics that addresses the needs of a diverse collection of organizations, communities, marginalized populations, and activists.

To better understand contemporary obstacles in establishing solidarity networks, we start by taking the centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike as an opportunity to analyze and speculate on this moment of radicalization in Canadian politics. For a brief six weeks in the summer of 1919, events in Winnipeg opened the Canadian political consciousness to a reimagining of what society could become. The history of the Winnipeg General Strike is replete with important lessons for contemporary organizers and activists. In this editorial we use the Winnipeg General Strike as a lens to consider the role of political solidarity, mass mobilizations, and revolutionary party discipline in our ongoing struggles to usher in a better world. 5 With unions now integrated into a legal framework and the low rates of unionization, we want to reflect on the use of militant strikes in a context in which working-class knowledge and consciousness is in crisis. 6

There are various interpretations of the Winnipeg General Strike and many disagree on its success and impact in labour activism. What we have noticed, however, is that there is little understanding of the Winnipeg General Strike in broader social movements that engage in direct action and organizing, despite it being one of the few events in which militant organizing seriously and effectively challenged the exploitative grasp of capitalism on all aspects of life.

Understanding the Winnipeg General Strike

The events in Winnipeg were a watershed moment for radical politics in North America. In the years directly preceding the Winnipeg General Strike, Canada participated in World War I as a dominion of the British Empire. Many of those who enlisted when Canada entered the war in 1914 came from the ranks of the unemployed. By the war’s end, more than 60,000 Canadians lost their lives and another 150,000 were injured. By the spring of 1919 thousands of veterans began flooding into Winnipeg. After a period of low unemployment during the war years, Canada found it difficult to accommodate the large numbers of returning soldiers. Making matters worse, the Canadian economy was beset by low wages, poor working conditions, rampant inflation, and a manufacturing downturn. Steady work was hard to come by, there were no regulations ensuring workplace safety, and there were no social assistance programs to mitigate the worst effects of fluctuations in spending.

It is vital to recognize that the Winnipeg General Strike did not take place in isolation from other political actions. Workers across Canada felt the effects of deteriorating economic conditions at the close of the Great War. Everywhere workers were confronted with inflationary prices, exorbitant rents and housing shortages, poor working conditions, and low pay. Thus, the conditions leading to the Winnipeg General Strike encompassed much more than simple workplace grievances. The near universal condition of the Canadian working class gave rise to a wave of strikes across the provinces. In the period from 1912 to 1921, there were 2,451 strikes in Canada. 7 From May through July in 1919, there were 210 separate strikes involving over 114,000 workers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Québec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba. 8 These strikes occurred in a variety of Canadian industries including mining, textile, metal trades, construction, public utilities, and public administration. It is important to note, then, that the Winnipeg General Strike was very much part of a larger economic and political dynamic occurring within Canada at the time.

Although these general conditions are an important part of the historical context of the Winnipeg revolt, the more immediate origins of the Winnipeg General Strike lay with the struggle of workers in the construction and metalworking trades for higher wages, better working conditions, and recognition of their right to bargain collectively. By the early 20th century, many Canadian workers had grown dissatisfied with the conservative nature of craft unions and were attracted by the promise of industrial unions with more socialist leanings, particularly in western Canada. Yet employers in Manitoba had grown accustomed to negotiating with individual craft unions and chafed when confronted with emerging industrial unions. When negotiations between workers and management in Winnipeg’s building trades failed to deliver on workers’ demands, the workers went on strike on May 1st, 1919. And when the bosses in Winnipeg’s machine shops likewise refused to negotiate with union representatives, the city’s metal workers followed suit the next day. In the ensuing days, calls went out for sympathy strikes. The locals of the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council (WTLC) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a general strike. On May 15th, 30,000–35,000 workers, including both unionized and non-unionized workers from the private and public sectors, went on strike. Supporting the strike were also a large number of veterans, the Women’s Labour League, and small businesses. The strike was organized by a Central Strike Committee consisting of representatives from the WTLC unions. The Strike Committee managed to take over services and some functions of the government during the strike such as water, heat, power, and food distribution. The city became a temporary autonomous zone that “began to rival capital’s power, to exert leverage on the government.” 9 And beyond the Strike Committee, there was a form of participatory democracy, evidenced by a remarkable 171 mass meetings held over the 41 days of strike. 10

This clear demonstration of working class power did not go unnoticed by the more reactionary forces in Winnipeg. Downplaying both the restraint of the strikers and the reasonableness of their demands, opponents of the strike potrayed it as a Bolshevik ploy instigated by a cadre of foreigners. The reactionary forces banded together as the Citizens’ Committee of 1,000, an anonymous, secretive collection of business leaders, bankers, politicians, and lawyers who used local and national newspapers to push their red-baiting propaganda. In addition to these unflattering press narratives, the Committee of 1,000 met with representatives of the federal government to voice their concerns and solicit state intervention.

Both the local and federal governments played a significant role in crushing the incipient labour revolt. As Pentland comments, the Winnipeg General Strike “marks one occasion on which the Canadian state aligned itself openly and flagrantly on the side of employers, and moved with full weight and ferocity to crush labour.” 11 At the local level most of the police force was fired after officers refused to guarantee that they would not join the strike. The police were largely replaced by a group of 1,800 untrained enforcers known as “Specials” who were brought in to crack down on the strikers. The Winnipeg city council also voted to outlaw marches and demonstrations. At the federal level, Ottawa’s expedited amendments to the Immigration Act also allowed for the revocation of citizenship if individuals were “disaffected” or “disloyal” to the Crown. These amendments facilitated the state’s ability to deport immigrants for alleged “political offenses” and allowed the specific targeting of British-born leaders of the strike. These events culminated in the arrests of strike leaders on the night of June 17th as they were rounded up and sent north to Stoney Mountain Penitentiary.

In the aftermath of the arrests, a group of returned soldiers began planning a silent march in protest. The June 21st event was organized outside the purview of the Central Strike Committee, and on the day of the march, the veterans were joined by thousands of supporters in downtown Winnipeg. As the protestors congregated on Main Street, a streetcar approached. Many in the crowd viewed this as an act of provocation, as the streetcar drivers were among the more ardent supporters of the strike. The mere fact that a streetcar was in service was taken as a clear demonstration of strike-breaking. Protesters partially tipped over the streetcar and set it on fire, giving the North-West Mounted Police the pretext they needed to escalate the situation. Mounted officers charged the demonstrators repeatedly, and the crowd responded by hurling objects at the police. On the third charge the police fired shots into the crowd, killing two people and injuring many more. It is unlikely that the full extent of the injuries will ever be known as many of the immigrants in the crowd would have been unwilling to seek out medical attention and risk deportation. As the crowd attempted to disperse, they were pursued by the Specials and, in several cases, beaten mercilessly with batons. The shameful events of that day have come to be known as Bloody Saturday. Winnipeg was subsequently placed under military occupation. Five days later, after enduring six weeks of hunger, the Winnipeg General Strike came to an unceremonious end.

The immediate outcomes of the Winnipeg General Strike are fairly straightforward. The strike leaders were not deported; instead they were brought up on charges of sedition. Although some strike leaders were sentenced for up to two years, several of them mounted successful legal defenses in high profile cases. Upholstery worker and strike leader Abraham Albert Heaps was one of these individuals, and he later went on to become a founding member of the explicitly anti-capitalist Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1932, the precursor of the New Democratic Party (NDP). However, we know less about the fate of the rank-and-file participants of the general strike. Undoubtedly, many of them faced employer retaliation and blacklisting. In the long term, it took an additional two decades before Canadian workers succeeded in securing their right to collective bargaining and before industrial unionism would take hold in Canada.

Conventional debates about the significance of the Winnipeg General Strike have typically begged the question of whether the action was a revolutionary or reformist moment in Canadian labour history. As Ian McKay argues, the Winnipeg General Strike went beyond central demands and was a place where workers were envisioning what kind of society they wanted to build. He writes that the strike became a “prism that captured, intensified, and (to a certain extent) integrated long-standing debates about class, religion, gender, race, democracy, and the peoples’ enlightenment.” 12

It is notable that the Winnipeg General Strike was made possible by a diverse coalition of unionized and non-unionized workers from both the public and private sectors, of Eastern Europeans, British immigrants, and men and women. The Citizens’ Committee of 1,000 did its best to play upon the xenophobic tendencies of Canadians, both by red-baiting and ratcheting up the fear of Eastern European immigrants. Although the Central Strike Committee responded to the xenophobic propaganda in the city’s newspapers, in practice the strike leadership paid little attention to the specific grievances of the non-British immigrant workers participating in the strike. Further complicating things, the veterans who participated in or supported the general strike were often anti-immigrant and anti-Bolshevik in their political orientation, making for a very uneasy alliance.

While it is undeniable that the strike succeeded in bringing together disparate groups in a formidable show of political power, it is nevertheless critical to consider the interplay of race, ethnicity, immigration, settler colonialism, and solidarity in the action. Both sides in the general strike invoked British nationalism and neither side sought out solidarities with the Indigenous and Métis peoples of the region. 13

The Anatomy of a Strike: Democracy, Solidarity, and Readiness

There are several lessons—and lingering questions—that we can take from the Winnipeg General Strike. One lesson, or point of inquiry, is the question of the readiness of the “masses.” How do we judge the readiness of workers in a workplace, or people more generally, to take risky, mass, collective action? This is a perpetual question in social movements and in unions, yet, year after year at various conventions, labour leaders tell workers that the membership is just not ready for a strike, the region is not ready for a general strike, and the world is not ready for revolution. How do revolutionaries plan for actions based on this question of readiness? How do we assess the political readiness of the masses?

The second lesson is about the importance of building unity and solidarity across unionized and non-unionized workers in a moment where international dynamics do not provide a basis of commonality. The general strike reveals some of the opportunities and tensions about building solidarity across oppression. For instance, Ian McKay writes that the Russian Revolution provided a point of inspiration for a new world that sparked unity amongst unionized and non-unionized workers: “there was tremendous yearning, in a suddenly enlarged and vigorous left, for practical engagement with the world.” 14 Given that the Left doesn’t have this point of unity today, where can movements look to build internationalist anti- racist struggles against oppression?

The third lesson is about worker participation and democracy. As promoted by the 2012 Québec Student Strike and the 2018 teachers’ strikes of West Virginia, how do we reimagine resistance with an emphasis on participatory democracy that empowers workers to decide their fate? How would a new sense of democracy encourage and build the leadership of rank-and-file workers that are often sidelined?

There are many more lessons and questions to be gleaned, but for the sake of exploring the strike as a political tool, we focus below on democracy, building solidarity, and assessing the readiness of the masses.

Despair and the Labour Movement: Remembering Rosa Luxemburg

The year 2019 not only marks the centennial of the Winnipeg General Strike, but also 100 years since the murder of communist organizers Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by the proto- fascist German paramilitary. Several years before the Winnipeg General Strike, Rosa Luxemburg explored the role of the mass strike in the building of revolutionary consciousness and action in her 1906 publication The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions. In this pamphlet, Luxemburg reflects on the number of mass strikes that occurred during the first Russian revolution against the Tsar in 1905. Despite the refrain of German leftists that Russia lagged behind Germany in the revolutionary process, Luxemburg looked to the unexpected spark of the first strike in St. Petersburg and its role in stoking revolutionary consciousness across the Russian Empire. In her analysis, Luxemburg insists on the need for revolutionaries to understand the historical moment and organize to build its revolutionary potential. “The mass strike, as shown to us in the Russian Revolution,” writes Luxemburg, “is not a crafty method discovered by subtle reasoning for the purpose of making the proletarian struggle more effective, but the method of motion of the proletarian mass, the phenomenal form of the proletarian struggle in the revolution.” 15

Luxemburg reminds us that there is no single true roadmap towards the general strike; only the continuing building of class struggle will lead to a mass strike. This, of course, is very frustrating to those of us who feel—right now—that shutting down a city or province is a needed tactic to save lives and stop regressive government policies. But, as Luxemburg theorizes, mass strikes are a result of historical conditions and not of scheduling by union leaders or revolutionary parties. For her, the spontaneity of action and solidarity by unorganized workers revealed the basis of the growing class consciousness. Luxemburg argues that this high level of political consciousness comes first and foremost from struggle: “All these conditions cannot be fulfilled by pamphlets and leaflets, but only by the living political school, by the fight and in the fight, in the continuous course of the revolution.” 16 This building of class consciousness aims to coalesce economic and political demands. For Luxemburg, a strike may start off with economic demands, but the building of power is the merging of both. This is a worthwhile reminder for contemporary Ontarians living in “Ford Nation” where our working conditions are being undercut by provincial government decisions. Activists must go beyond demanding the reversal of cuts to also fomenting a vision of the world we want. Yes, we must reverse the cuts, but we must also demand fully-funded public health care and post-secondary education.

The question of leadership is under scrutiny for Luxemburg. This is especially relevant as many rank-and-file union members grow increasingly frustrated with their union leadership. Luxemburg addresses the inherent conservative nature of union leadership in her text by stating that many trade union leaders become disconnected with on-the-ground struggles. Currently we see many trade union leaders support Liberal leadership despite Liberal governments betraying many union struggles.

It is often commonplace to find that the rank and file and supporters are ready to hit the streets before leadership is prepared. Often, union leadership becomes the barrier for building a militant labour movement, pitting unions against each other. As Luxemburg writes,

The specialisation of professional activity as trade-union leaders, as well as the naturally restricted horizon which is bound up with disconnected economic struggles in a peaceful period, leads only too easily, amongst trade-union officials, to bureaucratism and a certain narrowness of outlook. Both, however, express themselves in a whole series of tendencies which may be fateful in the highest degree for the future of the trade-union movement. There is first of all the overvaluation of the organisation, which from a means has gradually been changed into an end in itself, a precious thing, to which the interests of the struggles should be subordinated. From this also comes that openly admitted need for peace which shrinks from great risks and presumed dangers to the stability of the trade unions, and further, the overvaluation of the trade-union method of struggle itself, its prospects and its successes. 17

Workers consistently hear that they “aren’t ready to go on strike” or that “most people are conservative and are against strikes and unions” or that “strikes only raise the popularity of bosses and governments amongst voters.” Often, people’s readiness to strike is not only taken for granted, but minimized. Many people recognize injustice but are unable to find ways of connecting to resistance movements. It also speaks to the failure of union leaders to build a more militant consciousness. What are our current unions doing to build what Jane McAlevey describes as a “100 percent strike ready union?” 18 If workers are not ready, who is to blame? As leaders, their role is to explain the political moment to their members and inspire action, and to hire the right staff to organize and mobilize. However, the only time members hear about job action or strike is every few years during sanctioned bargaining and there is an expectation of working-class analysis when little resources have gone into organizing. This is why Luxemburg places her hope not in union leadership but in the workers themselves, who know better than anyone else their situation and potential.

Luxemburg had little faith in the direction of union leadership. In terms of thinking of the general strike, activists need to create their own spaces to talk one-on-one with workers, build the struggle in their workplaces, schools, or other community gatherings, and create different mechanisms of organizing if official unions can no longer provide those spaces. This could mean either putting pressure on union leadership or the eventual takeover of these structures to create a more radical union leadership. For Luxemburg, this also meant engaging workers who aren’t unionized or organized and finding ways to mobilize them into strike and political action.

In Ontario, many hope that teachers will be at the forefront of the struggle against Doug Ford. The education sector seems to be a flash point of resistance because of the intersections of working-class activism and the ability to shut down an essential part of the province, where impacts will be felt well beyond the specific sector of education. We take inspiration from the wave of teachers’ strikes that began across the US in 2012 in poor and underfunded communities of colour, where teachers have found mass support from parents and the community at large as they struggle for the future of public education as a right and not a privilege.

Lessons in Mobilizing

Two recent examples in the education sector provide valuable lessons for us. As Eric Blanc writes in Red State Revolt, 19 the 2019 West Virginia teachers’ strikes happened in a context where union participation was very low and unions were treated regressively. They also happened in a context in which going on strike was illegal. Yet despite this, rank-and-file teachers managed to organize using the tools of Facebook and other forms of social media to not only build a sense of unity, but to cross union solidarity with non-unionized workers. The rank-and-file organizing was so strong that the union leaders agreed to strike action despite it being illegal in West Virginia. They centered values of care, relationship building, and also connected economic hardship to political demands that the community could support.

A second example that warrants our attention is the formation of Ontario’s Students Say No!, a high school student organization that planned walkouts (and walk-ins) to protest the cuts to education. Since coming to power, Doug Ford’s Conservative government has attacked education with 20 percent in funding cuts to programs that support students with autism, Indigenous education curricula, the student loan and grants program, and cuts of close to 6,000 teaching jobs. 20 Using social media and classroom presentations, students in Ontario effectively organized one of the largest student walkouts in the history of the province. Nearly 200,000 high school students from 700 high schools engaged in a walkout in April 2019. Student organizers named three tactics that worked: decentralized actions allowed individual schools to participate, creating accessible strikes that prioritized students’ safety, 21 and building solidarity amongst two other key groups invested in education­—teachers and parents—who joined the walk-ins with the students at the beginning of the school day. Notably, these actions occurred completely out of the control of major trade unions, and as some young organizers have said, the youth were inspired to move beyond “meaningless” noon actions at Queen’s Park. 22 This energy and organizing has also spilled into the youth climate strike movement, which is global in scale, but locally embodied by the youth of our own communities as they fight for a future.

What is possibly most inspiring about these two examples of mass mobilizations is their strength despite having few resources. There was no official funding for such organizing and now activists hold them up as examples of resistance during bleak times. It shows that organizers are ready for action when leadership is not, and that if we can build activist skills amongst the rank and file of organized labour with community solidarity, these alliances could strengthen the grassroots to influence, or take over, union locals in order to build strike ready organizations.

Fight or Be Fucked Over

At the 1919 General Strike Conference in Winnipeg this year, Jane McAlevey left participants with an important warning: we need to think of a fight back that works when the world is turning towards fascism. She challenged us to think about what it would take to build towards a worldwide general strike in 25 years. She has written a great deal about how to get unions strike ready, but for those who are not part of a union, how does one build enough community support to protect non-unionized workers walking off the job?

While much of this editorial has focused on official union structures, the reality is that the majority of Canadian workers are not unionized, and rates of unionization have been steadily falling since the 1980s. 23 Building working-class consciousness requires organizing outside of traditional union models. It also requires internationalist organizing that challenges the bordered divisions of the working class. During the Winnipeg General Strike, the capitalist class manipulated racist fears of “foreign” agitators and used deportation as a weapon against the working class. These divisions not only remain, but have been further entrenched by state-run migrant worker programs and reinvigorated by a racist far-right in its attempt to coopt the working class. Instead of citizen workers (unionized or not) scapegoating migrant workers, we must build a campaign for better working conditions for all workers,which includes access to services or, better yet, citizenship.

We must build upon and strengthen growing mobilizations around climate change, anti-racism, and Indigenous sovereignty to build momentum and encourage unions to look beyond the narrow frame of their membership. For example, the newly formed Migrant Rights Network has created a training program to fight the anti-immigrant and racist backlash in the ongoing federal election, specifically targeting unions to do public education and sign on to pledges to fight racism in their community. The Network already has roughly 500 people to facilitate discussions in their workplaces and communities about building a culture of anti-racism. 24 The effects of this pledge campaign are threefold: it provides an opportunity to disrupt the myths of immigration with one-on-one engagement, it builds skills in basic organizing and public education, and it begins creating a national web of connected workplaces centered on building an anti-racist network within the labour movement.

However, we should be careful not to romanticize organizing as if anyone can get up and hit the ground running. To build a movement “from below,” to build power and influence or take over leadership, and to build community support, we need to go beyond just holding the right radical politics. We need to actually build experience. We need to invest in training and skill building, and we need to build this movement training ground in a lasting and sustainable way. This raises important questions about movement resources and spaces and challenges us to rethink the grounds upon which our mass movement can be built. We must do so in right relationship with Indigenous lands and as allies to Indigenous sovereignty struggles. And in our current context of far-right racist climate change denial, we must invest in anti-racist organizing spaces to build up the capacity of our grassroots community leaders. This means investing in youth, not only as their parents or teachers, but also as comrades in a revolutionary struggle for their future.

Strike While the Planet’s Hot!

The action of choice among contemporary social movements is most often mass mobilization, 25 and the Global Climate Strike was no exception. It’s estimated that 4 million people marched globally in the climate strike, and in Canada, 650,000 more people hit the streets. 26 While many unions expressed support for the strike, as participants in the Toronto events, we were struck by the relative absence of union members in the crowd. The typical union leadership marched with their entourages, like the NDP, Greens, and Liberals, but we failed to see a mobilized rank and file explicitly willing to shut things down or to disrupt business as usual. How do we actualize this moment of possibility to agitate and organize the working class beyond the union bosses? And how can we channel the excitement and energy of the youth into an anti-colonial, multi-racial, feminist critique of capitalism?

The working class has a key role to play in this struggle; as revolutionary subjects, we must reinvigorate the meaning of strike. Strikes are more than mass mobilizations: they’re disruptions to “business as usual.” Strikes are not simply part of a protest repertoire: they are a necessary component of building working class power. They are an irrefutable confirmation of the power of everyday people to substantially challenge and overturn the inequality of power in capitalist societies. Still, if one of the shortcomings of contemporary social movements has been the failure to develop and execute political strategies designed to upend existing power relations in meaningful or lasting ways, the same could be said about the Winnipeg General Strike; it too faced the divide-and-conquer politics of racialization, as well as the subsumption of its more radical demands into the legalistic demand for collective bargaining.

Not all hope is lost in this moment. Even a brief look at the climate strike crowd revealed hundreds of signs with deep systemic critique and a clear drive to change the world. The kids are alright, but “alright” only gets us so far. It’s time for revolutionaries to seize this moment of renewed interest in systemic change and begin doing the hard work of educational organizing. We have the tools, and the conditions are ripe, but what’s missing is a clear flow of resources to support this work and a defiant, courageous leadership willing to push the limits of what’s possible. If the current union and political brass won’t push hard enough, then it’s time we push them into the dustbin of history as we take the power necessary to save our planet and liberate humanity from systems of oppression and domination. *


  1. Lisa Polewski, “General strike against Ford government held in downtown Hamilton,” Global News, May 1, 2019, https:/globalnews.ca/news/5227397 ↩︎
  2. “May 1st General Strike Against Doug Ford,” Facebook, Retrieved June 9, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/events/1833513566753052.. ↩︎
  3. Ainsley Smith, “Huge strike against Doug Ford planned following recent funding cuts,” Daily Hive, 2019, https://dailyhive.com/toronto/doug-ford-strike-queens-park-may-1-2019.. ↩︎
  4. Here, Jane McAlevey cites John Steuben’s formulation in Strike Strategy (1950): McAlevey, “The Strike as the Ultimate Structure Test,” Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy 2, no. 3 (2018): 127. ↩︎
  5. Choosing the Winnipeg General Strike as our starting point for discussing the role of mass strikes is not without its occlusions. Other radical contexts of mass striking by racialized people come to mind: the mass refusal and exodus of enslaved people during the US Civil War that W.E.B. Du Bois persuasively characterized in Black Reconstruction as America’s first general strike, which led to union victory; and the stunning 2006 wave of general strikes in multiple US cities led by Latinx migrant workers against a draconian anti-immigrant bill. Both point to valuable lessons for mass action against racial capitalism. ↩︎
  6. It’s important, also, to recognize our collective forgetting of the more radical elements of the Winnipeg General Strike. Mainstream romanticism tends to emphasize the strike’s role in bringing about better working conditions, while also erasing the communism of that event. ↩︎
  7. G. S. Kealey, “1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt,” Labour/Le Travail, 13, (1984): 16. ↩︎
  8. Ibid., 19. ↩︎
  9. David Bercuson, Confrontation at Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations, and the General Strike (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990), 179. ↩︎
  10. Jim Naylor, “The Winnipeg General Strike,” New Socialist, February 11, 2010, http://newsocialist.org/the-winnipeg-general-strike/.. ↩︎
  11. H. C. Pentland, “The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike: Reprinted from Canadian Dimension, July 1969,” Canadian Dimension, 2019, https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-1919-winnipeg-general-strike ↩︎
  12. Ian McKay, Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920 (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2008), 463. ↩︎
  13. For more on the interplay of race, class, and settler colonialism as they relate to the Winnipeg General Strike, see Owen Toews’ Stolen City: Racial Capitalism and the Making of Winnipeg (Winnipeg: ARP, 2018). Unlike some overly celebratory and white-washed histories of the strike, Toews centers racial capitalism and settler colonialism in his analysis. In particular, Towes explains that the same dominant bloc forces that comprised the Citizens’ Committee of 1,000 were also involved in the military assault on the Métis and Indigneous nations defending their homelands in the North-West Rebellion. Only 34 years separates these two historical events, yet the strikers failed to form any lasting solidarities with the region’s Indigenous and Métis communities. Instead, strikers marvelled at the technological wonders of settlement, like the city’s water works (despite its negative impact of flooding on Shoal Lake 40 First Nation) and were all too willing to fly the Union Jack and declare themselves proper Canadian citizens in the face of racist dog-whistles about foreign Bolshevik influence. ↩︎
  14. McKay, Reasoning Otherwise, 459. ↩︎
  15. Rosa Luxemberg,The Mass Strike, The Political Party, and the Trade Unions, Marxists.org, https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1906/mass-strike/ch04.htm. ↩︎
  16. Ibid., https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1906/mass-strike/ch03.htm. ↩︎
  17. Ibid., https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1906/mass-strike/ch08.htm. ↩︎
  18. McAlevey, “The Strike,” 131. ↩︎
  19. Eric Blanc, Red State Revolt: The Teacher’s Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (London: Verso, 2019). ↩︎
  20. Simran Dhunna, “Not Just a Pretty Instagram Profile: Lessons from high-school organizers fighting against Ford’s education cuts,” Briarpatch Magazine, August 26, 2019, https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/not-just-a-pretty-instagram-profile. ↩︎
  21. Ibid. ↩︎
  22. Amina Vance, quoted in Dhunna, “Not Just a Pretty Instagram Profile.” ↩︎
  23. In 2018, unionization in Ontario was 26.3 percent. See: Erin Duffin, “Union Coverage Rate in Canada in 2018, by Province.” Statista, April 29, 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/442980/canada-union-coverage-rate-by-province/; The rate of unionization across Canada has fallen from 37.6 percent in 1981 to 28.8 percent in 2014. See: “Unionization Rates Falling,” StatsCan, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-630-x/11-630-x2015005-eng.htm. ↩︎
  24. Karen Cocq, “Fighting Racism and Xenophobia During the Federal Election,” interview by Scott Neigh, Talking Radical Radio, October 1, 2019, https://soundcloud.com/scott-neigh-talking-radical/fighting-racism-and-xenophobia-during-the-federal-election.. ↩︎
  25. Examples include the Women’s March on Washington, the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, the 15-M Movement, the gilets jaunes, the general strike in Puerto Rico, and the recent unrest in Hong Kong. ↩︎
  26. Eliza Barclay, and Brian Resnick, “How big was the global climate strike? 4 million people, activists estimate,” Vox News, September 22, 2019, https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/9/20/20876143/climate-strike-2019-september-20-crowd-estimate; Greenpeace Canada, “80,000+ #Vancouver 20,000+ #Victoria 500,000 #Montreal 10,000 #Halifax 4,000 #Edmonton 10,000 #Winnipeg 10,000 - 20,000 #Ottawa 15,000 - 50,000 #Toronto People in Canada want #climateaction. And they want it now. #climatestrike #FridaysForFurture #cdnpoli #elxn43,” Twitter, September 27, 2019, https://twitter.com/GreenpeaceCA/status/1177737746414260224.; Greenpeace Canada, “80,000+ 20,000+ 500,000 10,000 4,000 10,000 10,000 - 20,000 15,000 - 50,000 People in Canada want . And they want it now. ,” Twitter, September 27, 2019, https://twitter.com/GreenpeaceCA/status/1177737746414260224. ↩︎