During a recent lecture, a student asked, “Come on, why do we have to learn about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike? That was over 100 years ago. There was no income tax and only a few people even had indoor plumbing.”
Society, politics, and the economy have changed drastically in 100 years, but the tools for managing the relationship between capital and labour have not.
The withdrawal of labour, more commonly known as the “strike,” is still the only tool workers have to assert collective power to counterbalance the power of the employer. It may not be as accepted today as it once was, but it is still as effective. Let’s review some of the recent world news headlines:
- CNBC: 2019 had the highest number of strikes since the 1980s.
- The Washington Post: The teachers’ strike in 2018 was the biggest labour protest in a decade.
- Global News: All four teachers’ unions in Ontario announced job actions between the time period of December 2019 and January 2020.
The strike is becoming the most utilized tool in the union movement arsenal globally as well, which is demonstrated by what is happening in France. The largest general labour strike in decades for France is currently taking place, and have spurred on the following events:
- Over 800,000 workers followed their union leaders and went out on strike.
- Schools were shut down.
- France’s main energy utility had to cut their power generation by 10%.
- Transit systems had to be severely restricted.
The general labour strike is the largest tool unions have to demonstrate their collective voice. It was used 100 years ago, it is being used now, and it will probably continue to be used in another 100 years if history repeats itself, as it usually does.
This is why knowing about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike is still relevant, and important to understand labour relations in today’s context.
Research the reasons behind the Ontario teachers’ job actions, and France’s general labour strike. Create an executive summary of the causes of the job actions, outlining the similarities and differences between the two labour disputes.