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May 15: The Winnipeg General Strike, 1919

May 14, 2015

10-tramwaySam Blumenberg, Michael Charitinoff, and Moses Almazov were among five immigrants arrested for instigating the Winnipeg General Strike, which began on this date in 1919. The strike originated on May Day in the building and metal trades, which had organized into industry-wide unions with which management refused to negotiate. By the 15th, the city was gripped by a general strike that extended to police officers, who were fired en masse. The social context for the strike, which paralyzed Winnipeg for several days, was high unemployment and inflation after World War I, radical fervor following the success of Bolshevism in Russia, growing anti-communism and anti-immigrant sentiment within Western Canada’s political class, and a bloody, repressive response by the government using troops. “The Winnipeg Jewish community,” writes Henry Trachtenberg for the Manitoba Historical Society, “was very much concerned with the fate of the arrested foreigners. Protest meetings were held at the Liberty Temple. A Jewish Workers’ Committee was formed. It undertook to visit the homes of all Jews to elicit financial support for a Strike Relief Fund. Dos Yiddishe Vort mobilized Jewish public opinion: ‘Let every Jew support according to his means. Let every Jew remember that three of the arrested foreigners are Jews. And for this reason it is necessary that every Jew help to free the arrested... It is your struggle for justice’... Jewish socialist and cultural organizations in the Liberty Temple were raided by the Royal North West Mounted Police — desks were smashed and papers stolen. On Dominion Day, a number of Jewish homes were similarly raided... Many Jews lived under the fear of police investigation and possible arrest and deportation.” To see a historical video about the strike, look below.

“After a dramatic and eloquent speech to an Immigration Board of Inquiry, Almazov was acquitted with an admonition from Magistrate R. M. Noble. And, on appeal, Blumenberg and Charitinoff had their convictions reversed, and were freed.” —Henry Trachtenberg