Winnipeg's General Strike: Reports From The Front Lines tells the story of the strike through the dispatches and editorials of journalists who experienced the event first-hand.
The six-week strike began at 11 a.m. on May 15, 1919. By the third day, the city's three daily papers -- the Manitoba Free Press, the Winnipeg Telegram and the Winnipeg Tribune -- had been silenced by the walkout of composing-room staff. Meanwhile, the strikers published the daily Western Labor News and the anti-strike organization Citizens' Committee of One Thousand produced the daily Winnipeg Citizen. The Free Press was able to republish by May 22.
The following are dispatches and editorials written during the strike's first week by William Ivens, editor of the Western Labor News, the editor of the Winnipeg Citizen and Free Press editor John W. Dafoe.
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On May 19, 1919, William Ivens explained in the editorial titled The Daily Press why the strike committee had halted publication of the city's three newspapers.
For the first time in history Winnipeg is without its daily press. The reason is clear. It sets out once again deliberately to misrepresent the case of the workers. A year ago we issued a strike bulletin to call their bluff and correct their misstatements... We do not think they like it but then, for nearly five years, they have been howling their heads off to suppress papers that told the truth -- surely it is a case of simple justice at this time to muzzle for a few days the enemies of freedom and truth.
The next day in The Gagging of the Press, the Citizen's editor rebutted Ivens' explanation.
The stopping of the daily press is one of the worst things that has been done by the strikers... It enables the Labor News to print what it pleases and suppress what displeases it... It glories also in the suppression of the daily press "to prevent misrepresentation" -- and yet the suppression of the press has permitted the most amazing circulation of rumors without any agency to stop them... The daily press was suppressed for telling the truth about the situation, and to enable the Strike Committee to tell what it liked to people at large... without fear of contradiction.
On May 21, Ivens offered strategic advice to strikers.
The only thing that the workers have to do to win the strike is to do nothing. Just eat, sleep, play, love, laugh and look at the sun. This is the greatest strike ever put on in Winnipeg and it can be made the greatest victory if every striker does absolutely nothing. Join the "do nothing" club and be a son of rest till the strike is over. It will not last long. You will have plenty of work when it is over. For the present in a lawful, orderly and perfectly constitutional way -- do nothing.
By the time the Free Press republished on May 22, John W. Dafoe was convinced the strike was a revolution masterminded by One Big Union promoters, organized by local 'Red' labour leaders seeking personal gain through a Soviet-style dictatorship and supported by Winnipeg's numerous enemy aliens. In the paper's first issues since being suspended five days earlier, he published three editorials.
The Attempted Suppression of the Press was Dafoe's main comment in the morning edition. The front-page editorial, emphasized with uppercase letters, attacked the strike.
The Free Press WAS NOT THE VICTIM OF THE GENERAL STRIKE movement. Nor was the Free Press sacrificed for the purpose of vindicating the right to "collective bargaining" by the worker... No, the Free Press was the POLITICAL VICTIM of the soviet government. It was "suppressed" by a ukase from the revolutionary head center because they did not like its views and feared its influence At The Moment When They Were Attempting Revolution. They recognized it as an obstacle to the success of the revolution.
Next he identified who had "suppressed" the paper.
All this is in keeping with the doctrines and practices of Lenin and Trotsky, the High Priests of the Winnipeg Reds who were responsible for this conspiracy... The Free Press submits its ease against these vain and foolish tyrants of an hour to the judgment of free people who know what liberty is and have no intention of exchanging their birthright for revolutionary nostrums imported from Moscow.
Dafoe then targeted Ivens' May 19 statement that "for nearly five years" Winnipeg's daily press had "been howling their heads off to suppress papers that told the truth."
There is no doubt about what those words mean. The five years during which the Free Press and other papers have been persecuting "papers that told the truth" are the five years covering the Great War. The papers whose woes were so keenly felt by our local galaxy of Reds, were the treasonable pro-German papers published in Canada and the still more dangerous sheets devoted to German propaganda which came in from outside. These were the only papers that were disturbed or suppressed during the war.
Dafoe's second editorial Anarchists and Aliens linked five members of the strike committee to the Russian Revolution and associated the strike with the One Big Union and foreigners.
It is through the solid fanatical allegiance of the Germans, Austrians, Huns and Russians in the labor unions that the Red Five -- Russell, Veitch, Robinson, Ivens and Winning -- have climbed to power in the labor organizations... The idea behind the One Big Union is to employ these masses of rough, uneducated foreigners, who know nothing of our customs and our civilization, to browbeat and over-ride the intelligent and skilled craftsmen of the more technical trades who are numerically weaker.
In the afternoon edition, Dafoe used The Great Dream of The Winnipeg Soviet to label the strike's leaders conspirators. Once again his target was William Ivens.
The bright idea here was to give Rev. Wm. Ivens -- the notorious pacifist -- a good start with the daily which he has long yearned to publish by putting the regular dailies -- which give employment to hundreds of workers -- out of business. Mr. Ivens, who has been uplifted by his new associations to the point where he regards the commandments against stealing and covetousness as effete and reactionary ideas, was very busy last week expounding to his cronies his great business idea which, in its practical application, was to commit mayhem on the daily press and while they were thus out of action to steal some of their business. Blood Bolshevist doctrine and practice this!
Excerpt from Winnipeg's General Strike: Reports From The Front Lines; published by The History Press. Author Michael Dupuis recently held a book launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers.