October 20, 2019

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'The brains' behind anti-strike movement

Former Winnipeg mayor played pivotal role in opposing labour movement

Veteran Toronto Daily Star reporter William Plewman arrived in Winnipeg on May 22 and over the next five weeks wired more than 90 reports and 150,000 words to his paper. His coverage about the event proved to be the most accurate, objective and insightful provided by any newspaperman.

One of the best examples of Plewman’s reporting is his final dispatch, Andrews the Brains of Strike Opponents. In this account, Plewman astutely identified Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand executive member Alfred Andrews as the individual most responsible for defeating the strike.

Andrews, a corporate lawyer and former Winnipeg mayor, was appointed early in the walkout as special representative of the Justice Department to collaborate with the North-West Mounted Police and the Manitoba government to end the strike unconditionally.

Plewman began Andrews the Brains by comparing him with strike leader Bob Russell.

Veteran Toronto Daily Star reporter William Plewman arrived in Winnipeg on May 22 and over the next five weeks wired more than 90 reports and 150,000 words to his paper. His coverage about the event proved to be the most accurate, objective and insightful provided by any newspaperman.

One of the best examples of Plewman’s reporting is his final dispatch, Andrews the Brains of Strike Opponents. In this account, Plewman astutely identified Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand executive member Alfred Andrews as the individual most responsible for defeating the strike.

Andrews, a corporate lawyer and former Winnipeg mayor, was appointed early in the walkout as special representative of the Justice Department to collaborate with the North-West Mounted Police and the Manitoba government to end the strike unconditionally.

Plewman began Andrews the Brains by comparing him with strike leader Bob Russell.

If R.B. (Bob) Russell, the Socialist machinist was the outstanding leader of the Winnipeg general strike, A.J. Andrews, K.C., was the principal factor in opposing the strike movement. Those two men were generals directing the strategy of opposing forces. Unlike in age, appearance, training and ideals, they were not unequal rivals. Andrews himself would be the first to admit that Russell is well-posted as to economics and labor organization and a man of rather more than ordinary native ability. The battle between these two clever tacticians provided a fascinating study apart from the magnitude of the national issue involved. Russell was not worsted until Andrews was given the opportunity to use the powers of the State to put Russell in custody and eliminate him as a factor in the strike. Andrews is old enough to be Russell’s father. His hair, long in the front and rather thin, is iron grey and often tousled. His face is clean shaven, with a pipe usually in the mouth. He is not at all finicky about his clothes and general appearance. Andrews often was seen during the strike, hatless, with a wilted collar dashing about the city.

Then Plewman focused solely on Andrews and how he singlehandedly ended the strike.

He (Andrews) was here, there and everywhere, directing the operations of the Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand, as a member of the executive, finding and assembling evidence against the strike leaders, as a representative of the Justice Department drawing up charges, directing raids, supervising arrests and holding innumerable conferences with the authorities, business and labor leaders. It is an open secret that the Citizens’ Committee dictated nearly every move made during the strike by the (City) Council. Council readily followed intimations that the police force should be dismissed, pledges against sympathetic strikes be exacted from all civic employees, various police utilities be operated by volunteers, a monster force of special police be recruited at six dollars a day, and ice, and milk be distributed from the schools. Probably no one person had more do to with these various moves than had Mr. Andrews. He is credited with having had a hand in framing the change in the Immigration Act rushed through Parliament in one hour, which would permit British-born agitators to be deported after summary trial, and he certainly was responsible for the sensational (June 17) round-up of the strike leaders and their imprisonment in a penitentiary twenty miles from the city. Enlistment of a large citizen army, use of North-West Mounted Police, forcing the railway company to operate the streetcars, are all moves supposed to have been made after Andrews had voiced his approval.

(Excerpt from Michael Dupuis’s The Winnipeg General Strike: Ordinary Men And Women Under Extraordinary Circumstances)

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