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This article was published 9/6/2019 (351 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sitting on a concrete step, Gisele Roch held a sign that read "Living Wages." Above the text, an outline drawing of four women wearing headsets. Behind the drawing is a deeper message; the 500 telephone operators known as "Hello Girls" who walked off the job in 1919.
As the first workers to act in the Winnipeg General Strike, their actions made history. One-hundred years later, the call for change is remembered.
Saturday at Old Market Square, Winnipeggers gathered for the Rise Up 100: Songs for the Next Century Concert to listen to Two Crows for Comfort, Leonard Sumner, Sweet Alibi, John K. Samson, Bruce Cockburn and Ani DiFranco. In a day of music and rain, concert-goers opened their umbrellas, danced in the grass and parents placed their raincoat-clad children onto their shoulders.
The Cube welcomed the curious, couples, and those conscious of the historical event being commemorated.
'I was just talking about it with my son as to why it's important to remember what happened in 1919 and that it never stopped. It always continues. It's always a struggle'‐ Felix Meza
"Nothing has been won for workers without a lot of struggle," said Roch. "It’s kind of like if you stop paddling the canoe, you’re going to lose ground. So its really important for workers to never take anything for granted.
"We cannot keep assuming that things will improve. No. We’ve got to keep fighting for what we’ve got, so we don’t lose anything and actually ask for more to make sure there’s equity in whatever worker rights and benefits we can get."
The concert was co-hosted by the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the Manitoba Federation of Labour.
Lynne Skromeda, the executive director of the folk festival has said the summertime festival is rooted in activism and hosting a concert to celebrate the General Strike was a natural fit. Artists were chosen for their ties to social justice.
"The strike was about activism so we want to have artists that reflected that as well because folk music has long been tied to the labour movement and it’s been something that’s advocated for social justice. It provides a sense of connection for people when times are divisive," said Skromeda.
Little Brown Jug, a local brewing company featured its golden ale specially packaged in cans depicting the iconic streetcar that was tipped over on Bloody Saturday. As the wind picked up, some streetcar cans were pushed to the ground, echoing the historic event that helped change the city.
Annemarie Sanders says the brew was a delicious way to commemorate the labour movement and events like the concert are a good reminder for female workers’ rights.
"As a female in the workforce who has a union I get the importance of the labour movement. I think it’s important that we have someone that supports us in terms of making sure we are protected in the workforce and ensures things are fair because I know history tells us things have not been fair for women," said Sanders.
Outside the beer gardens, parents and children gathered on the lawn in front of the stage. Felix Meza, who came to the concert with his 10-year-old son said these events help him talk to his son about the labour movement.
"I was just talking about it with my son as to why it’s important to remember what happened in 1919 and that it never stopped. It always continues. It’s always a struggle," said Meza.
"More and more I see young people now, you look around and it’s not just the old folks. It’s the young people that actually care about climate change or the struggles of working people or poor people. Even people at school are looking into what we are doing to the planet, how do we make sure that everyone is at a level playing field."
Kevin Rebeck, Manitoba Federation of Labour president said Thursday the strike centennial acts as a strong reminder for change, and he will continue to advocate for interactive and educational initiatives once celebrations end.
"We’re going to continue that message of real change can happen when people care and get involved, that politics matter and that the values of Winnipeggers, of Manitobans, of Canadians, are ones of collective action and growing fairness and inclusiveness in our society," said Rebeck.
As the last act, Ani DiFranco, sang, she looked at her audience, a sea of Winnipeggers. Umbrellas and raincoat-hooded heads bobbed along to the beat while the rain drizzled. When another song came to a hush, the crowd cheered, not minding removing their hands from their warm pockets to get a little wet and show their appreciation.
Preparing for the next song, DiFranco, an American, prefaced the tune with the theme of voting and the power it has for change.
"Where I come from, I’m not sure why they aren’t choosing to use that power," DiFranco said.
"We need you to come down below the (border) and give us some lessons."