May 1st

May 1st

On this day in 1919…

Negotiations came to a standstill between management and building trades workers.

Since February, the Building Trades Council, which represented unionized workers, had been in talks with the business owners of the Builder’s Exchange, advocating for new work schedules and increased wage scales for labourers in Winnipeg.

During the First World War, building expenditures increased by 40 per cent, while the wages of trades workers had only increased by 18 per cent. Due to the state of Canada’s post-war economy, prices rose drastically and so did the cost of living, increasing by a total of 75 per cent since 1914.

In order to make ends meet and support their families, the workers demanded a blanket increase of 20¢an hour.

The Builders’ Exchange acknowledged that their demands were reasonable, admitting that the workers could not live comfortably on less than the wage they proposed. However, the master builders still refused the workers’ demands and made counteroffers, proposing a maximum wage increase of 15¢.

The workers were not satisfied and organized what is now considered the greatest meeting in the history of the Building Trades Council on April 30, 1919.

The building trades unions gathered in the convention hall of the Industrial Bureau Exposition Building to discuss their next steps. By the end of the meeting, the men called a vote to strike.

With the final total reading 1,199 in favour and 74 against, Winnipeg’s building trades workers officially went on strike on the morning of Thursday, May 1st, 1919.

Soon followed by support from the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council, this action would eventually culminate into the infamous Winnipeg General Strike.


Learn More about the 1919 General Strike