On this day in 1919…
Troubled by Alfred J. Andrews’ letters, Federal Justice Minister, Arthur Meighen, and Labour Minister, Sen. Gideon Robertson arrive in Winnipeg – ready to restore order and silence any rumours regarding a Socialist uprising in the city and the country.
Meighen and Robertson agree to meet with the Citizens’ Committee of 1000 but both refuse to consult with members of the Central Strike Committee, thus overlooking the demands of the labour workers.
After their meeting, Meighen issues a public statement, highlighting his concerns with the strike and those participating in it. He describes the strike as “a cloak for something far deeper and an effort to overturn the proper authority.”
Meanwhile, at the Strathcona Hotel on Main Street, the doors to a special kitchen called the Labour Café open for the first time.
The kitchen aims to feed both male and female strikers who are not able to provide for themselves due to a lack of income. It is entirely run by female volunteers from the Women’s Labour League and is funded through donations collected by the strike’s Relief Committee.
Helen Armstrong, a socialist and outspoken advocate for women’s rights, heads the operation. Armstrong had previously helped women organize in the workplace before and during the First World War, and provided support to men who were imprisoned after refusing to serve in the army. Her husband, George Armstrong also advocates on behalf of strikers as a prominent labour leader in the city.
Throughout the day, the Labour Café provides approximately 1,500 meals to strikers. The kitchen continues to offer meals to labour workers for the remainder of the strike.
The next day, on May 25, Sen. Robertson issues his own statement regarding the strike. In it, he orders all strikers to return to work and for government and public sector employees in Winnipeg to sign an anti-union pledge. By doing so, employees promise that they will not belong to a union or participate in sympathetic strike. Premier T.C. Norris and members of Winnipeg’s city council support the order, and immediately dismiss anyone who does not sign the pledge.
Rejecting Robertson’s ultimatum, thousands of workers throughout the city decide to organize in Victoria Park and stand together in a public display of solidarity.