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Unemployment Relief Camps

During the Great Depression, the federal government sanctioned the creation of a system of unemployment relief camps, where in exchange for room-and-board, single men did physically demanding labour. The government was criticized for establishing the camps rather than addressing the need for reasonable work and wages.

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On to Ottawa Trek

In 1935, residents of federal Unemployment Relief Camps in British Columbia went on strike and traveled by train and truck to Vancouver, Regina and Ottawa to protest poor conditions in the Depression-era camps.

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Asbestos (QC)

Asbestos, Quebec, incorporated as a village in 1899 and as a town in 1937, population 6,786 (2016 census), 7,096 (2011 census). The town of Asbestos is located in the Eastern Townships region, 53 km north of Sherbrooke and 58 km southeast of Drummondville. It is named after the mineral mined there from 1881 to 2011. During that time, Asbestos produced much of the world’s supply of the asbestos mineral, which is now banned in many countries because of its negative health effects. 

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Asbestos Strike of 1949

The Asbestos Strike began on 14 February 1949 and paralyzed major asbestos mines in Quebec for almost five months. The Quebec government sided with the main employer, an American-owned company, against the 5,000 unionized mine workers. From the start, the strike created conflicts between the provincial government and the Roman Catholic Church, which usually sided with the government. One of the longest and most violent labour conflicts in Quebec history, it helped lay the groundwork for the Quiet Revolution.

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Helen (Ma) Armstrong

Helen (Ma) Armstrong (née Jury), labour activist, women’s rights activist (born 17 June 1875 in Toronto, Ontario; died 17 April 1947 in Los Angeles, California). Helen Armstrong was a labour activist who fought for the rights of working-class women throughout her life. She was the leader of the Winnipeg Women’s Labor League and a central figure in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. She campaigned for unions, a minimum wage and social security, and against conscription. Armstrong was arrested for her activism at least three times, including twice during the Winnipeg General Strike. Historian Esyllt Jones described Helen Armstrong as “the exception in a male-dominated labour movement.”

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One Big Union

The One Big Union (OBU) was a radical labour union formed in Western Canada in 1919. It aimed to empower workers through mass organization along industrial lines. The OBU met fierce opposition from other parts of the labour movement, the federal government, employers and the press. Nevertheless, it helped transform the role of unions in Canada.

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James Ryan

James Ryan, railway machinist, labour leader (born 1840 in County Clare, Ireland; died 17 December 1896 in Hamilton, ON). James Ryan was a machinist and railway engineer for the Great Western Railway and later the Grand Trunk Railway. He was a powerful voice in the Canadian Nine Hour Movement, which fought for a shorter workday. Ryan also helped establish the Canadian Labor Protective and Mutual Improvement Association in 1872, the forerunner of the Canadian Labor Union.

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Winnipeg General Strike of 1919

The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was the largest strike in Canadian history. Between 15 May and 25 June 1919, more than 30,000 workers left their jobs. Factories, shops, transit and city services shut down. The strike resulted in arrests, injuries and the deaths of two protestors. It did not immediately succeed in empowering workers and improving job conditions. But the strike did help unite the working class in Canada. Some of its participants helped establish what is now the New Democratic Party.