On April 24, 1919 metal and building trades unions presented requests for wage increases and a forty-four-hour week to the Winnipeg Builders’ Exchange. On May 2, 1919, the metal trades went on strike and were followed by 24,000 organized and unorganized workers in Winnipeg.
Metal trades shops closed, railway shops closed, construction came to a halt and street cars stopped running. The strike quickly spread from industry to industry.
A century ago Winnipeg was the third largest city in Canada, the hub of manufacturing and services. The returning soldiers after the end of the First World War were seeking work but found no jobs, workers who had jobs in construction and manufacturing were fighting for basic union rights, better working conditions and a better society.
Contrary to all of this, business owners and government officials believed that a Soviet-style revolution was underway, insinuating that this was the work of a Bolshevik led Revolution plan to overturn the democratic system. The crises became severe economic dislocation and social upheaval; factories were shutting down and bankruptcies were common.
May 15, 1919 is very important, the General Strike begins, thousands of unorganized workers join those who were unionized and by June 1st, 1919 thousands of WWI veterans marched to the Manitoba legislature in support of the strike.
Virtually on June 21st the enforced order, special militia hired by the Winnipeg police and the Royal Canadian Northwest Mounted Police (RCNMP) arrested the strike leaders who lead the demonstration in front of the City Hall, this “Bloody Saturday” as it became known, the epic of the Winnipeg General Strike. Two innocent Ukrainians killed, scores of injuries and over 100 arrests, Winnipeg was under military control until June 26th.
In the aftermath of the Winnipeg General Strike, several people lost their jobs, some immigrants were deported and labeled as enemy aliens or placed in internment camps, forced to do heavy labour. Ironically with all the firing into the crowd of men, women and children by the Royal Canadian Northwest Mounted Police, one man was killed, another shot in the leg and died later of gangrene infection as a result of gunshot wounds; both were not enemy aliens but of Ukrainian origin.
Mike Sokolowski (AKA: Sokolowiski) was killed in front of City Hall on what came to be known as Bloody Saturday, shot by the Royal Canadian Northwest Mounted Police during the fighting. Sokolowski was the only person killed in the riot and buried at Winnipeg’s Brookside Cemetery (section 45, plot 450). Mike Sokolowski’s grave was unmarked for over 80 years until June 20, 2003. As part of the Brookside Cemetery’s 125th Anniversary, a donation was made to purchase a headstone for
“The Forgotten Immigrant”
DIED JUNE 21st, 1919 AT THE APPROX. AGE OF 40
KILLED IN THE WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE
On the other hand, Steve Szczerbanowicz (AKA: Sheebaubucz, Schezerbanowicz, Schezerbanowes) after being shot through both legs by a police officer during the Winnipeg General Strike on June 23rd, 1919 died due to a gangrene infection. For 96 years Steve Szczerbanowicz was buried at an unmarked grave at Brookside Cemetery but on June 20th, 2015 funds were raised to cover the cost of a gravestone in memory of Steve Szczerbanowicz, (section 80, plot 7) victim of the six-week Winnipeg General Strike.
THIS MEMORIAL COMMEMORATES THE MANY WORKERS
WHO WERE INJURED, ARRESTED OR DEPORTED
DURING THE SIX-WEEK STRIKE AND ITS AFTERMATH.
To this day, the Ukrainian community doesn’t exactly know why Mike Sokolowski and Steve Szczerbanowicz were buried in unmarked graves for so many decades, it is difficult to comprehend; but both played a significant role in June of 1919 by overcoming fear to safeguard their human rights. The right to become a Manitoban, to work and a desire to better their lives, seeking optimism in a new country.
The Winnipeg General Strike exposed and emphasized the urgency of addressing social needs of people living in Winnipeg even for thousands of immigrants like Ukrainians who came to Manitoba at the turn of the century to work on the land and in industry to become citizens of Canada. From beginning of April to the end of June of 1919, the Winnipeg General Strike was one of the most pivotal events in Canada’s history.