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Labour Upheaval

This theme has much of its roots in the deceit and disdain of our federal government towards the common man. The same disdain that the native and Metis people encounter is the same disdain that the settlers faced when seeking better and more equitable working conditions.

The first hotbed of this occurred in Winnipeg with the 1919 General Strike in which almost 30,000 workers left their jobs. The workers returning from World War I found their previous positions filled by others and wages greatly reduced with longer hours demanded by owners of companies. Unfortunately the Russian Revolution had the federal government spooked even though the unionists were only interested in reforming the system versus overthrowing it. The response to organized labour came in the form of Winnipeg’s most influential manufacturers, bankers and politicians creating the Citizens’ Committee of 1000 whose point of view was supported by the local newspapers. The strike between May 15 and June 25 culminated when a charge by the Royal North-West Mounted Police into a crowd of strikers resulted in 30 casualties, including one death. Known as “Bloody Saturday", it ended with federal troops occupying the city's streets. It is important to note that the General Strike left a legacy of bitterness and controversy among organized labour groups across Canada with sympathetic strikes occurring throughout the country.

In Saskatchewan the Ottawa Trek came to a violent conclusion with what is labeled as the Regina Riot of July 1, 1935. Men from the relief camps set up by Prime Minister R. B. Bennett’s government in 1932 decided to lay out their concerns - no jobs, no money, no hope due to the Great Depression - to the PM in Ottawa. They rode the rails between Vancouver and Regina being encouraged along the way by newspapers and citizens alike. The federal government did not think they would make it as far as Regina and decided this potential communist uprising had to be squelched. A rally was held the evening of July 1 in Market Square attended by 1500 – 2000 mostly town folk as the majority of trekkers were watching a ball game. 300 Royal Northwest Mounted Police, 50 on horseback, and dozens of policemen attacked the crowd leaving one man dead and 100 injured in hospital (40 of them police).

In 1986 Alberta was suffering through a bust after years of booming. There were numerous strikes within the province often pitting workers against police in what many saw as a fight for their lives. But the one that galvanized labour was the Gainers Plant at Belvedere/Fort Road, Edmonton. This became a bitter fight over wage rollbacks and pension protection. 1080 employees walked out on June 1 leading to 6 ½ months of dispute with the owner, Peter Pocklington, who hired scab labour. 375 police, 1/3 of Edmonton’s force, were involved daily at the site, arresting and removing strikers. At one point the top police officials considered calling in the army.

At the same time, the strike became part of a larger campaign to make Alberta's labour laws friendlier to unions through such changes as banning replacement workers. Werlin, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, warned 6,000 demonstrators at the June 12 opening of the legislature session, the largest rally there since the Depression that "violence and terrorism" would continue in Alberta if new laws were not brought in.

The strike was settled through the mediation of Don Getty, the Premier, with the province granting $61 million in loans and loan guarantees to help Gainers build a new plant, which never happened.

The pattern across the prairies starting with Winnipeg in 1919 is one of greed by businessmen, fear by the government resulting in violence and hopelessness and despair for labourers. Our prayers focused on identifying with all groups involved on all sides of the dispute. We stood in the gap for business people asking for forgiveness for greed, control, manipulation, self-seeking, indifference, disdain and deceit. We asked forgiveness for the government’s fear, repression, and bias to the wealthy and influential, violence, control, deceit, manipulation, and disdain of their people. For the people involved in the labour movement we prayed for healing, insecurity, despair, hopelessness, removing seeds of distrust, fear for their jobs and their future. We asked God to heal our land, to heal our hearts, to replace distrust with trust, hope for hopelessness, and equity for inequity, harmony and peace where there has been disharmony and unrest. We asked for blessing and prosperity for these three provinces.

The team prayed at the former Gainer’s site in Edmonton, the former Market Square site in Regina, the RCMP depot in Regina and Market Square in Winnipeg in regard to the labour issues.

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