Strike 101: Mexico, Polish Craftsmen and the Great Depression!

By Ameeta Vohra  

[Ed Note: Check out part one of the series, here]

Mexico is the first place that allowed workers to strike. That took place in 1917.  But perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn't the largest labour movement in history.

That title is held by United States, and it happened during the Great Depression. A time when there was massive unemployment in 1937.  An overall total of 4,740 strikes took place in that year alone.

The Polish craftsmen strike in Jamestown, Virginia is the first known organized strike due to unsuitable work conditions in 1619.  Moreover, the Scottish have the dubious distinction of having the first general strike, the 1820 Rising.  After the wars in Scotland, the economy went into a tailspin.  Artisans and in particular, weavers, protested to get the government's attention in changing their uncaring ways with governing.

From a Canadian perspective, the first general strike was held in Vancouver in 1918.  The Vancouver general strike was a one day event where protesters revolted against the killing of labour crusader and draft dodger, Albert "Ginger" Goodwin.  Goodwin advocated for protesting if any worker was drafted against their wishes.  During this strike, 300 protesters upturned the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council offices and tried to throw out the council's secretary, Victor Midgely, out the office windows.

In 1872, the Canadian government under Prime Minister Sir John A MacDonald created the Trade Unions Act, which allowed workers to join together to fight for better working conditions.  Three of the most prolific strikes in Canadian history took place in 1919.  While there were a total of 400 strikes in the country, there were three general ones that took place in Winnipeg, Amherst and Toronto.  During the Great Depression era, 72,000 Canadians either protested or were locked out in 1937.

We hope you've enjoyed our look at the history of striking.  The next time you walk past a group of protesters in our beautiful city, ask them what they know about the history of the strike movement.  If they haven't a clue, hey, give them a crash course.    


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