This mural is on the south wall of the very popular nightclub Whiskey Dix on Main Street. Painted by Tom Andrich it tells the story of perhaps the most memorable event in Winnipeg history, the strike of 1919. In May some 30,000 workers walked off the job because of poor working conditions and a lack of employment opportunities especially for World War I veterans. Union organizers had been passionately advocating for an eight-hour work day, collective bargaining and the need for employers to pay a living wage.
The artist has chosen to highlight eight of the strike leaders who were imprisoned, eight men and one woman. The woman right in front is Helen Armstrong. In 2001 a television documentary called The Notorious Mrs. Armstrong told her story. Nicknamed Wild Woman of the West she was a union organizer who championed the cause of working women. Born in Toronto and married to a carpenter named George she moved to Winnipeg with him in 1905 where Helen became the leader of the Women’s Labor League. Her leadership helped bring a minimum wage to Manitoba.
During the Winnipeg Strike she organized kitchens to feed female strikers and harassed strike breakers who were crossing the picket line. She encouraged women to boycott stores where the workers were on strike and challenged them to join the men who were on strike. She was arrested and jailed for inciting people to strike, disorderly conduct and encouraging the abuse of strike breakers.
Winnipeg business owners organized a Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand to oppose the strikers. They blamed foreign immigrants for the strike and many were deported. The majority of the strikers however were British.
On June 21, 1919, war veterans organized a parade to protest the arrest of labor leaders. They were also upset at the government edict that the labor movement newspaper could no longer be published. 6,000 people gathered in front of City Hall. When a streetcar, operated by strike breakers came by the protesters overturned it and set it on fire.
The federal government had sent out the Royal North West Mounted Police to help put an end to the strike. Carrying clubs and firearms the North West Police charged into the crowd after the street car was overturned. They began to fire their weapons.
June 21, 1919 became known as Bloody Saturday, because the North West Mounties killed two strikers, wounded thirty-four and made nearly a hundred arrests. The mural on Main Street has a portrait of one of the men who died. His name was Mike Sokolowski. After Bloody Saturday the strike organizers fearing more violence called the strike to a halt and the strikers went back to work on June 26th.
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