A Victoria author contributes to Canadian history records with the release of his second book about the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
Michael Dupuis is a retired history teacher and historian who’s been interested in the strike since 1973, when he did his masters thesis on the subject at the University of Ottawa.
The Winnipeg General Strike saw nearly 30,000 men and women walk off the job to demand higher wages, improved working conditions, a 44-hour work week and collective bargaining rights. The strike brought leaders together from across Western Canada, and while their efforts ultimately failed at the time, Dupuis said it was a turning point in the country for labour and middle class rights.
“I realized this strike was a real good example of employers who had everything – they had money, they had power – and the workers were second class, a resource that was exploited,” he said. “The strike lasted six weeks. They held out.”
His non-fiction book titled The Winnipeg General Strike – Ordinary Men And Women Under Extraordinary Circumstances, is a follow-up to 2014’s Winnipeg’s General Strike – Reports from the Front Lines, focused heavily on journalists’ accounts of the event.
The powerful members of Canadian society, which often included the press, painted the workers as radicals and communists, he said. “There was a lot of fear of them.”
When asked how the impacts of the strike have lasted, Dupuis said the workers turned to political action.
They elected MLAs and mayors who supported their rights and some of the leaders in the labour movement formed a political party called the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which in 1973 became the New Democratic Party.
“Collective bargaining became more common after that too,” he added, although there was a period of negative ramifications for business and workers in Winnipeg.
Dupuis is headed to Winnipeg in May for the 100th anniversary of the strike. He was invited by the provincial government to do some talks and promote his book.
“Once one of these big things loses legs, it kind of drops off the radar. I have a feeling the same thing will happen after the 100th anniversary of the strike,” he said. “I’m really honoured to have been invited. And the major force behind the commemorative activities is the labour movement.”
Dupuis has also done consulting work for historical movies and CBC TV programs on subjects such as the Halifax Explosion and the sinking of the Titanic.
Since his second book was released in December, it has sold nearly 1,100 copies. You can purchase it at Munro’s Books and Indigo at Mayfair Shopping Centre.