CfP: Winnipeg General Strike Centenary Conference: Building a Better World – 1919/2019

Winnipeg, Manitoba, May 9 to 11, 2019

The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was a landmark moment in North American working-class history.  In May and June of that year, over 30,000 workers ceased work for six weeks, Reflecting the frustrations and anger rooted in a city deeply divided by class and ethnicity and inspired by the hopes of building something better in the wake of World War, Winnipeg workers displayed an inspiring unity, facing hunger, threats of permanent dismissal and blacklisting, and violence at the hands of authorities.  It was a defining moment in the city’s, and the country’s, history.

A century later, as we seek to understand and commemorate these events, we can’t help but be struck by continuities – so many of the themes of 1919 continue to confront us today:

  1. The Fight for a Better Life: Just as workers in 1919 sought to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty and win a fairer share of the fruits of economic growth, 21st century workers are facing worsening material condition, stagnating wages, and increasingly precarous employment
  2. Solidarity Across Boundaries:  A century ago, Winnipeg was a divided city – not only along the lines of class, but workers were, themselves, divided along lines of race and ethnicity.  Amazingly, attempts by employers to use bigotry to divide the city’s strikers failed.  The lessons of overcoming these divisions and fighting for common, expanded rights, are as central today as they were then, and inculde a growing understanding of the rights of Indigenous people as First Nations and as workers.
  3. Building a Working-Class Alternative: The Winnipeg General Strike was part of a continent-wide, even international, revolt.  This was an era in which labour was the voice of the dispossessed; if there was a solution to the problems that capitalism brought, it was represented by labour.  To what extent are current social struggles class issues that labour needs to centrally address? Can labour lead in building a better future in which all forms of oppression and exploitation are fought?

These are broad themes, but the Winnipeg General strike, although provoked by specific issues of collective bargaining, exploded into a broader revolt because it spoke to these broader issues.  This conference will bring together a range of historians, labour studies scholars, trade unionists, and social activists to share their knowledge and experiences.  We envisage presentations and discussions about the General Strike and the subsequent history of labour’s attempts to address these three themes, as well as current struggles.  We invite proposals for individual papers, panels, and roundtables.

Further details:

Deadline for Proposals: Feb. 1, 2018.

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