The Alberta Strikes Begin

The Alberta Strikes Begin

May 24, 1919

One hundred years ago today, about 6500 Alberta miners went on strike. The unionized miners of western Canada had voted 96 percent in April in favour of joining the One Big Union and leaving the United Mineworkers of America, whose American headquarters was attempting to impose upon them an agreement with mineowners that few Canadian miners supported.

The miners in the Crowsnest Pass went on strike in solidarity with miners on the BC side of the Pass who had gone on strike to oppose both a wage cut and a cut in their hours. The Alberta miners understood that if that was not fought that they would be next to experience such 
unacceptable conditions.

In the Drumheller Valley, miners struck for an end to piecework in favour of a guaranteed daily wage as well as improvements in their living and working conditions. The miners claimed that the companies undercounted their loads; so no matter how hard they worked, they could not make a living wage. Their living conditions were inhuman. They slept in overcrowded canvas tents infested with bedbugs. There were no medical facilities or clean drinking water, and diseases like typhoid spread like a prairie fire. The bosses grouped immigrant workers who spoke different languages on the same work teams to prevent them from organizing. Soldiers who returned from the First World War claimed that conditions in the valley’s mining towns were worse than those in the trenches.

May 26, 1919

The Edmonton and Calgary general strikes in support of the demands of the Winnipeg strikers for the right to choose their own collective bargaining units began. As in Winnipeg, Strike Committees formed to guarantee essential services.

In Edmonton, about 2000 unionized workers in a city of 72,000 souls were on strike. In Calgary, about 1500 unionized workers in a city of 75,000 people were on strike. In both cities, the presence of the utility workers among the strikers helped create the sense of cities under worker control.