Have We Narrowly Escaped Soviet Government?

July 1 1919

Have We Narrowly Escaped Soviet Government?

July 1 1919

Have We Narrowly Escaped Soviet Government?

What Canadian Papers from Halifax to Vancouver are saying


WHAT is the cause of the present industrial unrest in Canada—which has reached its most aggravated stage in Winnipeg?

“Organized Bolshevism, . . . which exposes a critical and cankerous condition in the industrial life of Canada,” answers the Quebec Telegraph.

“The ‘red,’ or I. W. W. element,” says the Edmonton Bulletin.

“A denial of our unrestricted right to collective bargaining,” asserts the Winnipeg Labor News.

“The One Big Union movement is the underlying cause of the whole trouble,” says the Ottawa Journal, quoting Senator Gideon Robertson, Minister of Labor.

“The fatuous imbecility of the self-appointed dictators of labor in Winnipeg,” is the way the Winnipeg Telegram puts it.

“The failure of the iron-masters to concede the right of collective bargaining,” is the local cause, as given by the Manitoba Free Press

“Prohibition,” says the Toronto Mail and Empire. “The workingmen are not restive because they can no longer get liquor at bars or in shops. . . . taking away the befogging and benumbing effects of alcohol has sharpened their wits, made them more aggressive in self-interest, and led them to pay more attention to economic and social conditions.” “The high price of the necessities of life,” says the Belleville Intelligencer. The Saskatoon Phoenix blames it on the Minister of Labor, saying:

“Hon. Thos. Crothers, by his lazy and inept administration of the labor department which had also most to do with the cost of food, fuel and other essentials, was largely instrumental in creating the conditions that have led up to the present unrest. He plainly wanted nothing done to check the profiteering of the food sharks.”

The Toronto Star attributes the prevailing troubles to the same cause in an editorial headed: “The Real Cause of Discontent,” saying:

“The conviction is growing stronger that the real cause of industrial unrest is not Bolshevism or any other theory, but the high cost of living.

The workingman’s dollar will buy only about half what it bought twenty years ago. He is forced to strike, or make a protest of some kind, not to establish Soviets or even to improve his condition, but just to keep up with the continual increase in the cost of food, clothing, and rent.”

The “O. B. U.”—what is it? It is only since March of this year that the “One Big Union” idea has appeared prominently in the Canadian press.

The Vancouver World thus interprets it:

“If we have correctly understood the implications of the movement it aims to reach a certain objective and to reach it by exercise of industrial strength—in other words by use of the strike weapon if and when the members of the “One Big Union” decide that that is the most expedient way.

“Craft organizations are to disappear. One single organization is to replace them. This means that collective agreements made with employers by individual unions will no longer be made. Strikes by individual unions, also, will be abolished. In future, if one set of industrial -workers has a grievance they deem of such importance as to call for a strike, not one union or a number of allied trades will go out but the whole body of workers.

“In this way social and industrial life of the provinces where the ‘One Big Union’ is supreme may be paralyzed at a moment’s notice. Winnipeg’s plight will be nothing in comparison.”

Of the O. B. U. the Manitoba Free Press, says:

“The fact is that this general strike is as much an attempt at revolution in the labor world as it is in the political world. In the labor world it is an attempt to destroy the individual unions and the international

orders and to replace them with the One Big Union which is nothing more nor less than the attempted application of I.W.W. ideas to industry—a scheme which is quite unworkable without an accompanying political revolution.”

The Edmonton Bulletin has no love for the O. B. U. and thus describes it:

“The principle of the O. B. U. is to cut loose from international affiliation and to consider a bargain only binding, if at all, on the employer. Its purposes are frankly not constructive, but revolutionary. Wh:le using the trades unions, its purpose differs radically from theirs. Their purpose is the improvement of industrial conditions. The purpose of the O. B. U. is the usurpation of the functions of Government. Democracy—the right of the majority to rule—is the first principle of the trades unions. The O. B. U. sneers at the idea of Government by majority. The trades unions recognize the rights of other sections of the community. The O. B. U. does not.”

The Tornto Times believes organized labor has suffered severely through association with the O. B. U.:

“Organized Labor, particularly in the West, has lost public sympathy by permitting itself to be made the tool of designing I.W.W.’s and other extremists, obviously financed from abroad. The One Big Union movement is a direct outcome of the Bolshevist propaganda which has been carried on throughout the Dominion for several months past. A Soviet Government was set up in Winnipeg, in fact, if not in name.”

The Montreal Star sees a distinct menace in the O. B. U. and asserts:

“Canada cannot afford to harbor men who plot to destroy the institutions of the country and usurp the authority of Governments and Parliaments. Nor may the Governments be driven by panic to enact revolutionary and confiscatory legislation. A Red autocracy is as objectionable and dangerous as a Prussian autocracy.”

The Port Arthur News-Chronicle says:

“It is not wanted in Canada. It has proven itself a menace to the welfare of the country, and cannot be tolerated by a people who have any regard for their personal liberties and independence.”

The Quebec Telegraph questions whether “this is a legitimate labor weapon.” The Toronto Globe claims

that the sympathetic strike in Toronto was “engineered by supporters of the One Big Union, and failed utterly.” The Edmonton Bulletin, Lethbridge Herald, Montreal Gazette, Victoria Times, Calgary Albertan, and other papers from coast to coast blame the O. B. U. for the industrial troubles—and unanimously condemn it. The Minister of Labor’s view, as expressed in the Ottawa Journal, is unequivocal:

“I have no hesitation in stating that the One Big Union movement is the underlying cause of the whole trouble, and that the Winnipeg general strike deserves no sympathy or support from labor organizations outside.”

How much of Bolshevism is there in the labor unrest in Winnipeg—and the rest of Canada? When the general strike was first declared in Winnipeg, and that city isolated from the world, it was reported that a Soviet Government had been proclaimed, and to most Canadians the word “Soviet” has had a malign significance.

The Manitoba Free Press asserts that the Seattle and Winnineg strikes are identical in aim, and adds:

“They were both experiments in Bolshevism, directed against existing authority. The parallel will hold true to the end. The Seattle strike failed. The Winnipeg strike will also fail.”

The same paper thus describes two features of the “Soviet” rule:

“Waiters were allowed to return, to certain restaurants under instruction that at the psychological moment they were to supply food only to people who would show union cards-r-a leaf straight out of Lenine’s book.

There is something more than a suggestion in this policy of ukase about the water question. They graciously permitted the people of Winnipeg to have water up to a pressure of 30 lbs. for the reason as they set forth in their literature that this would ensure a supply of water to everyone who lived in a small house, but would deprive everybody who was better circumstanced in housing his usual supply. Here was a deliberate attempt to discriminate between sections of the community.”

The Winnipeg Labor News denies that the

strikers had revolutionary or Soviet leanings. This paper suggested a committee from each side could settle the difficulties, but added:

“The alternative to the above is a Dominion^ wide struggle, the final ramifications of which are wholly beyond prediction. There will be bitterness and ruin for men in every direction, and there may well be bloodshed and chaos, without

parallel in our history.”

To this, the St. John, N. B., Globe remarks:

“It does not seem possible that this is written of Canada, but there it is, the official utterance of the Winnipeg strikers. Certainly, the situation seems to be desperate.”

To quote Gladstone, Winnipeg was confronted with a condition, not a theory. This may explain why several newspapers, separated by half a continent from Winnipeg, saw utter chaos looming up for Canada long after the Winnipeg papers recognized that the attempt at Soviet control had failed. The Moncton Times says:

“The Bolshevists and I.W.W.’s who are behind the One Big Union mean to plunge Canada into the same state of chaos as that which has long prevailed in Russia. It is even probable that Lenine and Trotzky are in direct communication with the most violent of the Reds, who are endeavoring to exploit labor unrest throughout Canada for their own purposes.”

And the Quebec Chronicle remarked:

“The issue is now no longer, even nominally, an

industrial dispute or a demonstration of Trades Unionism ; it is one of organized anarchy and incipient revolution.”

But, by this time, chances of disorder seemed more remote to those in Manitoba. As the Brandon Sun stated, “the repudiation by Labor men of ‘Red’ leaders who have gained control of some branches of Organized Labor, will provide a basis for the getting together which must be brought about if we are to live in peace and harmony rather than in dissension and strife.”

What was the situation in Winnipeg after a few days? The Winnipeg Telegram exhorted the cit:zens to hold out with courage, and prophesied:

“Let the revolution .in Winnipeg be defeated, and the rest of Canada will heed the salutary lesson. Not even a Bolshevist agitator will wage with enthusiasm a fight in which he has not the encouragement at least of a weak-kneed attitude on the part of h s antagonists.”

The Winnipeg Tribune said:

“Industrial strife may continue for a time, strikes may continue, but the handful of men who proclaimed soviet or anarchy rule as their goal now realize that Canada is not Russia.”

The real reason why Winnipeg and Canada did not experience the terrors, crimes and miseries of a Russian Revolution is clearly stated by the Manitoba Free Press :

“Of course, the whole daring and elaborate plot to take over the reins of power is now in ruins, because the Red Five, ingenious and resourceful as they think they are, overlooked one very important fact, which was that they are dealing with Canadians, whereas their high priests and exemplars, Lenine and Trotzky, had only ignorant Russians to deal with.

“Before they are through with the little adventure upon which they embarked, they will know a good deal more than they do now about the difficulty of organizing a Soviet Government a la Russia in an intelligent democracy like Canada.”

Turner's Weekly, Saskatoon, declined to believe— “that the Winnipeg strike was fostered and is being engineered by anti-British foreign agitators. Unfortunately, some men of that class appear to be mixed up in the strike, but it is safe to say that they are hampering rather than helping it, as the only effect of their presence on the scene is to alienate public opinion.”

Exposure to the light, not suppression, is the best Bolshevistic prophylactic, in the opinion of the Montreal Star:

“No good can be obtained by disguising the fact that Bolshevism or a kindred creed has obtained a footing in the more radical wing of Labor. Each outbreak should be investigated and its source determined, wherever and whenever it shows its head. Sporadic epidemics should be isolated just as the patients of smallpox and malignant fevers are quarantined. But prevention of Bolshevism does not lie in repression, but in its exposure to air and sunlight, in improving social and industrial conditions and in a greater sympathy between employers and employed.”

“Collective bargaining,” the immediate and ascribed cause of the Winnipeg general strike, is an ambiguous term, as the Toronto Times points out:

“ ‘Collective bargaining,’ therefore, may mean the submission of employers to unions which are wholly

outside their factory-practice. It may mean, as in England, joint discussion between employers and unions in the same line of industry. To the extreme Radical it may mean a conference of all employers with a general Strike Committee of Fifteen, in other words, a Soviet.

“We do not believe that the extreme Radical interpretation should prevail. There can be no cooperation on that basis.”

The Montreal Gazette scores collective bargaining in the following paragraph :

“Collective bargaining is such a one-sided thing that the employer cannot depend on the collective bargainers performing in a loyal way their part of the mutual obligation. Nor while unions are organized as they are is there surety that any other order will exist. The unions are not coi'porate bodies. They cannot be sued to compel the fulfilment of what they undertake. If they break bargains to which their seals have been attached, there may be recourse at law against individual members; but it is likely to be ineffective. The preliminary to effective collective bargaining must be the incorporation of the union and the making of their funds, their officers and their members responsible for failure to observe or action to break a bargain.”

An interpretation of collective bargaining is essential, several papers assert. If it merely means joint discussion between employers and their employees’ unions, then it is generally favored by the Toronto Star, Manitoba Free Press, Ottawa Journal, and other representative newspapers. But Canada has no use for the Lenine-Trotzky interpretation of the phrase, says the Toronto Times:

“In other words, employers are asked to walk humbly to the headquarters of a Workmen’s Council, or to be frank, a Soviet, and receive their orders. That is not “collective bargaining.” The Labor man who thinks it is has been misled by the wild talk of some vicious ‘Red’ propagandists who are doing Lenine’s dirty work in this country.

“Senator Robertson, himself an outstanding Labor man, has denounced in Winnipeg this Russian interpretation of the term ‘collective bargaining,’ and we feel sure that his statement has the complete endorsation of every intelligent supporter of the traeréunión principle.”

General—or sympathetic—strikes failed emphatically to meet with the approval of the Canadian press. The Ottawa Journal says:

“A general strike, on a sympathetic basis, is a weapon of terrorism to force the whole community to try to compel an employer to concede what may be asked of him by or on behalf of him by his employees.”

What is the reason for a sympathetic strike? The Edmonton Free Press, the official organ of the Edmonton Trades and Labor Council, in an editorial entitled : “Hang together or separately,” explains:

“There are probably some citizens who are unable to span the gap between Edmonton and Winnipeg. Because Organized Labor in Winnipeg is on strike, why should Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Lethbridge, with certainty of Vancouver and other cities if matters are not adjusted, be affected, is the question asked. Organized Labor replies that if Winnipeg workers are smashed, the next step would be another city. One by one Organized Labor would be picked off at leisure. Therefore, it is necessary for Organized Labor as a whole to stand together.”

The same organ advised the strikers a few days later to return to work, issuing the following statement :

“Edmonton Organized Labor went on strike to express unmistakable sympathy with the Winnipeg strikers, and provide a labor demonstration that would echo in the halls of Parliament. That end has been accomplished.”

The Vancouver Province, in commenting on its local labor outbreak, has this to say:

“This is not a matter that can be settled by any local agreement. There is nothing to arbitrate. It is not a Vancouver affair. Halfway across the continent a few employers and a few workers in their industries have a disagreement. They can not determine whether it should be settled by a conference between the employers and men of the particular craft concerned or whether men from other allied trades should intervene. That is the reason why a general strike is called here fifteen hundred miles away, imposing a grave calamity on the whole population, not one man, woman or child of whom had anything to do with the original cause of the strike, or any power to prevent it.”

Such a strike is doomed to failure, believes the Victoria Timos,

Like many others, the Toronto Star objects to the sympathetic strike when it involves the violation of contractual agreements “by any body of men who are under an agreement to sell their labor for a given time upon certain terms and conditions.”

The Ottawa Journal commends the action of President Brown, of the Toronto Metal Workers’ Union, in advising those unions which struck to help his organization to call off their strike and adds that “he was quick to recognize the symptoms and advised the unions striking in sympathy to go back to work at once.”

Other interesting condemnations of the sympathetic strike are:

Quebec Chronicle: “Harmful to the permanent interests of all concerned, and contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of public law.”

Ottawa Journal: “The principle and practice of pirates or highwaymen.”

Toronto Globe: “Canadians are not in the mood to be bludgeoned into a lip sympathy.”

Toronto World: “A general strike is a form of civil war. ... an unjust form. . . . virtual revolt against the established order.”

Calgary Albertan: “A harsh, cruel and unjust


Toronto Mail and Empire: “Completely outside the pale of right.”

Montreal Star: “Instinctively antagonizes the British sense of business, honor and fair play.”

Brandon Sun: “Arbitrary despotism.”

If the sympathetic strike is strictly localized it finds some favor in the eyes of the Ottawa Journal, which says :

“For the ‘sympathetic strike’ in any particular centre there is likely to be considerable excuse.”

The strikers’ decision against permitting issuance of Winnipeg newspapers, during the early days of the strike, is universally condemned. As the Nelson News so appositely remarks:

“If the strikers are right they don’t need to fear public opinion. If they are wrong they will gain nothing in the long run by trying to conceal it.”

There is a strong current of feeling running throughout the press against the striking of civic and national employees. The citizens are entitled to postal service, water, light, heat, transportation, etc., it is felt. As the Winnipeg Telegram says:

“The ordinary citizen won’t stand for Bolshevism of any description. Nor is he in favor of general strikes. He thinks men employed in the public service should keep their agreements and stick to the arbitration principle.”

The same paper says later:

“Not even the Dominion Government has the right to subject the people of Winnipeg to the hardship and loss which the cessation of mail service involves, for a single day.”

The inadequacy of Government action is the theme of scores of editorials. Western papers almost universally condemn Mayor Gray’s actions as spineless, the Edmonton Bulletin referring to him as “the pinhead tool of the Soviet Government.” The Montreal Gazette says:

“To tolerate the conduct of the Winnipeg officials is to destroy the very foundation of government, to make impotent the power of Cabinet and Parliament, and to put the Soviet in the saddle where popular Government now sits.”