No. 5, Summer 1986
( Dramatization of events preceding to, and from “Bloody Saturday”, June 21 1919, arising from the Winnipeg General Sympathetic Strike )
Note: I have taken a few liberties with the events of this time in order to best condense the events and feelings of the times. For example: Secretary of the Seattle Trades and Labor Council, James Duncan, had actually made his address a couple of weeks earlier. And those of the Central Strike Committee as were arrested had been arrested days earlier. So Sam Blumenburg, soldier Bray and Helen Armstrong would not be present. However, Helen did take lumps on occasions and is useful in conveying sentiments of Strike Committee. The Socialist, Blumenburg, was actually a dry cleaner but rates being written in, not just for his classic (genuine) one-liner but to show problems of “enemy aliens”. The secret police reports are of various times and sometimes condensations of more than one report to give the idea of the hysteria and paranoia that existed in some official circles. Like wise with government officials. The beating is as nearly accurately reproduced as possible. There is some controversy as to whether the workers did or did not destroy some of the interior of the streetcar, so I left it out. They did not, as some historians have claimed, tip over the streetcar. They tried, but it was too heavy. So are a lot of things.
Socialist Party of Canada
Cast, in order of appearance:COMMENTARY: Relates happenings and statements of others away from the scene. As he gives wide cross-section of views of various elements it is important that his face not reflect conflicting emotions and should be blanked out with makeup. It is occasionally necessary that he be able to call on a booming voice that will shake the rafters.
COMMENTARY: He holds a scroll before himself. He can use it for cues, but it is preferred that he memorize his lines. He remains still when not speaking and when he speaks the “participating players” freeze as, except where otherwise noted. (Note: All entrances and exits are made from amongst the audience.)
COMMENTARY: Saturday morning, June 21st 1919. Market Square, opposite Winnipeg City Hall. The war to end all war is over. Wartime restrictions are still in effect. The Social Democratic Party has been declared illegal. The journal of the Socialist Party of Canada has been banned, as has the works of Marx and Darwin, and some of the plays of Gilbert and Sullivan. The men who fought four years for a “glorious new world” return to find it the same one they left- widespread unemployment, with all too familiar grinding poverty, aggravated by rampant wartime inflation. Nationwide discontent reflects itself, in Winnipeg, in the form of a six-week General Strike.[ Enter WORKER 1. He briefly shuffles around at the base of the platform until he is joined by WORKER 2 ]
COMMENTARY: With the workers properly organized there is nothing they may not successfully demand from the capitalist, by means of a general strike.WORKER 2: But without a general strike the metal masters beat the workers down within a month. That’s why we had to support them this year. Make things better for all of us, too.
COMMENTARY: I worked hard to establish my businesses. As a logger. In he sawmills. Worked to get my an engineering ticket. I alone am best qualifies when and whom to hire and fire and how much an employee should be paid. And no bloody Red is going to tell me different.WORKER 4: [ In almost dreamy nostalgia ] Remember, six weeks ago, when we came out? Labor Council called on all unions to support the Metal Trades. Eleven o’clock in the morning, as arranged, I took off my apron, put on my hat and left the job. The streets were full of people. ’Twas like a Roman holiday. Not just union people either. As many without unions came out in support of the metal workers’ cause. Even soldiers changed over to our side.
COMMENTARY: Sawing, sawing, sawing. What the hell we sawing up these old oxen yokes for anyway? We hire on to be policemen, not bloody woodcutters. [ Pause ] Don’t care. For six dollars a day I’ll do anything. Don’t need oxen yokes no more anyhow. Got tractors now.
[ Immediately enter Soldier Bray. He is readily recognised and accepted by the workers. As he steps upon the platform other soldiers begin to mingle with the crowd ]
COMMENTARY: Secret Police Agent 57, reporting from Vancouver BC. There is reason to believe Bolshevik agents have landed on our shores. 5,000 of them training under arms in Canada and the United States. They have violet rays and know how to use them to blind people.BRAY: [ Continuing ] The Union members convinced us your interests are our interests. That is why we are here today, to stage another parade. When soldiers support is shown the justice of our case will be seen and we will win.
COMMENTARY: Honourable gentleman of the house. The legislation before you will permit us to scourge the country of the enemy alien red menace once and for all. It will permit us to deport any of them. Reds of any kind, even British born reds, without trial. And once again make our country free. [ Speaking rapidly ]
House of Commons: First Reading - all in favor say aye.
Second Reading: all in favor say aye.
Third Reading: all in favor say aye.
Senate: First Reading - all in favor say aye.
Second reading: all in favor say aye.
Third Reading: all in favor say aye.
Signed by the Governor-General.
Total time elapsed 40 minutes.
COMMENTARY: Secret Police Agent 98 reporting from Ferni, B.C. You do not have to worry about the union leaders becoming revolutionary. They don’t want to lose their soft and cushy jobs.BRAY: Vancouver is out. Calgary is out. Lethbridge, Edmonton -
COMMENTARY: Dear Mr Prime Minister, as your Minister of Labour I must respectfully advise that, this is not an opportune time to make a declaration in favour of the principle of collective bargaining as it would be grasped as an excuse by the strikers to claim they had forced the government and thereby proved success of the sympathetic strike.BRAY: Saskatoon is out. Regina, Prince Albert, Brandon, Port Arthur, Fort William, Toronto.
COMMENTARY: Edmonton out two weeks- Vancouver a month.WORKER 3: [ Apprehensively. ] But there is talk of getting scabs to run the streetcars. If that happens the strike is broken.
COMMENTARY: Secret Agent 67, reporting from Calgary: What the new union policy will be, will depend on how dangerous things may be to their personal liberty. Already their fear is making them hesitant and, as far as possible, they will tone down their program. I recommend reformed labour laws, which would meet with the approval of the Conservative labour element,aiming at the elimination of basic grievances and a satisfactory settlement to the returned soldiers and simultaneously the deportation of alien trouble makers. Decisive and concerted arrest of the leaders, a quick trial with a sentence making release or confinement dependent upon their future policy.BRAY: Comrades, it is time to begin our parade.
COMMENTARY: [ Continuing ] Unionism, rightly organized, is the very basis of national unity and strength. Especially will this be proved with the inevitable international complications ensue. With regard to this new movement, only two courses are open - either crush it ruthlessly or reform the labour laws of the country.
[ while Commentary is finishing a boy messenger hands Helen a note and hastens nervously away ]
COMMENTARY: Sam Blumenburg escapes to the United States where he is active in Socialist and labour organisations for the rest of his life.BRAY: Now the soldiers are in charge. We will begin our parade. [ Steps from the platform to take his place at the head of the forming parade ]
COMMENTARY: [ In a voice that rattles the rafters ] COMPANEEEE! Fall in! [ Following lower volume but with military precisioness ]. Ninetieth Winnipeg Rifles ready for action at a moments notice, Suh! 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers, ready at a moments notice, Suh! 106th Infantry ready at a moments notice, Suh! 79 Cameron Highlanders ready at a moment notice, Suh! Twenty machine guns on mobilized units. Ready at a moments notice, Suh!HELEN: [ Looking in direction of mounties ] Wait, they’re turning. They’re coming back. [ Crowds all jeer as they part ranks as though horses going between them. As the eyes of the crowd follow the mounties away Worker 4 picks up a rock and makes ready to throw it after the mounties. Helen tries to stop him but is brushed aside. The others aghast, at first, but then start picking up rocks and hurling them after the mounties. All except Helen and Bray, curse the mounties as they pass ]
COMMENTARY: In the name of the security and protection of the King all herein assembled are instructed to disperse … [ Drowned out by the noise ]HELEN: The mounties are returning. They have their revolvers out.
COMMENTARY: [ Military voice ] At the READY…AIM…FIRE! [ Pause ] [ regular voice ] One bystander is killed instantly.
[ All paralyse looking in direction of Worker 2 as he holds his leg in pain. Hal crawling to extreme stage right where he lies own dying Remains there for remainder of scene ]
COMMENTARY: Dead of gangrene. [ Now all begin to jerk and fall as though being shot and clubbed and trampled by horses. Helen goes to help a half-dazed worker ]HELEN: Here Comrade. I’ll help you [ Screams in pain as head jerks back from clubbing. Arises from momentary unconsciousness ] Run!… Run!
COMMENTARY: Blockaded across each street are the special police. In the right hand of each is half an oxen yoke. In the other hand some have revolvers.
[ All go through action of being clubbed, being shot; falling getting up; stumbling in every direction ]
COMMENTARY: Mommy. Why do people call that little street Hell’s Alley? Come along dear. Don’t ask such things. [ In a few moments that are startled by something at stage left ]
ALL: The goon police!
[ They all retreat to stage right but again confronted ]
COMMENTARY: At each end of the alley cordons of special police, clubs in hand. [ They all go through action of being beaten ]WORKER 4: [ Going through action of fighting back ] Fucking bastards! [ But he is clubbed from one side and then another. Crumples unconscious, as they all do, in tortured heaps. ]
COMMENTARY: Scourge the streets! Find them, find them! Punish! Punish! Punish! Beat! Beat! Beat! Law and Order! Law and Order! [ Slight pause ]
[ As strikers begin crawling off stage helping each other, carrying the unconscious and the dead workers, Commentary continues. ]
We return to work like whipped dogs. Work alongside scabs, Lose seniority. Pensions. Sign allegiance oath. [ With vengeance ] Sign! Sign! Sign! [ Some exiting workers resentfully go the through the action of signing. Some spit in hatred ]. Some are permanently blacklisted. [ Slight Pause ] Troops arrive to take over the streets …trucks with mounted machine-guns patrol back and forth. But the streets are empty of strikers. Bloody Saturday is over.
COMMENTARY: Same qualifications as Commentary in first act [ could be same performer but recommend the part be divided. ]JUDGE: Complete with those mysterious robes they are prone to wear.
COMMENTARY: History books will largely by-pass the participants in the events of these days. Worse. Some will write in heroes who had very little to do with the struggle. This is not to say they were not key martyrs and heroes. There were. And their bravery and suffering matched any. But the genuine ones would not have had it that they were so heavily written in, nor that the rest be so easily passed over.JUDGE: [ Forcefully banging his gavel ] Order in Court!
COMMENTARY: Many “aliens” have been deported. The vast majority of them are unknown to the strike leaders. Those of British backgrounds get a trial. As to fairness? The trial is by jury. The jurists are mostly farmers with little in common with the accused. It is doubted by many, that a similar jury could be found anywhere else in the country.JUDGE: The seven of you: A.A. Heaps; Reverend William Ivens; R.E. Bray;George Armstrong; John Queen; R.J. Johns; W.A. Pritchard, have been jointly charged on six counts of seditious conspiracy which we have spent these many weeks reviewing but may be briefly summarized here:
COMMENTARY: In making his charge to the jury the judge makes it clear that he believes in the guilt of the accused. The defence protests the method of choosing a jury and the prosecution attorney confides to a colleague that with any other jury in the country a conviction would be unlikely. Upon reconvening the jury renders its verdict.JUDGE: I have the jury’s verdicts before me. [ Pause ] A.A. Heaps. Not guilty on all seven counts.
COMMENTARY: A labor alderman in the City of Winnipeg. Member of the Strike Committee. Upholsterer by trade. Only one of the seven to be acquitted on all seven counts Defended himself. His address to the jury took all of one day.JUDGE: Reverend William Ivens. Guilty on all seven accounts. Sentence: one year in Manitoba Prison Farm.
COMMENTARY: Had been ousted from the Methodist church for his pacifist views. Subsequently founded a labour church in the Winnipeg Trade and Labor hall. At the time of his arrest was editor of the Western Labor News. Defended himself. His address to the jury took 14 hours. While in prison, elected to the legislature for the Independent Labor Party, where he served 16 years.JUDGE: R.E. Bray. On six accounts of seditious conspiracy, not guilty. On the charge of committing a common nuisance, Guilty. Sentence: six months in the Manitoba Prison Farm.
COMMENTARY: Soldier. Member of the Strike Committee. Representative from the Soldiers Committee. Philosophically a pacifist. Only joined the army to get work. Subsequently becomes an organiser for the newly-founded One Big Union. Spends his reclining years in Vancouver growing gladiolias.JUDGE: George Armstrong. Guilty on all seven accounts. Sentence: one year in the Manitoba Prison Farm.
COMMENTARY: Member of the Strike Committee. Member and one-time organiser of the United Brotherhood of Carpenter and Joiners of America. Prominent lecturer for the Socialist Party of Canada. While in prison elected to the Manitoba Legislature on a reformist ticket. Subsequently returns to write and speak for the Socialist Party in relative obscurity.JUDGE: John Queen. Guilty on all seven accounts. Sentence: one year in Manitoba Prison Farm.
COMMENTARY: A silver-tongued labor orator. Alderman of the City of Winnipeg. Advertising Manager of the Western Labor News. While in prison, elected to the Manitoba Legislature and subsequently re-elected the rest of his life. Serves terms as the mayor of Winnipeg.JUDGE: R.F. Johns, Guilty on all seven accounts. Sentence: one year in the Manitoba Prison Farm.
COMMENTARY: Railroad machinist. Active member of the Socialist Party of Canada. During entire strike was in Eastern Canada involved in other union activities. His imprisonment results in undue strain on his wife causing him to drop all Socialist activities. He returns to school to become a machinist teacher and ultimately the Manitoba Director of Technical Education.JUDGE: William A. Pritchard. Guilty on all seven accounts. Sentence: one year in the Manitoba Prison Farm.
COMMENTARY: Vancouver organiser for the longshoremen’s union. In Winnipeg on a four-day visit as executive representative of Vancouver Trades and Labour Council. A prominent speaker for the Socialist Party of Canada.
His address to the jury, two days, from 10am to 10pm each, becomes a classic in judicial circles. Pressures from his imprisonment have tragic effect upon his family. He is subsequently the Reeve of Burnaby and is a key factor in the founding of the reformist British Columbia CCF Party. For this latter act some of his fellow socialists never forgave him. In 1979 three years before his death at the age of 93, in his home in Los Angeles he wrote “had the government carried out its initial move there would not have been any trial …Andrews, principal counsel for the crown went one evening to the Penitentiary and announced: By tomorrow you will all be deported to Britain - wives and children to follow…But Armstrong at once called out: Hey Alfie! What are you going to do with me? Send me to Alaska? He was born in York, Toronto. This put the kibush on the hurriedly devised scheme.”
COMMENTARY: Two others are tried separately.JUDGE: F.J. Dixon. For your part in writing and circulating articles in the Western Labor News you are hereby charged with seditious libel.
COMMENTARY: A labor member of the Provincial legislature, undertook the publication of Western Labor News when the others were arrested. Made a stellar performance of conducting his own defence and despite hostile charge from judge, after 40 hours the jury rendered a verdict of not guilty.
COMMENTARY: R.B. Russell is charged on six accounts of seditious conspiracy and one account of common nuisance.JUDGE: R.B. Russell. Guilty on all seven accounts. Sentence: two years in Stoney Mountain Penitentiary.
COMMENTARY: Secretary of Canadian Railroad Machinists. Esteemed to be leader of the strike. Prominent member of the Socialist Party of Canada for which he runs while in prison. He is narrowly defeated by fellow strike supporter, Dixon, on the count of a preferential ballot. Labor throughout the world demands a pardon for him as far away as Glasgow, Scotland threaten a general strike if he is not released. He is pardoned. Upon release, he becomes secretary and main organizer for the newly founded One Big Union. It is Russell’s expressed intention to fight for workers on the industrial field, while at the same time educate them in socialist ideas for the ultimate abolition of capitalism. For a while the OBU makes an impressive impact on the labour scene; its presence being felt in a wide spectrum, including Nova Scotia miners, textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, New York and San Francisco and amongst western lumber workers.
For fifteen years it publishes a weekly journal with union business interspersed with socialist theory. But the writing is on the wall. The OBU has to fight on too many fronts: employers with an understandable mutual antagonism; government; police; and with other unions - first there is the international craft unions, then the international industrial unions - and the Communist Party, whose worm-within and Moscow obedience policy is corned by the OBU. Ultimately the OBU withers to a mere Winnipeg base. After 43 years,a t the founding of the Canadian Labor Congress in 1962 what remained of it is officially disbanded. On Labor Day 1964, four years before his death, Bob Russell is officially recognised as the father of labour in Manitoba. A school and a wing of a children’s hospital are named after him. [ pause ]
In the words of Pritchard at the time: “... in my own mind I rest assured the historian of the future will drive the knife of critical research into the very bowels of the bogey that has been conjured forth out of the imagination of certain luminaries of this city; and placing everything in proper position will appreciate at their worth each fact and each factor; and will appreciate at their proper worth all those persons who have become part and parcel of what has been conceded to be the greatest case in the history of Canada”
Hells Alley is an inconspicuous alley Between Market Avenue and James Avenue, which consists a series of old loading doors and two old rail tracks peeking out from under the gravel.
The Winnipeg General Strike, W.A. Pritchard.
The Impossibilists, Larry Gambone.
Address to Court, J.S Woodworth.
Transcribed from World Socialist No.5, Summer 1986, by ajohnstone