On June 21, 1919 Mike Sokolowski, a Ukrainian immigrant, found himself at the centre of a huge demonstration of strikers in Market Square. Faced with a large and militant demonstration, the Mayor read the riot act and called in troops to quell the uprising. In the riot that followed, Mike Sokolowski was killed instantly by a bullet through the heart. A few days later, a second striker, Steve Skezerbanovicz, died of wounds that had become infected.
The events leading to their deaths began more than one month earlier when at seven o’clock on the morning of May 15, 1919 Winnipeg’s female night shift telephone operators punched off duty. Unlike other days no day shift workers reported to work, in fact, the city’s industry and commerce fell silent as workers began what was to become known as the Winnipeg General Strike. The strike was called by the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council out of sympathy for the city’s building and metal trades workers whose employers would not negotiate with them. The strike lasted more than one month and involved 25,000 workers.
On May 14 a memorial was held at the grave Mike Sokolowski as part of the MayWorks Festival. MayWorks itself was established to commemorate the Winnipeg General Strike through works of art that celebrate the many positive contributions made by working people.