Let’s remember the Seattle General Strike, which began on this day in 1919 (February 6)
65,000 workers walked off the job exactly 100 years ago. It was a strike that would last five days. Seattle was a city with 315,000 people, so a strike of this magnitude made the city basically shut down.
HistoryLink is bearish on its impact:
Never before had the nation seen a labor action of this kind. Many in Seattle were expecting revolution — and a few wanted it — but when 65,000 laborers walked off the job that day, the result was more an eerie calm. Initially, the strike demonstrated the power of union solidarity, but it soon fizzled. For labor, the Seattle General Strike was a glorious folly that led to government crackdowns and to the distrust of the public and the press for a decade to come.
In a pretty nuanced take, the Seattle Times said this morning:
The strike actually shines in retrospect in its meticulous planning. Although nearly every business in town was shuttered, the streets largely empty and quiet, store shelves bare from prestrike panic and some rich people’s homes sitting empty as their inhabitants fled the city to avoid rioting rabble, peace and order prevailed. Strike organizers had drawn up plans to ensure most essential civic needs were met. Using union labor, they fed strikers and nonstrikers, delivered essential goods and even helped police the streets. It worked, although maintaining the structure for a longer strike likely would have been challenging.
A UW history noted that the strike was relatively peaceful, compared with past strikes:
Big strikes in the past had usually led to big violence, but this one remained completely peaceful, and in doing so provided a model for later mobilizations. On the other hand, it was becoming clear that the sympathy strike was not working. Most of the local and national press denounced the strike, while conservatives called for stern measures to suppress what looked to them to be a revolutionary plot. More important, the federal officials charged with managing the shipyards, refused to negotiate. Some of the unions wavered on the strike’s third day. Most others had gone back to work by the time the Central Labor Council officially declared an end on February 11. By then police and vigilantes were hard at work rounding up Reds. The IWW hall and Socialist Party headquarters were raided and leaders arrested. Federal agents also closed the Union Record, the labor-owned daily newspaper, and arrested several of its staff. Meanwhile across the country headlines screamed the news that Seattle had been saved, that the revolution had been broken, that, as Mayor Hanson phrased it, “Americanism” had triumphed over “Bolshevism.” That was not story that most of the strikers would tell, nor the lesson that generations of labor activists would draw from it. The Seattle General Strike lasted only six days, but, in a variety of different ways, has continued to be of interest and importance ever since.
For further reading:
On February 6, 1919, at 10 a.m., the Seattle General Strike begins and paralyzes the city for five days. Never before…historylink.org
In 1919, Seattle's General Strike shut down the city for 6 days - but in the 100 years since, its stories have grown a…www.seattletimes.com