Seattle Union Record

(Seattle: 1900-1928)


Report by Natalia Salinas-Aguila

Abstract: The Seattle Union Record is the most famous of Seattle's labor newspapers. It was in circulation for 28 years, first published as a weekly in 1900, then becoming a daily newspaper in 1918. Owned by the Central Labor Council of Seattle, it played a key role in the 1919 General Strike. Through most of its existence it was edited by Harry B. Ault.

Dates: February 20, 1900-April 2, 1918 weekly: April 24, 1918-1928 daily. It ranged in pages from 6-8, mostly 8 pages.

Circulation increased steadily from its inception, at one point reaching 80,000 subscribers, The subscription fee was at first $1.00 per year and it eventually increased to $1.50. By 1918, the paper was also sold at 5 cents a copy at newsstands, and was being home-delivered.

Owned by the Western Central Labor Union, which was reorganized in 1905 as the Central Labor Council Council of Seattle, predecessor to the King County Labor Council. Its editor from 1900-1912 was Gordon Rice, thereafter Harry B. Ault edited the paper.

Collection: University of Washington Library, microfilm A1659. Collection complete.

"The Union Record will help you win a greater prosperity…the Union Record is the only paper in Seattle that dares to be consistent in its fight for the working man…It gives you all the news the other papers give, and, in addition the news the other papers will not print. It is the one paper that stands between you and industrial slavery…"

Harry B. Ault
Editor, Seattle Union Record
1917

"The Union Record will help you win a greater prosperity…the Union Record is the only paper in Seattle that dares to be consistent in its fight for the working man…It gives you all the news the other papers give, and, in addition the news the other papers will not print. It is the one paper that stands between you and industrial slavery…"

History

On December 20, 1899, during a meeting of the Western Central Labor Union (WCLU)—which was later converted into the Central Labor Council of Seattle, the predecessor to the King County Labor Council—a proposal was approved to publish a labor paper in Seattle, which was to be called the Union Record. It began as a private venture, and the editor in charge was Gordon Rice, who had previously edited a paper called the Labor Gazette.(2)

The first issue came out on February 20, 1900, as a 6-page weekly newspaper. The headlines for that day included things like the notes from the meeting of the WCLU, an editorial discussing "Is Labor Too Modest?", and some words on the international impact of labor in "For Him Who Thinks and Feels". The ending statement from that first edition read, "The Union Record is the medium through which to reach the working people." (3)

By the third edition, the paper had increased to eight pages, and had worked out a new format. Its first pages usually reported on union activities, either locally or nationally, and its long-running articles provided social commentaries on events and issues relating to labor and social justice.

The paper was partly supported by advertising and the ads reveal about the readership. There were ads of various types, everything from soap, to tailoring, to funeral homes. This aspect made it quite obvious that the audience that this paper appeared to reach was a very general one, not simply a labor crowd. Indeed in the early years of the paper, one letter writer worried that the paper was being ignored by those it was intended to serve. In the August 10, 1901 issue, a man states that he was, "sorry it is not very well patronized by union men, as it deserves to be."(4)

It is interesting to note however, that all of these advertisers appear either to be unionized, or sympathizers to the union. This is made clear following a statement and call to the masses:

"The Union Record will not print the ad of any person or firm known by it to be unfair to organized labor. But an advertising contract cannot be broken at the pleasures of the publishers. Let this be notice to all unions to furnish this paper with their unfair list—NOW." (5)

The ‘unfair list’ was composed of those potential advertisers which were unfriendly to unions, thus it was an effective way to organize boycotts and punish anti-union employers.

In its first year and a half, the newspaper called itself The Union Record . As of August 3, 1901, the name changed to The Seattle Union Record. There was no explanation for the change.

It is clear that the paper was a tool for organization, as well as a call to the people of Seattle, and Washington, to become aware of the goings on of the union and labor community. This was achieved through many mediums, with regard to distribution, coverage, and editorials. However, the one main thing I see that really appeals to the public is the rhetoric. Although rhetoric was a common thing for many of these newspapers, that which appears in this newspaper was a very understandable and easily absorbed rhetoric, with much more of a general appeal, not simply for an audience with fixed opinions. It is slightly conservative in that sense, and it differs quite distinctly from other labor or socialist papers of that era.

One point that stood out in the research information with regards to this newspaper was its coverage of the Seattle General Strike of 1919, one of the key events to befall labor in the early twentieth century, and a display of the rampant unionist spirit that Seattle maintained at that time.

The General Strike of 1919

On the dawn of February 8, 1919, the city of Seattle was still. As morning grew, the normal hustle and bustle of the shipyards as well as many other industries, had failed to commence, leaving the city shrouded in quiet and uncertainty. 100,000 workers had walked off the job in Seattle, a great many striking in solidarity with the 35,000 shipyard workers who struck in favor of a wage increase. 60,000 of these workers were unionized, with the possibility of receiving benefits while on strike, yet 40,000 non-union workers sympathized, even with the possibility of losing their jobs. (6) The Seattle General Strike had begun. It was to last four days, until February 11, during which time a well-organized and efficient plan played itself out.

The Seattle Union Record was instrumental in building support for the strike and covering it once it started. The eminent labor radical and writer for the paper, Anna Louise Strong—who wrote under the pen name of Anise—published an editorial regarding the strike, two days before it started. The following is a section of the editorial:

On Thursday at 10 A.M.

There will be many cheering and there will be some who fear. Both these emotions are useful, but not too much of either. We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR in this country, a move which will lead--NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!

We do not need hysteria. We need the iron march of labor.  LABOR WILL FEED THE PEOPLE. Twelve great kitchens have been offered, and from them food will be distributed by the provision trades at low cost to all. LABOR WILL CARE FOR THE BABIES AND THE SICK. The milk-wagon drivers and the laundry drivers are arranging plans for supplying milk to babies, invalids and hospitals, and taking care of the cleaning of linen for hospitals. LABOR WILL PRESERVE ORDER. The strike committee is arranging for guards, and it is expected that the stopping of the cars will keep people at home. (10)

Anise also spoke on that fact that certain people wanted to be disorderly, but that this was not the route to take, considering that the strikers were up against corporations. The only way to win the strike would be "the power of the strikers to manage" the strike.

The strikers tried to provide for the crucial needs to the city, making sure that children, elderly, invalids and hospital patients were well provided for during the strike. Firemen decided to stay on the job, as did laundry workers—although they only handled hospital laundry. If there were vehicles authorized to move, they carried signs reading, "exempted by the general strike committee".(7) Thirty-five neighborhood milk stations were set up throughout the city, accessible by short distances to the families with small children. Meals were prepared each day by striking cooks, who helped to provide food for thirty thousand people. The meals were cooked in large kitchens, then transported to halls all over the city and served cafeteria style. All union members carrying union cards were honored with a twenty-five cent meal, while the general public paid thirty-five cents.

The Mayor, Ole Hanson, was in an outrage. He attempted to persuade the Labor council to call off the strike, and even went as far as to declare the strike to be off himself. He demanded that the city-owned utility company remain in service. He spent an additional $50,000 dollars in tax payer money to call out added police and military support, all money wasted because according to the commander of the U.S. army sent into the area, "In forty years of military experience, he hadn’t seen so quiet and orderly a city." (8)

The Seattle Union Record condemned Hanson's efforts to break the strike. An article called "Hanson Caused All the Trouble", quoted Ben F. Nauman, chair of the Council Strike Committee, as saying that the mayor prolonged the strike by inflaming tensions and issuing false threats of martial law. Hanson was also accused of blatantly lying when he demanded that certain services be resumed. (9)

The strike was a generally peaceful, organized protest, which unfortunately had to be cut off due to pressures on the striking committee from the AFL and various international unions, as well as the difficulties of living in a city that had come to a halt, business-wise. In the eyes of the nation, the strike was portrayed as being put down by Mayor Hanson himself, when he—erroneously—called in troops and deputized approximately 2,400 young men to ‘keep order’. In actuality, the strike came to a close because of simple need. (12)

End of an era

The Seattle Union Record was eventually brought to a close after 28 years of existence, during which time its content had matured, and its audience had grown. It was said to be Harry B. Ault’s "personal achievement as well as his failure." (14) Truthfully, the newspaper was never really well off financially, and being owned by an organization, many of the writers came from the larger member unions. Unfortunately, these people often wrote poorly, which ended up being disastrous for the paper itself. Despite its struggle at the end, it had the fame of being the longest running union-owned daily newspaper, and the one that surpassed the general life span of many of the other papers. It truly made a contribution to labor news and life in the early 20th century.

Mistakes have been made. The man or woman who never makes a mistake never does anything. Earnest men and women prefer to play the role of a trout rather than that of a mud-turtle. They want movement, they want to go forward. They may stumble, they may even fall, but ever will they go forward on the road that will finally lead to a world that is a better place for men and women to live and work in. IT WAS ALL WORTHWHILE. (15)

Editorial, "In Retrospect"
A commentary on the Seattle General Strike

The Union Record, revived

On November 21, 2000, one thousand Pacific Northwest Newspaper guild members went on strike from The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. After a little over a month, the strikers settled negotiations with the P-I, but it took them almost three months to settle with The Times. The central issue behind the strike was the use of salaries and the merit-pay system. After picket lines were established, the Newspaper Guild began to publish a revamped, contemporary version of the Seattle Union Record, which eventually produced 18 print editions and a website. It provided daily general news and highlights on the strike, as well as editorials and social commentaries. On the website it states that, "The purpose of the Union Record was to highlight the work and value of the striking employees in hopes of hastening an end to the strike and to continue to serve the public with journalism the two daily newspapers could no longer provide. That purpose has been served…." (13)

During the strike, The Times and the P-I continued to produce smaller versions of their newspapers using management employees and replacement workers. They were delivered free to subscribers for a time, and sold at a quarter on the stands.

 

Endnotes

  1. Ross Rieder, "Seattle Union Record"@ HistoryLink.org.
  2. Rieder, Seattle Union Record.
  3. Seattle Union Record, February 20, 1900.
  4. Seattle Union Record, August 10, 1901.
  5. Seattle Union Record, June 11, 1900
  6. Seattle General Strike Project; Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States.
  7. Zinn.
  8. Zinn.
  9. Seattle Union Record, February 15, 1919
  10. Seattle Union Record, February 4, 1919
  11. Seattle General Strike Project
  12. The Union Record website is no longer available. It was maintained by the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild.
  13. Ross Rieder, "Seattle Union Record"@ HistoryLink.org.
  14. Seattle Union Record, February 15,1919

Click to enlarge


(February 3, 1919. p.1)

 


(April 24, 1918, p.1)


 


 


 


The General Strike

In early 1919, a majority of Seattle's workers went out on a General Strike and the city shut down for days.  The Seattle Union Record played a key role in the strike, reporting on it as well as disseminating information.


(February 4, 1919, p.4)



(February 1, 1919, p.4)


(February 6, 1919, p.3)


International News

In addition to reporting on labor in the Seattle area, the paper frequently ran articles about workers and strikes in other countries.


(January 12, 1922, p.1)


More than Labor News

The paper contained more than news of the labor movement.  In the paper's latter years, sports pages frequently ran, as well as a "Love, Life, and Laughter" page dedicated to social news.


(January 9, 1922, p.5)


(January 9, 1922, p.6)

 

Copyright (c) 2001 by Natalia Salinas-Aguila