The 1919 Seattle General Strike
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Excerpt from Witness to the Revolution courtesy Stourwater
The Seattle General Strike of February 1919 was the first city-wide labor action in America to be proclaimed a “general strike.” It led off a tumultuous era of post-World War I labor conflict that saw massive strikes shut down the nation's steel, coal, and meatpacking industries and threaten civil unrest in a dozen cities.

The strike began in shipyards that had expanded rapidly with war production contracts. 35,000 workers expected a post-war pay hike to make up for two years of strict wage controls imposed by the federal government.

When regulators refused, the Metal Trades Council union alliance declared a strike and closed the yards. After an appeal to Seattle’s powerful Central Labor Council for help, most of the city’s 110 local unions voted to join a sympathy walkout. The Seattle General Strike lasted less than a week but the memory of that event has continued to be of interest and importance for more than 80 years.
February 6
Strikers PrepareOn the morning of February 6, 1919, Seattle, a city of 315,000 people, stopped working. 25,000 union members had joined the 35,000 already on strike. Much of the remaining work force was idled as stores closed and streetcars stopped running. The General Strike Committee, composed of delegates from the key striking unions, tried to coordinate vital services and negotiate with city officials, but events moved quickly beyond their control.
Americanism vs. Bolshevism?
Serving foodMost 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. Mayor Ole Hanson, elected the year before with labor support, armed the police and threatened martial law and federal troops. 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.”
Understanding the Strike
No one knows whereThis multimedia website explores the history and consequences of the Seattle General Strike of 1919. Here you will find original research reports, oral histories, digitized newspaper articles and other important documents, photographs, and extensive bibliographic materials. Start by watching a 4-minute video about the Seattle General Strike. This excerpt from Witness to Revolution: The Story of Anna Louis Strong contains original film footage from 1919. Produced and directed by Lucy Ostrander and used here with permission, the excerpt is part of an award-winning 27 minute documentary film biography of Anna Louise Strong, Seattle's most famous radical. Daren Salter has created a dramatic slide show that tells the story of the strike with photos and headlines illustrating key events.

Here are several other accounts of the February 1919 events. Start with Roberta Gold’s article from the Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide and "An Account of What Happened in Seattle and Especially in the Seattle Labor Movement, During the General Strike, February 6 To 11, 1919" written by Anna Louise Strong and members of the General Strike Committee. The Tacoma Public Library has a compilation of more detailed articles (starting with Edwin Short’s account of the strike in Tacoma, followed by Robert Friedheim’s article on the strike in Seattle, and memoir accounts by Art Shields and Harvey O’Connor). Also take a look at Sinan Demeril’s strike timeline.
Maps, Photographs, Documents

Here is an interactive map the shows the location of important events and union headquarters in 1919. Use it to plan a walking tour of downtown Seattle. Here is a selection of fascinating photographs from the strike.

The Labor Archives of Washington State has digitized more than a hundred important documents from the strike, including pamphlets, minutes of strike committee meetings, IWW leaflets, and reports of agents hired to spy on labor activists.

David Beck

In 1977, Professor Rob Rosenthal interviewed 35 men and women who participated in or remembered the 1919 General Strike. Rosenthal has generously agreed to share these oral histories with the Seattle General Strike Project. These audio MP3 files and transcripts comprise a rare and valuable resource. The narrators speak not only about the events of 1919 but about later aspects of Pacific Northwest labor and political history. Dave Beck is the most famous of the men and women interviewed. Later to serve as President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Beck was 24 years old at the time of the General Strike, newly discharged from the Navy and was part of a group of Teamsters who opposed the strike.

NewspaperThe General Strike was headline news around the world. In Seattle, the newspaper coverage was much more intense. Here is a day-by-day record of coverage in the city's four daily newspapers: The Seattle Union Record, Seattle Times, Seattle Star, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. View the database of more than 180 articles and click the titles to read them online.

Town CrierA fascinating and complicated history of labor movements and radical activism in Washington state set the context for the General Strike. The reports that follow explore a variety of issues, including the role of the IWW in the strike; the the way that the labor movement responded to women workers and to the African American community; how the national media covered the strike. In addition, there are reports on key unions and organizations like the right-wing Minutemen; reports on earlier strikes; and biographical essays on Anna Louise Strong, Mayor Ole Hanson, and University of Washington President Henry Suzzallo. Students in Professor James Gregory's History 498 course spent spring quarter 1999 researching and writing some of these reports. Students of History 353 added additional reports in Spring 2003. The reports are described on the Research Papers page. They are listed below.

The Politics of Gender in the Writings of Anna Louise Strong by Rebecca Jackson
The Industrial Workers of the World in the Seattle General Strike by Colin Anderson
African-Americans and the Seattle Labor Movement by Jon Wright
Women and the Seattle Labor Movement by Lynne Nguyen
How the National Press Reported the General Strike by Sheila Shown
Spying on Labor: The Seattle Minute Men by Susan Newsome
Campus Kaiser: Henry Suzzallo, the University of Washington and WWI Labor Politics by Patrick Farrell
International Shingle Weavers of America by Phil Emerson
Mayor Ole Hanson: Fifteen Minutes of Fame by Trevor Williams
Shipyard Workers on the Eve of the General Strike by Patterson Webb
Seattle Newspapers Report on Shipyard Workers in 1918 by Patterson Webb
Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen by Erik Mickelson
The International Union of Timberworkers 1911-1923 by Chris Canterbury
Laundry Workers Struggle for Recognition 1916-17 by Kimberley Reimer
The Seattle Telegraphers Lockout of 1918 by David Radford
The Mooney Congress and the 1919 Seattle General Strike by Stan Quast
The IWW, the Newspapers, and the 1913 Seattle Potlatch Riot by James Larrabee
Where Women Worked During World War I by Tae H. Kim
Washington State's 1911 Workmen's Compensation Act: The Newspaper Coverage by Ryan Deibert
Perceptions of Race in the Seattle Union Record by Chad Seabury

Commemorating the Strike
Album cover On February 7, 2009, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies and the M.L. King County Labor Council hosted "Celebrating Seattle's Strike History: 90th Anniversary of the Seattle General Strike" at the Seattle Labor Temple (click link for details and video) . Ten years earlier the University of Washington Library produced an online "Strikes!" exhibit of rare photographs and documents to honor the 80th anniversary. Commemorations of this sort are an important part of the legacy of the Seattle General Strike. They show how the strike lives on, inspiring new generations to think about labor, social justice, and radical activism. One of the most important commemorative projects was the rock opera Seattle 1919 which tells the story of the general strike in lyrics and music. Composed by Rob Rosenthal, Seattle 1919 was recorded by the Fuse. The band performed the full rock opera in Seattle on May 1, 1989, shortly after the 70th anniversary of the strike. Here is more about the rock opera and you can listen to one of the songs.
For Teachers

This lesson plan by Omar Crowder is designed for an 11th grade class. Click here. It satisfies national and state standards and requires students to write an opinion-editorial (op-ed) piece and give a class presentation. It is made available by the Northwest History Consortium of the Northwest Educational Service District. NWEWSD's area includes 35 public school districts and several private schools in Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties.

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