The 1919 Seattle General Strike
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The National Press and the Seattle General Strike

By Sheila M. Shown
The Town Crier was a literary magazine published in Seattle between 1912 and 1937 and this is an article it ran on February 15th about the Seattle General Strike.  Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries. Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives Division.

Strikes occur whenever a significant number of people (usually belonging to a union) believe that their working condition is oppressive and unacceptable. Such a movement took place in the first half of the twentieth century. The laborers at the Seattle Shipyard felt their wages were unfair, they tried to appeal to the Emergency Fleet Corporation and the Macy Board, and felt they were getting nowhere. Other laborers could sympathize with them because they were concerned about their wage, unions losing ground, and about losing certain rights they had gained. The shipyard unions approached the other Seattle unions (and those outside Seattle as well) for support. After several debates and several votes taken the majority of unions had decided to support the shipyard workers by going on a general strike. They felt the only way to better their life was for all of labor to join together and strike at the same time. The Seattle General Strike was scheduled to and did begin on February 6, 1919.

     Several newspapers were in support of labor making certain advances. However, the Seattle General Strike was viewed to be something more. Labor was aiming to shut an entire city down and maybe even more. Some newspapers began to publish paranoia articles such as "UNDER WHICH FLAG?" and to imply that the unions were pushing for a ‘Bolshevik Revolution’. These newspapers played on people’s fear of losing their democracy even though that wasn’t really the case. Many authors and newspaper articles tried to make it appear like there was no support for the general strike. They were even quick to point out how the American Federation of Labor and all the internationals were against it. It is my belief though that most of labor was actually quite in support of it but just too afraid to openly support such a radical idea. Surely a lot more support can be found in the newspapers than what many people would like to believe.

The New York Times

     Because it is clear across the United States, New York does not appear to be as interested in the Seattle General Strike. The New York Times does not even mention that it is going to occur until February 4. The first day that massive coverage really begins is February 7. Practically every article about the sympathy strike is information obtained from Seattle-area newspapers, but not all. I find it interesting what types of things they chose to include in their newspaper. For instance, they chose to put in, "restaurants and theatres closed their doors."

     On the front page of the 8 February edition of The New York Times in the very first column was the title, "SEATTLE TO FACE ARMY RULE UNLESS STRIKE ENDS TODAY." This is ironic because the whole reason why citizens are upset is because their Democratic lifestyle is threatened, but if they were being monitored by federal troops how much better off would their life be than that of the citizens in the revolutionist Russia. You would think that citizens would rather give into the Seattle Shipyard demands to end the Seattle General Strike before they would be willing to have their lives monitored by an army.

     One issue I found very interesting in The New York Times was how much space of its coverage of the general strike was given to talking about the soldiers and artillery. It points out that Mayor Hanson said that the strikers would not be allowed to operate the light plant despite what they said because they would not be allowed to control the government. Instead, it was published, "soldiers occupied the municipal light and gas plants, which have continued in operation." This means that all the deliberation the strike committee had on whether or not to allow the light and gas plants to be operated didn’t matter and the strikers weren’t given an opportunity to decide who would receive those commodities while they were on strike. Thus indicating that it did no good for them to go on strike at all because they were powerless.

     "MARSHALL OFFERS AMERICAN CREED," was another title displayed on the front page of the 8 February issue. This was a copy of a speech that the United States Vice President Marshall gave to the National Press Club. Following is an excerpt from this speech:

"I believe that America belongs to American citizens, native and naturalized, who are willing to seek redress for their grievances in orderly and constitutional ways, and I believe that all others should be taught, peacefully if we can and forcibly if we must, that our country is not an international boarding house nor an anarchist café.

I pledge myself to the support of these principles by my voice, by vote, and, if need be, by my fortune and my life, and I promise my country to train my children in this most holy faith."

     By saying that he believes ‘America belongs to American citizens,’ he is indicating that he believes that it belongs to those who agree with what he thinks are its ideals and that anyone who is against those is not American. Next, he says that citizens should ‘seek redress for their grievances in orderly and constitutional ways,’ meaning by vote and through the court system and the like. However, what he does not address is what to do if a large group of citizens, such as the Seattle Shipyard workers, go through the proper legal process and are denied what they feel are their rights because others have more power. If the ‘democratic’ way does not work because in reality it is the people with money who control all of the decisions, would it then be right to revolt and take a less proper route to solve your problems? I think the men who fought against Britain in the American Revolution would think so. Vice President Marshall, on the other hand, thinks these individuals should be ‘forcibly’ taught his way of doing things, which is definitely not democratic. What I find ironic, is that he says he pledges his beliefs with his ‘fortune’ and his ‘life,’ which sounds like something a Southern slave-owner would have said during the Civil War. It is the idea that ‘I don’t care what is right or rational and I am going to keep on believing what I want whether you like it or not for the mere reason that I have the money to do so.’ Marshall even went as far as to say that he would deny an American of his/her citizenship if they supported such things as Bolshevism. For The New York Times to publish an article of a high federal government official on the front page had to have a major impact on how people felt about the Seattle General Strike in America, especially when it was widely circulated. If someone had supported/sympathized with the strike, he/she might find it disagreeable or dangerous to do such a thing after this article was published.

     Force seems to really matter to The New York Times. Every article regarding the Seattle General Strike indicates this. For instance, when the newspaper is introducing Mayor Hanson the title reads, "OLE HANSON A MAN OF FORCE. Seattle Mayor Direct and Democratic in His Methods." It praises him for forcibly putting down the strikers, especially because he used to be, "a radical before he was elected Mayor of Seattle by the Business Men’s party." He is one of those individuals who was brought over to the way of thinking that Vice President Marshall felt was proper and was even supported then by the ‘Business’ Men. This is the strong feeling I received from The New York Times. This is the idea that the Businessmen and people with money are what matter, what they believe to be the correct politics is democracy, and that they will use all their money and power to ensure this.

     On 9 February in the first column on the first page there is a subtitle that says, "Citizens Announce to the Nation That They Will Not Treat with Revolutionists." This is significant because it is referring to all the men striking in Seattle as revolutionist just like the Bolsheviks. What is also interesting is that the title implies that all citizens feel this way, but if you read the article it is referring to the opinion of the Citizens’ Committee, which represents, "the business interests." In other words, what matters to The New York Times is not how all citizens feel, but again just how the businessmen and men of wealth feel. This is that Americans will do things their way. Thus, Seattle is praised because, as the main title says, "SEATTLE CALMED BY QUICK ACTION OF AUTHORITIES." So even though the strikers in Seattle are seen as un-American reds, the city of Seattle itself is attributed as being great because of its quick and effective response to squash the rebellion.

     Much of the credit of ending the strike is attributed to, "Seattle’s Mayor a Champion of Order and Always Willing to Battle for It." Dr. Eaton preached this in the middle of his eulogy for Colonel Roosevelt at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church:

"I know Ole Hanson. He realized at once that this strike was not a labor strike based on grievances. He knew it for what it was intended to be, and he acted. He warned those people that they were still in America. It remains to be seen if the Government is made of mollycoddlers or men."

     This is a very powerful message, especially because it is coming from a minister. Even though not everyone was a faithful Christian back then, people still highly respected what ministers said. After all we do have a very Puritanical heritage and many of the men who founded our country were religious. Dr. Eaton makes a powerful assumption that the Seattle General Strike didn’t really have to do with the Seattle Shipyard wage problems and the Macy Board, but rather was just that some un-American laborers wanted to start a revolution like the one in Russia. He then goes on to say, however, that Mayor Hanson ‘warned those people that they were still in America,’ meaning that Hanson used force against them.

     The New York Times published after the strike, "That Decent Workers Have Quit I. W. W." This is very important to the newspaper because it is so patriotic and against anyone or anything that threatens its America. Being an American and from America is so important to the newspaper that on 2 February they published an article called, "AMERICANIZATION A COMMUNITY PROBLEM." This article dealt with how many new immigrants had come over during the war years and how it was affecting America. It stated that:

"It is not difficult to state what Americanization means. To assimilate peoples of foreign birth into American is, to make newcomers loyal to democratic institutions, to prevent alien communities in our cities, in general to [make] a truly national spirit—every one recognizes the problem."

     This extract from The New York Times explains why they took the stance they did on the coverage of the Seattle General Strike. What mattered most to it was protecting the democratic institutions. So much so that they were willing to support the deportation of any American citizen or of having rights taken away from them. Because of World War I American patriotism had risen and because of the Bolshevik Revolution many Americans felt the need to protect democracy. It is because of this that The New York Times went through great lengths to condemn the Seattle General Strike and use it as an example of what would happen to those who try to destroy democracy.

 

The Chicago Tribune

     The Chicago Tribune does not begin coverage until about the same time as The New York Times because it is not directly concerned with the crisis either. While it is definitely against the Seattle General Strike, it does not seem to put as much emphasis on force and the democracy of businessmen like the previous newspaper. The Chicago Tribune was primarily focused on the same issues as the local (Seattle and surrounding areas) general readership newspapers. For instance, it mentioned the military occupation, connections with bolshevism/I. W. W. ism, and how the strike would not only disrupt daily life but was also unpopular.

     Even though newspapers indicated how afraid the cities were of violence, circumstances remained rather peaceful. The Chicago Tribune mentions that a number of soldiers were called into Seattle and Tacoma. It went on to say that between the soldiers they had "battalions", a machine gun company", and "200 hand grenades." The United States Secretary of War arranged to have this army in the area because Governor Lister had advised him of the devastating situation in the Seattle/Tacoma area. With 60,000-70,000 people out of work everyone was afraid that turmoil and crime would occur. Various incidents illustrate this point, such as the Superintendent of the municipal line saying that the municipal streetcars wouldn’t operate until, "Chief of Police J.F. Warren can provide one and possibly two truck loads of police to go out with every car." I do not know how big a streetcar is, but I do know that two truckloads of police sounds like a lot of enforcement. If this much protection is needed the strikers must be really violate people, right? However, the newspaper shows in many ways how the strikers were actually orderly and humane. For instance, the strike committee mentioned that, "milk for babies and invalids will be dispensed at ten depots," not just available to the strikers’ families, but to anyone who had need of it. This is just one of the many ways that the strikers tried to show that they were not trying to devastate the community and destroy the lives of decent citizens. They wanted everyone to know that they were only doing what they felt they had to do in order to obtain decent wages. The Chicago Tribune also mentions in several articles that there had been no violence. Despite this fact the whole city was becoming an armed military base. The fact that government officials and businessmen were so paranoid proves at least how much power they felt the working class population had if they felt the only way to prevent havoc was with weapons.

     I found it interesting how concerned the newspapers seemed to be about really trivial matters. One of the phrases used in the newspaper is that, "Horses and buggies appeared on the streets and old, decrepit automobiles were brought from retirement." The terminology used in this sentence is extremely negative. It uses the words ‘old’ and ‘decrepit’ which indicates that it is falling apart and therefore dangerous. So even though the strikers may not directly causing violence, their actions could cause serious injuries. Also, by lumping ‘Horses and buggies appeared on the streets’ in the same sentence as this negative terminology, it insinuates that having to do such a thing as this would be almost just as horrible and that it should be unheard of. However, it was not until about a decade earlier that automobiles even came out so I cannot see how it would be so horrible to use ‘horses and buggies.’

     One of the main points of the Chicago Tribune, like many other newspapers tried to get across was that no one was really for the Seattle General Strike. While the newspaper tries to convince you of this, however, it reveals in its own pages that there was quite a bit of support for the strikers’ cause. For example, look at this passage:

Steamship operators were worried over the handling of fresh fish shipments due from Alaska and fruits and vegetables coming from California, because of the strike of the longshoremen, who, defying their international officers, have virtually tied up coastwise and offshore traffic.

     The newspaper included this section to prove how retched the strikers were and how they were defying their personal authority (their internationals). However, one kind extract more from the article. For instance, the fact that it admits that the strike has ‘virtually tied up coastwise and offshore traffic’ is very important because through so many articles it says that the strike achieved nothing. This confession would make it appear as if the strikers had really proved/achieved something (this being that they had power if united). The second part I find interesting is that is says ‘defying their international officers.’ The officers were just a few people who belonged to the international and therefore maybe the whole international wasn’t against the Seattle General Strike, but rather just a few bought out labor politicians.

     Before the Seattle General Strike actually began, there was an idea put forward to prevent citywide paralysis that a committee be sent to negotiate with the shipping board, consisting half of union men and businessmen. As the general strike was coming to a close (February 8) the strike committee offered to recommend that the sympathetic strike of 30,000 workers be called off if the mayor’s committee would agree that a committee of business men would be formed to present the demands of the 25,000 striking metal trades workers for higher wages to the proper shipping board authorities and urge that they be granted.

     The mayor’s committee took the stand that the shipyard workers were under a contract with the government and that nothing could be done until the men showed good faith by returning to work.

     If I were a striker, this article would cause a lot of problems for me. The reason is that the strikers are merely recommending actions that were given to them in order to prevent the general strike not that long ago and the mayor is not going along with it. Does this mean that businessmen weren’t really sincere in their proposal and that now that they saw everything was going their way would not be willing to help out the longshoremen in any way? Another problem with the above article is that the mayor’s committee’s words seem to echo the infamous Piez’s words. If the city government is merely repeating words of the untrustworthy and despised Piez, why should the sympathetic strikers stop striking in hopes of a reasonable agreement being met?

     The strike committee says frankly that the movement thus begun ‘will lead no one knows where.’ Seattle is told that it is not in the throes of bolshevism, but that the city is seized by a more cunning movement, a rule of workingmen intending to run all the public business in sanity and efficiency. Seattle is told not to be afraid.

     This article is attempting to use an article written by Anna Louise Strong, and published by the Seattle Union Record, in order to install view in general readership viewers. It uses sarcasm to do this. For instance, it says that the movement is not the torments of bolshevism, but that it is a more ‘cunning movement,’ indicating that really it is a hidden form of bolshevism. It establishes this idea further by accusing strikers of seizing the city or confiscating it for their own purposes instead of dealing with issues through a democratic government. Also, the fact that such sarcasm is used in the beginning of this passage makes it seem that maybe there is irony in the latter part as well, meaning that the idea of workingmen being able to run public business in sanity and efficiency is ludicrous.

     In the 9 February issue of Chicago Tribune an article of Mayor Ole Hanson was printed. The title started off in big, bold letters: HERE’S A MAYOR! It went on to say, "Two-Fisted Talk by Ole Hanson, Seattle’s Executive, Touching the Strike, the I. W. W., and Americanism." Hanson starts off his speech by saying that unions ‘under the stress of war’ have allowed ‘every bolshevik and I. W. W.’ to join, and that ‘these men have secured control of many labor organizations.’ This is his way of trying to give labor the benefit of a doubt for having such a crazy idea as shutting down a whole city. He is saying it is not your fault labor, but rather these radicals who slipped in during the duress caused by the War. Ole then goes on to point out how these men are ‘foes of organized government’ and that men really ‘went out unwillingly in most instances.’ In other words he is saying that anyone who was for the strike is a Bolshevik/I. W. W. radical and that if you are not a radical than you didn’t really want to go on strike, even though you did do it. This, however, makes no sense at all. If it was believed to be true that the American Federation of Labor, the union internationals, several local unions, and all levels of government were against the idea of a general strike, why would someone allow himself and his families lives to be throne in turmoil just to please the Central Labor Council? Wouldn’t he only being willing to allow such trouble into his and/or his family’s life if he really supported the idea of a general strike?

     Ole Hanson goes on in this speech to say that:

"Gathered here are hundreds and thousands of Russian bolsheviki who have arrived here during the last two years. These scoundrels want to take possession of our American government and try to duplicate the anarchy of Russia."

     Here he is not just insinuating that there are a few radicals in leadership trying to disrupt American democracy, but that there are ‘hundreds and thousands of Russian bolsheviki.’ Some of the sentiments toward bolshevism were described earlier in the New York Times section of this paper. For the mayor of Seattle to reveal that thousands had invaded their home would probably arouse a lot of irrational fear. The same sort of irrational fear that caused Americans to put other Americans into Japanese internment camps during World War II. It is obvious that the Chicago Tribune published such an extensive article of Hanson’s speech in order to show its own citizens how terrorism had invaded the democratic United States and to encourage patriotism so that such an incident would not happen there.

     In the Chicago Tribune also appeared the words, "If any one owes higher allegiance to any organization than they do to this country, they are traitors and should be treated as such." With such a strong statement as this appearing in major newspapers across the country, it is easy to understand why so many individuals would declare that they weren’t in support of the general strike and would be making attempts to remove high union officials in order to prove this. Americans have always had a lot of pride in their heritage and do not want to be unpatriotic. This is evident in the fact that the Seattle Shipyard workers did not earnestly pursue higher wages during the war. Another reason why such statements as this one might have scared people into denouncing the general strike is that those in support of the sympathetic strike were traitors and ‘should be treated as such.’ To be declared a traitor of the United States government was not exactly a light offense. In fact it could very well cost a person his life besides losing all of his possessions and his social standing. It is no wonder that there appeared to be an, "evident lack of public sympathy."

     An article was written by the Chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission for the Chicago Times. The title was "Thoughts for the Times Prompted by Conditions in Seattle and Butte." His call was for the citizens of Chicago to unite together to restore industry so that disorder would not come there as it had to Seattle. This shows that Chicago did think that it was possible that an event like that could happen in their own city if the labor problems were not taken care of and thus that they did not feel that it was unique to Seattle. He then uses the strikes to call Chicago citizens to pursue, "Big public improvements inuring to the welfare of the people at large" and that this "will give employment to hundreds of thousands of unemployed, who otherwise might become dependents and the nuclei of revolution."

     The first federal blow against the wave of bolshevism launched on the Pacific coast was revealed to THE TRIBUNE yesterday when fifty-four radical agitators passed through Chicago in two heavily guarded tourist sleepers, bound for immediate deportation from an Atlantic port.

     This article appeared in the Chicago Tribune concerning the I. W. W. members who were deported out of Seattle and brought to Chicago on there way out of the country. They were arrested a few hours before the Seattle General Strike was called. The article said that, "The bulk of the men were alien labor agitators picked up by officers of the United States immigration service during a year of secret campaigning in industrial centers of the Pacific coast." This sentence would really alarm me if I were a reader. The reason is because it says that the United States government is monitoring every citizen’s every move in order to try to maintain order and therefore I would realize that I don’t have any privacy and would be afraid I might do something wrong.

The Morning Oregonian

     The Morning Oregonian began coverage of the Seattle General Strike way before the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, not only because it is closer to Seattle, but also because of its location near the coast it could suffer from the same threat of labor turmoil. One of the main goals of The Morning Oregonian in covering the general strike situation is to make it seem unpopular and to prevent it from happening in its own city. It presents the idea that most laborers did not really want to go out on strike but somehow were forced to. The newspapers even tried to say that, "strikes in the Pacific Northwest were due to foreigners, who should be deported."

     Many people felt that the laborers had rushed or been led into this movement and did not think about the consequences. Some evidence of this is the fact that one of the articles published in several of the general public newspapers (including The Morning Oregonian) is titled "Facts That the Men Must Recognize." If you have to ‘recognize’ something that implies that you cannot perceive it or do not understand what something is. Thus, these laborers are so emotionally running into this situation that they haven’t fully examined the circumstances and the problems that could occur and therefore to not ‘recognize’ the facts. While other newspapers, such as the Chicago Tribune, published this same article, it took up an entire page in The Morning Oregonian instead of a tiny section. The fact that this newspaper would blow up the article to take up so much valuable newspaper space indicates how close to home the newspaper felt the situation was.

     Many people were worried about how the Seattle General Strike would affect each individual’s personal life and the city itself. One thing that people were concerned about was how it would damage industry. They were worried about labor taking over America and democracy ending. Also, "Trouble Ahead [was] Foreseen, Violence [was] Feared and Some Will Have Hard Time Getting Food."

     One article was labeled "Strike Laid to Trickery" and was about how not many more than the boilermakers union wanted the general strike. In fact it said that, "In this vote 2037 boilermakers voted in the affirmative and 1 against….The striking ironworkers thus cast half the ballots for the general paralysis of business, while unions not directly affected by the Macy wage scale were against the walkout." This makes it sound like not even Seattle laborers were in support of the general strike. What must be realized however are the words ‘in this vote’. Exactly how many votes were taken and precisely which one of them is this one talking about. Several times throughout all the newspapers it mentions how each individual union voted on the issue itself and voted in favor of the general strike. The newspapers even published the ratio of votes for each union. Therefore, I can hardly see how it was simply a boilermakers strike that others were unwillingly being dragged into.  But, as everyone knows, only a comparatively small proportion of the members attend these open meetings. These meetings are run by the more aggressive and more radical members, who may be entirely sincere, but who frequently have no interests at stake excepting their own personal interests, who have no families, no property and many of whom are not even citizens.

     I sincerely disagree with this statement because it disregards human nature. While it may very well be true that many do not attend the regular everyday meetings, I find it very hard to believe that a person would not attend a meeting that would so drastically change their life and seriously affect his family. To examine this one just has to look at the past. Most Americans do not vote during the election because they don’t feel like what they think matters or just because they don’t care. However, whenever there is an extremely controversial and important issue at hand a lot more turn out to the poles. Plus, those who don’t turn out to the poles must see nothing wrong with the way things are run or they would be doing something about it.

     Another common theme throughout general public newspapers was that the Seattle General Strike was a Bolshevist or socialist revolution. One article utters, "Citizens Grimly Mutter: ‘This is Bolshevism.’" and another that, "Armed Troops Ready to Quell Bolshevik Spirit." What could it possibly mean for newspapers to refer to the labor movement to the Bolshevists? To understand the psychological impact this would have had on readers one must first look at how people felt about Bolshevism at the time. This can be extracted from an article from the New York Times:

When Islam had won Arabia it set forth to conquer Syria and Egypt, but meanwhile had to repress rebellions within Arabia itself. Bolshevism, having overrun Russia, goes to overrun the world, but at the same time must put down counter-revolution at home.

     First of all, take notice that preceding the mention of Russia it talks about Islam conquering places and spreading. This was something to be feared in the United States, which was a Protestant country. A country that had such a strong Puritan/Protestant heritage that they wouldn’t even elect a Catholic as President until the 1960’s, which is still a Christian religion. Plus, there has been a long history of hostility between Christians and Muslims in their fight to save the world for their own god. This article not only talks about Bolshevism trying to take over the world, but also lumps it into the same category of a much/long hated religious group. There was much fear after World War I that a revolution would occur in the United States as the one had in Russia. For instance, in response to the Prohibitionist movement, "One report…said that if the dry forces won finally there was a danger of the United States going to a Socialist party basis." This idea of a revolution occurring in the U.S. would install a lot of fear in many people who were used to a democratic, capitalist system. Communism was a new and frightening idea to many/most Americans and was a topic much discussed in newspapers. The newspaper writers played on these fears (just like advertising agents) to sell their view, whether it was for anti-Prohibition or against the Seattle General Strike.

     This statement from Piez was published in many newspapers:

They have deliberately disregarded the covenant made with the United States Government through the Emergency Fleet Corporation. I have been besought by many citizens of Seattle who are desirous of avoiding the consequences of the probable strike of all crafts in the Seattle district tomorrow to conciliate and mediate, but I have taken the position that these men must stick to their agreement as we have stuck to ours. If this agreement is not adhered to what agreement can be adhered to?

     So much can be extracted from this passage. First, the idea that the laborers are ‘deliberately’ doing something means that they know what they are doing and are doing it with a premeditated purpose. When one thinks about the word ‘disregarded’ they think of something being trashed or abandoned. The fact that this word is being used to describe an action against a covenant is extremely powerful. More likely than not, most people of that time probably consciously or unconsciously associate the word covenant with a pact between man and God, such as the Ten Commandments. By wording the phrase this way it makes it seem like the laborers are evil and not just against Piez or Seattle, but against the Creator. Piez goes on to say that he is only unwilling to compromise because of the agreement that was made and that if the Federal government was keeping its end of the bargain then the laborers should too. He finishes by saying ‘If this agreement is not adhered to what agreement can be adhered to?’ to point out how useless it would be to discuss anything further with the union laborers.

     Laborers did not trust Piez because of their previous dealings with him and the Macy Board. The labor replied to the statement in the above paragraph by charging:

that the Fleet Corporation ‘violated the terms of the memorandum (Macy agreement) by first forcing both workers and employers to accept the Macy board award through its threat to cut off the supply of materials to any yard or district that entered into an agreement with its employees.

     ‘Violated’ essentially means the same thing as disregarded and so the laborers are using the same word to discredit the Fleet Corporation as it used against the laborers. This passage then accuses the organization of causing this violation by forcing ‘workers and employers to accept the Macy board award.’ Therefore this statement implies that the agreement was never valid and therefore could not have been broken by the laborers. It also implies that everything would work out okay if only the laborers and employers could enter ‘into an agreement’ of their own. This sentiment against Piez and blaming him for the labor trouble pours out through even some of the general readership newspapers, such as Tacoma Daily Ledger.

     An article in The Morning Oregonian in one of its sub-headlines says, "Idle, Foodless Men Begin to Grumble Menacingly." This paints a very repulsive picture of the union laborer. When someone reads the word ‘idle’ they think of a sub-human being who is lazy and wasteful. The picture of this horrible person is then added by the idea that the person is foodless, which causes one to think of them as a bum or derelict. So now a hardworking laborer who is just trying to make a better world to live in for himself has been transformed into an unwanted street person.

     There were quite a few people outside of Seattle who supported/saw merit in the strike as well, such as in Tacoma, Bellingham, Oakland, San Francisco, Denver Miners’ Magazine, Revolutionary Age, etc. The Morning Oregonian stated that, "No votes were taken and the sentiment seemed to indicate that a sympathy strike in Portland at this time is unwise." This statement does not mean that Portland did not see merit in the Seattle General Strike or that they didn’t support their former laborers. It simply means that they were cautious and aware of all that was going on in their lives and felt that the timing was ‘unwise’, not the idea. It seems that so much can and is twisted in the general readership newspapers. This could be due to the fact that many of them are businessmen.

     While it is in continual pursuit to prove how unpopular the Seattle General Strike is, The Morning Oregonian actually reveals how many citizens didn’t care about what was going on with the strike. For instance, take a look at this quote:

When informed later that this group of well-dressed, orderly men was only a small part of the army of 25,000 or 30,000 striking shipyard employes, they displayed no more interest than if the men had been waiting for the doors of a picture show to open. Their ignorance and their indifference are typical of the Seattle attitude toward the shipyard strike.

This shows how the average citizen didn’t seriously think about the general strike being some sort of antidemocratic revolution and that it wasn’t something that really concerned them.

Tacoma Daily Ledger

     The Tacoma Daily Ledger begins its coverage of the Seattle General Strike rather early because it is so close to Seattle and is somewhat a part of the same situation. It is quite different from most of the newspapers I have read that covered the Seattle General Strike. It almost always includes articles that tell both sides of the story in an attempt to put forward the truth. While it absolutely does not condone a general strike, it does try a lot more than the other newspapers to understand what the problem is and to find the truth.

     On January 28 the Tacoma Daily Ledger has as the subtitle for one of its articles, "Barrett Says Unions Are Open to Any Bona Fide Offer for Settlement." This type of headline is rare in other newspapers because it is showing sympathy for labor and that labor is trying to compromise. Most newspapers feel that labor is being completely irrational. The article explains how citizens, "saw a grave situation apparently facing the community." However, it does not blame the economic loss on the laborers, but rather with the Emergency Fleet Corporation and Piez. It goes on to say that, "A further loss to the community is that of hundreds of workmen including many skilled workers, who are leaving the city." This statement points out another unique aspect of this newspaper’s coverage. The idea that the workers entertaining the idea of the general strike are valuable and are citizens of the community.

     The Tacoma Daily Ledger spends much newspaper space on O. S. Larson’s attempts to compromise with the shipyard workers and thus prevent a general strike. His idea was to form a board consisting of three Tacoma laborers and three Tacoma businessmen, and then for the board to present the case together to the Emergency Fleet Corporation, the Macy Board, and the labor department. The Tacoma Central Labor Council was against this, however, because they did not want to seek separate litigation from Seattle concerning the wage dispute. The Council also felt that their efforts would be wasted in trying to work anything more out with Piez, the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and the Macy Board. An article written by a union man said:

Could the addition of a few men unfamiliar with details of the situation add strength to our former delegation of what we consider our most competent members?

...Have the Piezs and Macys who misrepresent our government had a change of heart? NO. The only outcome of Mr. Larson’s proposed action would be a second denial of our request and another challenge to strike.

     Another man at the Labor Council said this concerning the general strike idea:

The only salvation is the general strike. It may have been a failure before, it may be one now. But I tell you this, if the capitalists see all the stores closed, the business up and down the streets at a standstill, profits ceased, they will realize your power.

     In this way the newspaper is revealing how desperate the laboring class feels about their situation and not just declaring them Bolshevik or I. W. W.. While the Tacoma Daily Ledger did present both sides of the labor dispute, it did seem to indicate that it felt Larson’s proposal was a good idea and that labor shouldn’t strike unless it had no other options. This is indicated by it including in the same article that:

A lot of men on strike are not in favor of it. I am not in favor of tying up the whole city. It would bring widespread hardship, now felt by many. I believe the proposition for an attempt to settle the strike presented by Mr. Larson is fair to all.

     However, while the newspaper views are obvious, it still strives to present both sides of the story. For instance, it includes an article describing how laborers question Larson’s motives because he is of the same class of people responsible for their situation and that he does not understand where they are coming from. It also tells of rumors of things that Larson had done/said against laborers.

     While other newspapers seem to be lacking any positive labor information concerning the Seattle General Strike, the Tacoma Daily Ledger doesn’t try to withhold information to distort the truth. It even includes an article entitled, "White Makes Denial." Henry M. White was a immigration commissioner and acting mediator for the department of labor in he Seattle Shipyard Strike. He had been quoted as saying that he thought the strike was directed by I. W. W. and that an honest referendum strike vote had not been taken. This article says that Mr. White denied both of these allegations.

     One of the full-page articles that appeared in many Northwest newspapers was written by Piez and entitled, "CHARGES CONTRACT HAS BEEN VIOLATED." Piez argued that no mediation could be done between the Emergency Fleet Corporation and the laborers as long as they were striking. He said they were in, "a direct violation of a solemn contract entered into by the American Federation of Labor, representing shipyard workers, the United States navy and the United States shipping board." However, the strikers replied to this article by saying that the contract was invalid because it was forced on employers and employees alike.

     The Tacoma Daily Ledger reveals how there was a lot of support (or at least sympathy) for the Seattle General Strike. For instance, representatives of shipyard workers from along the entire Pacific coast of the United States met with Mayor James Rolph of San Francisco in attempts to terminate/or avoid striking and tying up the entire coast. This shows how upset many shipyards, not just Seattle’s, were about their wages and that they were prepared to strike.

     In the opinions section there was an article entitled, "WHY STRIKE NOW?," which is the copy of a telegram from Portland. It talks about how it is widely rumored that the general strike was started by radical leaders and of how no one should be striking as long as there is a legal way to fight, such as the labor board headed by the ex-President Taft. It goes on to mention the World War and of how the entire world in engaging in trying to make peace and compromise, "except the Bolsheviki and anarchists." As soon as the Seattle (and Tacoma) General Strike is a definite thing, the Tacoma Daily Ledger isn’t quite as sympathetic with the laborers’ cause and it begins to have articles like other newspapers that insinuate the Bolsheviks and I. W. W.’ s are trying to tear down labor. Evidence of this can be found in the political cartoons in the newspaper. Earlier in the labor dispute the cartoons have no mention Bolshevism, but as the General Strike becomes more of a reality they do. The fact that there is still a peaceable way to compromise is the main reason that the Tacoma Daily Ledger is so against the strike. Possibly, this is the reason that it begins to think that Bolsheviks and I. W. W. are behind the general labor population going out on strike. It just can’t see a general strike as rational as long as there is a chance to settle the situation another way

     All of these newspapers were against the Seattle General Strike. The New York Times was against it because it was undemocratic and against businessmen. The Chicago Tribune disapproved because they felt it was led by Bolsheviks and I. W. W.’ s. The Morning Oregonian didn’t endorse it because they were afraid of labor trouble occurring at home. The Tacoma Daily Ledger simply disagreed with it because they felt it shouldn’t be used unless it was the last resort. However, despite the fact that the were all against the Seattle General Strike, they all showed signs that others did support it and that others felt it was agitated by radicals.


©1999 Sheila M. Shown
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