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How Seattle’s 1919 General Strike Ignited America’s Labor Movement

Published on February 15, 2019

Seattle - Occidental and Yesler
Image Credit: CC BY SA 3.0

On February 6, 1919, 65,000 union workers in Seattle walked off the job. On that Wednesday morning, barbers, newsboys, ice wagon drivers, stereotypers, electrical utility workers, and bill posters didn’t show up for work, a demonstration of solidarity with shipyard workers who had already been striking for two weeks in pursuit of higher wages. The next morning, one longshoreman remarked, “Nothing moved but the tide.”

The Seattle General Strike paralyzed the city for six days. After 101 of 110 local unions affiliated with the Central Labor Council voted for the strike, the General Strike Committee organized kitchens and milk stations to ease the pain on workers. “Labor will feed the people,” wrote Anna Louise Strong, a columnist with the Seattle Union Recordwho advocated for the strike. Wagons only moved through the city if they displayed authorization from the strike committee.

One hundred years later, as Seattle remembers the movement that put it in the national spotlight, it’s also reflecting on its place in the history of American labor organizing.

“The general strike put Seattle on the map,” says University of Washington History Professor James Gregory. “Seattle has had a strong labor movement ever since.”

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Originally posted on CrossCut by Gregory Scruggs
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