Labor Archives of Washington

(LAWS)

The Seattle General Strike of 1919, and its Aftermath

Shipyard Strike
Shipyard workers leaving on strike, Skinner and Eddy Corp., Seattle, 1919.

Although Seattle's industries had profited in 1917-1918 from the boom in wartime production, the workers in those industries had not seen any related increase in their wages. As a result, in January 1919, the Metal Trades Council of Seattle went on strike, and shortly thereafter, the Central Labor Council of Seattle led many other local unions in calling a city-wide general strike, which lasted from the 6th to the 11th of February. The scale of the strike—tens of thousands of workers participated—panicked local and state officials, who mobilized police and military personnel despite the strike's non-violent character. Ultimately the workers ended the strike without having won any concessions from the targeted businesses: in the months that followed, politicians and businessmen blamed the strike on "Bolshevik" union leaders, while the Seattle labor movement attempted to understand why the strike had failed and what steps should now be taken to work for change.

The University of Washington's digital collections contain a small sampling of photographs and documents from the Seattle General Strike itself and the days immediately before and after the strike. Included are minutes from meetings of the Central Labor Council of Seattle, which organized the strike, as well as a photograph of workers on the city's streets during the strike itself.

The Central Labor Council of Seattle remained powerful and influential in the wake of the strike: the U.W.'s digital collections contain a wide range of correspondence, minutes, reports, ephemera, and news clippings that give some account of the work of the Seattle C.L.C. in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Included among the documents are minutes of Council meetings (along with labor spy reports giving different accounts of those same meetings), as well as selected letters from the correspondence of Anna Louise Strong, a prominent member of the Seattle labor movement.

The Central Labor Council's official newspaper, the Seattle Union Record, played a prominent role in the build-up to the general strike, and became the subject of tense internal arguments in the city's labor movement in the early 1920s. The U.W.'s digital collections include a wide range of documents relating to the Union Record, including clippings from the newspaper, a history of the paper up to 1923, as well as references to the paper appearing correspondence and reports from that era. Our digital collections also include documents relating to the life and work of Harry Ault — Ault was editor of the Union Record from 1912 to its demise in 1928, and his work was both credited for the paper's widespread influence and denounced as "capitalist" and traitorous to the labor movement's ideals. The documents include reminiscences composed by Ault about Equality Colony, the socialist commune he grew up in, as well as correspondence and reports that refer to his work as editor.

Anna Louise Strong was a progressive reformer whose work in Seattle initially addressed living conditions for impoverished children, but her writings about the Everett Massacre trial influenced her to become an outspoken activist on behalf of workers. Strong wrote extensively for the Seattle Union Record, and her editorial regarding the 1919 General Strike, entitled "No One Knows Where", was perhaps the most widely distributed statement of the workers' aims. The U.W.'s digital collections include correspondence, manuscripts, ephemera, and photographs which illuminate Strong's career in connection with the labor movement in Seattle, and the Seattle general strike in particular.


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