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Anna Louise Strong: A Strong Woman Behind the Country's First General Strike

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Dear Father,

Neda shows off the Museum's shipyard
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The strike is over and I have been asked to write about it for the Seattle Union Record. Although the strike lasted just five days, there is so much more to tell. I am filled with pride that the workers across this great city of Seattle pulled together and accomplished a peaceful strike. We wanted to show those in charge that we could organize and take care of the entire city. Everything went as planned, children received milk, and the hospitals had clean laundry. Oh Father, if you could have seen how well everyone worked together, right down to the soup kitchens where anyone could receive a meal. What happened? Why did we fail?

Our struggle goes back so far that I don't even know where to begin. So many socialists and radicals have been put in jail for speaking their minds. It seems to me that the war was really just one more way for the government to get richer and keep the workingman down. Isn't that what happened here in Seattle?

Men and boys getting groceries during the five day strike.
(Photo courtesy of the Seattle Museum of History and Industry)
Caption
Even before America entered World War I, the shipyards in Seattle were expanding. The workers supported the war by building the ships that were needed. It put a good many men to work but how many people died fighting? And yes, the wages were good, some even increased for workers here on the west coast. But that didn't last for long . As soon as the war ended, the factory owners lowered the wages. Now, unemployment is up and so is the cost of everything. Once again it seems that the rich are getting richer , while the rest us poorer.

Isn't a fair wage and decent working hours a small thing to ask for? On January 21, the men in the shipyards began to strike, about 35,000 men stopped working. In response, their employers went on vacation. How upsetting for us all that they wouldn't even negotiate! If all the unions of Seattle decided to strike together, employers would see how powerful the worker really is! I know the government is fearful of the power of the worker.

Black and White photos from the Labor Temple
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So what happened father? Maybe if I lay out just an outline of the events that took place, it will help me organize my thoughts and maybe come to a better understanding of these past events.

Thursday, February 6, 1919 10am.

The first day of the strike. We wanted it to be peaceful. There was very little activity this first day. At ten o'clock, the whistles sounded at the shipyards. This signaled the streetcars to shut down, the schools to let out. All the banks closed their doors; even the restaurants were shut down. Things were very quiet, nothing happened. As I wrote earlier, the workers were very organized and the men of the General Strike Committee, a group of 15 men elected to organize and make decisions, had thought of everything. This was an amazing task, since none of them had ever organized before. There were no picket lines to cross, no one to beat up and no arrests.

Map
Friday, day 2.

Mayor Hanson put out a proclamation to end the strike. Mayor Hanson said he supported us and had even met with the General Strike Committee before all of this began. By the second day of our strike, he had changed his tune. He brought in soldiers, not that he needed to, remember, this was a peaceful strike.

Saturday, day 3.

After only three days , the General Strike Committee voted to end the strike. The workers were getting restless. The shipyard employers were willing to wait us out. With no picket lines to walk, there didn't seem much for the workers to do. People had lost their sense of unity. They wanted to return to work

Sunday, day 4.

Many of the unions went back to work today. They did not show up for the morning roll call at the Labor Temple. Their members had decided to go back on the job.

Monday, day 5.

February 12, 1919. Did you know this is also Lincoln's birthday? The strike ended on this day There was a vote by the General Strike Committee. 13 to 1 they voted to end the strike. Although I suppose it had ended even before this day.

We were, successful at closing down the businesses in the city and then reopening them under the power of the worker. We really accomplished what we had set out to do. 60,000 workers went off their jobs. But to what end? Some people are saying we didn't go far enough with our fight. Does violence have to be a necessary part of a strike? I believe this general strike will be an example to labor organizers across the country. It will also be an example to all of America that the worker is powerful.

Jen and Neda explore the Labor Temple in Seattl
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Father, I must finish my letter now. The phone just rang. Harry from the paper called. There is a deputy in the office wanting to arrest us all. We are being charged with a crime, they think we caused a rebellion. I do not think so. I know we will pay our bail and be free. I wonder though if we will ever be free to write and say and think all the ideas that we have.

Sincerely,
Your faithful daughter,
Anna Louise Strong


Road

You Can Never Outgrow a Union - We met Stanley who was born five days after the Seattle General Strike of 1919

Anna Louise Strong was an amazing woman. Not only an outspoken writer for the labor movement, she was also a mountain climber and led expeditions through the icy glaciers of Mt. Hood.

Jennifer

Please email me at: Jennifer1@ustrek.org

 

Links to Other Dispatches

Neda - Are you a foreigner? Well, go to jail!
Stephen - When the "Company" is on your back it's time for a gunfight!
Nick - Steel vs. flesh: A battle for worker's rights