Jeremy Brecher has just come out with a revised and updated 50th anniversary edition of his brilliantly readable book called STRIKE! about the history of strikes in the United States. It’s an eye-opening history in so many ways, but for now, I’d just like to excerpt from the book an editorial that was published in the Seattle Union Record concerning the general strike that had taken hold in Seattle in 1919. The general strike involved shipbuilders, dockworkers, laundry workers, restaurant workers, milk-wagon drivers, and many more trades who brought the city to a standstill. If this rings a bell for you today, it’s not a coincidence.
There will be many cheering, and there will be some who fear. Both these emotions are useful, but not too much of either. We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR in this country, a move which will lead—NO ONE KNOWS WHERE! We do not need hysteria. We need the iron march of labor. LABOR WILL FEED THE PEOPLE. Twelve great kitchens have been offered, and from them food will be distributed by the provision trades at low cost to all. LABOR WILL CARE FOR THE BABIES AND THE SICK. The milk-wagon drivers and the laundry drivers are arranging plans for supplying milk to babies, invalids and hospitals and taking care of the cleaning of linen for hospitals. LABOR WILL PRESERVE ORDER. The strike committee is arranging for guards and it is expected that the stopping of the cars will keep people at home.. A few hot-headed enthusiasts have complained that strikers-only should be fed, and the general public left to endure severe discomfort. Aside from the inhumanitarian character of such suggestions, let them get this straight— NOT THE WITHDRAWAL OF LABOR POWER, BUT THE POWER OF THE STRIKERS TO MANAGE WILL WIN THIS STRIKE. What does Mr. Piez of the Shipping Board care about the closing down of Seattle’s shipyards, or even of all of the industries of the northwest? Will it not merely strengthen the yards at Hog Island, in which he is more interested? When the shipyard owners of Seattle were on the point of agreeing with the workers, It was Mr. Piez who wired them that, if they so agreed— HE WOULD STILL NOT LET THEM HAVE STEEL. Whether this is camouflage we have no means of knowing. But we do know that the great eastern combinations of capitalists COULD AFFORD to offer privately to Mr. Skinner, Mr. Ames and Mr. Duthie a few millions apiece in eastern shipyard stock. RATHER THAN LET THE WORKERS WIN. The closing down of Seattle’s industries, as a MERE SHUTDOWN, will not affect these eastern gentlemen much. They could let the whole northwest go to pieces, as far as money alone is concerned. BUT, the closing down of the capitalistically controlled industries of Seattle, while the WORKERS ORGANIZE to feed the people, to care for the babies and the sick, to preserve order— THIS will move them, for this looks too much like the taking over of the POWER of the workers. Labor will not only SHUT DOWN the industries, but Labor will REOPEN, under the management of the appropriate trades, such activities as are needed to preserve public health and public peace. If the strike continues, Labor may feel led to avoid public suffering by reopening more and more activities. UNDER ITS OWN MANAGEMENT And that is why we say that we are starting on a road that leads— NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!