One hundred years since the Seattle General Strike
11 February 2019
From February 6 to 11, 1919, more than 60,000 workers in Seattle, Washington joined one of the most significant general strikes in United States history. Sparked by the appeals of local shipyard workers, for six days the working class united across industries took control of the economic life of the leading city of the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle’s financial and political elite was deeply shaken by the strike, seeing in it the heartbeat of the recent October Russian Revolution and the tocsin of revolution in America. Headlines in the capitalist newspapers screamed of the dangers posed by the workers’ “un-American” and “Bolshevik” actions. Thousands of federal troops, police and even upper-class university students were mobilized to suppress the struggle.
Seattle’s workers were indeed inspired by the Russian events. In the months preceding the strike, longshoremen had refused to load ships bound for Russia’s counterrevolutionary White Army. Afterwards, they refused to load cargo on ships supplying imperialism’s undeclared war on Soviet Russia. And in the years leading up to 1919, many thousands of workers in Seattle and the surrounding regions gravitated to socialism and the revolutionary syndicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), in spite of intense repression by the Wilson administration.
Yet, while the strike erupted as an epic expression of class conflict driven by the rank-and-file, it remained largely under the control of Seattle’s trade union leaders, who ensured that it did not move beyond its spontaneous form. This proved decisive. The strike ended without any…