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

The strike was a spectacular show of force for the city’s workers, and inspired a tradition of local labor organizing that lives on 100 years later.
Striking workers walk by covered trucks during the 1919 General Strike.
Striking workers walk by covered trucks during the 1919 General Strike.Bettman/Getty

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 Record who advocated for the strike. Wagons only moved through the city if they displayed authorization from the strike committee.