Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Solidarity in Seattle

I've noticed a rising tide of discouragement among many American progressives in recent months. One recurring complaint is that too few citizens seem willing to take the sort of actions that might successfully challenge the power of our corporate masters. Well, maybe the deeds of working folks, in 1919 in Seattle, can provide us a little inspiration. Here's an excerpt from Anna Louise Strong's account of the general strike that happened in that city:

The strike of the shipyard workers occurred on Tuesday morning, January 21st. On the following evening, at the meeting of the Central Labor Council, a delegate body composed of representatives from all the unions in the city, including the unions of the Metal Trades, a request was presented from the Metal Trades Council, asking for a General Strike throughout the city, in sympathy with the shipyard workers.

This request was approved by the Central Labor Council and went out to the various unions to vote on, as they hold the final authority in case of a strike of their members. On the following Sunday, a meeting of executive officers of local unions was held which recommended to the Central Labor Council that the General Strike, if it should be favorably voted upon, should be governed by a Strike Committee, composed of three delegates elected from each striking union, and that this General strike Committee should be called to meet on the following Sunday.

By the next Wednesday meeting of the Central Labor Council, so many unions had declared their intention to strike, that the suggestion of the executive officers of unions was accepted and a General Strike Committee called to meet on Sunday morning, February 2nd, at 8 o'clock. This General Strike Committee composed of delegates from 110 unions and the Central Labor Council, held the ultimate authority on all strike matters during the time of the sympathetic strike.

Some of the striking unions

The completeness with which the unions of Seattle voted for the General Strike came as a surprise to many unionists. Union after union sacrificed cherished hopes, "in order to go out with the rest." The Longshoremen's Union, in which, after many vicissitudes, the Truckers had at length combined with the Riggers and Stevedores, had just put through a closed-shop agreement for the waterfront of Seattle which was seriously imperiled and in fact, broken down, by their participation in the General strike.

The Street Car Men were 100 per cent organized, after a long and bitter fight which had included a street car strike. They were looking forward at last, at last, after a year of waiting, to some fruit from their labors. Poorly paid, and with long hours, they expected a decision to be handed down from the Supreme Court of the State, and on the very day after the date set for the General Strike, which would assure them a substantial advance in wages. All this seemed to them endangered. Yet a majority of them voted in favor of standing with the rest of labor. And although the Street Car Men were later among the first unions to go back, at the orders of their executive committee and an international officer, yet even the Most radical union men, knowing the pressure under which they labored, were inclined to urge: "Don't be too hard on those boys; they risked a great deal."

Many weak unions, knowing that they risked their jobs as individuals and their existence as unions, yet took this chance and went out with the rest. Among these were the Hotel Maids, the Cereal and Flour Mill Workers, the Renton Car Builders.

Over against these were the votes of the old and conservative unions, unused to indulging in sympathetic strikes or "in demonstrations." The most unusual was perhaps the vote of the Typographical Union, a union whose control of its own jobs has been for years so strong that strikes have fallen into disuse in its organization. Yet it gave a majority vote in favor of striking, although its strike was not allowed by its International, as it failed to get the required three fourths vote.

The Musicians' Union, another conservative union, took two votes. It was almost 5 to 1 against the idea of the General Strike, but 6 to 1 in favor of striking with the rest of organized labor, in case the others decided to go out. In other words, it stood for solidarity even against its own preferences.

The Carpenters' Union, 131, an old, conservative union, which has become one of the "big businesses" of the city, due to its ownership of a very profitable building, voted for the strike by a majority of "better than 2 to I." "There was no one down there haranguing us, either," said one of the members. "We wouldn't have stood for it. We took a secret ballot and decided to strike; and then we put our fate in the hands of the Strike Committee and stuck till the end."

The Teamsters' strike is remarkable because of the great pressure under which they labored. It is stated that 800 calls came into their office during the strike, from members of their own and other unions, complaining that fuel had given out and that they could not get any heat on account of the strike of the Teamsters. Many people realized for the first time how this union, which handles the transportation of freight in a modern city, is at the basis of all the city's activities.

These are only a few of the unions striking; others will be mentioned in connection with activities which they carried on. But these are sufficient to show the great variety of crafts which sank their own interests for the sake of the sympathetic strike in Seattle.

These brave people knew they risked more than just their livelihoods. Organized labor in 1919 was often threatened by violence from public forces, or privately funded goon squads. Are we less brave in 2011? Aren't there actions we can take, short of a general strike, that would show the world our solidarity and resolve? How about if we all decided to pay our credit card bills in March with Monopoly money? You think that might get the banksters' attention?

The United States is not Tunisia. We have no need to start from scratch in a republic that has endured for centuries. Yet the American people would let down both their ancestors, and future generations, if we allowed our business and political elites to continue ignoring the common good.

1 comment:

RoddyMcD said...

This is truly impressive, what these folks were doing nearly 100 years ago. I think nowadays we need some non-union people to organize strikes and protests.