This Saturday, February 6, 2016, marked the 97th Anniversary of the Seattle General Strike. After two years of strict wage controls, workers in Seattle’s shipyards went on strike, demanding living wages for all shipbuilding workers. One hundred and ten local unions, including at least 65,000 workers, voted to join them in solidarity. For one week, these workers held the city, demanding living wages, workers’ control, and self-management.
“Strikers served food, supplied hospitals and kept peace in the streets with astonishing organization and efficiency. But under pressure from the mayor, federal troops and unsupportive AFL internationals, the walkout collapsed.”
This week of struggle was one of the most courageous actions taken by working people in this country. Unsurprisingly, most of the local and national press, and the political establishment, denounced the strike. Though the strike was entirely non-violent, then-Mayor Ole Hanson used the strike as an excuse to dramatically increased police presence in Seattle. This expanded force police were used to help crush the IWW, in particular, with arbitrary arrests following the strike. Strike leaders were vilified, and, decades before McCarthy, the US Senate followed the strike with the creation of a new Subcommittee to investigate “un-American activities.”
On this anniversary of struggle, we need to remember that the ability to strike and bring the corporate machine to a halt is the most powerful tool available to working people under capitalism. A well organized general strike can shake the very foundations of the system, win concrete victories for workers, and serve as a launching pad for further struggle. We will need to replicate the courage of the Seattle General Strikers if we want to truly see social and economic justice in our time.