Seattles Crisis 1914-1919 by Roger Sales


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Seattles Crisis 1914-1919 by Roger Sales

  1. 1. Seattles crisis1914-1919roger sale W h a t I p l a n to do in this essay is not u n i q u e in manner or methodin studies of the culture of American cities, b u t has not been done often,a n d it certainly has never been done about Seattle. Like most cities,Seattle has been studied extensively, mostly by local journalists and bystudents in one or another of the social sciences. T h e strengths andweaknesses of work done by such people are well enough known to needno rehearsing here. Although in writing what follows I have drawn exten-sively from the work these people have done, my aims and methods aregenerally quite different from theirs. I want to try to "read" a city duringone of its critical periods. T h e criteria one uses to define a "criticalp e r i o d " are n o t easily described or analyzed; the methods one uses to" r e a d " a city are not easily capable of theoretical defense. It is hardenough to know what ones data are when trying to imagine the life ofany city at any p o i n t in time; it is harder still to say exactly how onedecides from the available data just what is important. One has, to besure, evidence aplenty, and a good deal of it is solid. But reading theevidence, m a k i n g it make sense, letting it be itself and yet also shapingit into a "history" that makes clear what the "crisis" is—that is anotherstory. All kinds of things are h a p p e n i n g in a city at any given moment,and if you take one activity at a time—making and losing money, buildingroads a n d parks, responding to national or international circumstances,developing or r e t a r d i n g means for social mobility or economic diversity,creating or stultifying "cultural awareness"—each is not so very h a r d todescribe. If, however, one tries to imagine all these things happening atonce, a n d if one knows that the life of a city c a n n o t be apprehended whenall t h a t is h a p p e n i n g is sorted out into convenient categories, then somek i n d of focus must be found which does some kind of justice to at leastthe major separate activities and which also brings them together intosome k i n d of unified "life." W e believe this can be d o n e with the life ofa m a n or of a country; these are the major tasks of biographers and his- 29
  2. 2. torians. But very seldom does anyone try to tell the history of a city, evend u r i n g a relatively short period, in this way. T h e m e t h o d involved is of necessity imperfect. O n e must n o t onlyidentify those people or facts or events which seem the most important,b u t one must also recognize that the past from which these came a n d thefuture toward which they were tending can be described in a single essayonly very briefly. T h e crisis with which I am concerned here is Seattlesexperience during the war and its aftermath, the General Strike of 1919.Even to begin to try to b r i n g these into focus is to be forced back in timeto events in Seattle before the war and out in space to the national andinternational scene. Of necessity everything begins to connect with every-t h i n g else: the war with prohibition; p r o h i b i t i o n w i t h labor a n d laborunions; labor unions with radicalism; and all these with local circum-stances which make the general experience of the country u n i q u e i n eachof its provincial manifestations. T o try to weave all these together i n t o a coherent account means thatn o one element in the story can be h a n d l e d as it m i g h t be if one wereconsidering it alone. T h e biographer of W o o d r o w Wilson, the historianof American labor, the experience of various Seattle newspapers, thememory of A n n a Louise Strong—all these must be d r a w n from a n d m a d ep a r t of the story even as one recognizes that one is thereby not doing fulljustice to any one. T h e potential rewards, however, for the historian ofa city are very great, if he sees his task well. Instead of seeing everythingprimarily in relation to itself, one can begin to see, by relating variousthings within a city, a good deal a b o u t each individual item t h a t m i g h totherwise be missed. T h e war did n o t h a p p e n separately from prohi-bition, and the I.W.W. did not h a p p e n separately from either, a n d allthese h a p p e n e d in individual places. T h e historian of a city uses theplace as his unit of consideration and tries to see h o w everything else fits.T h u s , though no separate element is done full justice, each can begin tobe seen differently from the way we saw them before the city historianbegan his "reading." # # # It is not easy to talk a b o u t a national war in the context of a city, yetit is impossible to talk well a b o u t Seattle in 1914-1919 without referenceto W o r l d W a r I. W e have long k n o w n that this w a r was a E u r o p e a ndisaster perhaps u n e q u a l l e d in history; it is only m o r e recently t h a t wehave seen how it w as a disaster for the U n i t e d States as well. I t is now raccepted as a fact, t h o u g h only one a m o n g many, t h a t the radicals in thiscountry were right: " W h a t the Spanish W a r began," wrote one, "theW o r l d W a r accomplished. America became the worlds banker, a n dceased to be the worlds p i o n e e r . " T h a t is w h a t h a p p e n e d , though it is 1not clear t h a t even those most instrumental in effecting the change inAmericas position were aware at the time that they were doing so.Between 1914 and 1917 America was gradually a n d reluctantly pulled30
  3. 3. into the war, a n d this gradual pulling, as opposed to a sudden a n d de-cisive entry, effected profoundly the way the people thought aboutthemselves. In 1914 President Wilson wanted n o t h i n g so much as to b e able toconcentrate on domestic and progressive politics and reform, a n d publicopinion was generally ignorant of the warring Europeans; if Americansexpressed m u c h of an opinion a b o u t the war, it was that this country wasabove such things. W h a t neither the United States nor the E u r o p e a ncountries h a d counted on was the effect of a vastly increased industrialcapacity, developed since the Napoleonic wars, on the nature of w a r itself.W h e n it began to dawn on the British and the French just h o w muchthey h a d committed themselves to i n the way of men and munitions, theyrealized that they h a d to t u r n t o America for money and supplies. T h eUnited States proclaimed its neutrality, and behind that policy lay a realdesire to be peaceful, b u t neutrality did not remain possible for long.Secretary of State W i l l i a m J e n n i n g s Bryan, reflecting the public m o o d ofthe Midwest a n d Far West, resisted the efforts of eastern bankers to loanmoney to the Allies, b u t Bryan was out of place in Washington, whereWilson, Undersecretary R o b e r t Lansing, Colonel House and m a n y otherswere convinced t h a t America could stay neutral while eastern businessesand banks supported the Allies. T h i s conviction was of course unrealistic,because the m o m e n t American ships entered the war zone G e r m a n y eitherh a d to attack them with submarines or else watch herself b e defeatedslowly by the decisive weight of American industrial and financial might.D u r i n g 1914 a n d 1915 neither the flow of men and munitions nor thea m o u n t of American shipping was enough to warrant direct belligerencyby the Germans. B u t after the terrible summer campaigns of 1916 bothAllied d e m a n d for more American help and staggering G e r m a n lossesforced the Germans to see that a U n i t e d States supplying the Allies un-molested a n d a U n i t e d States at war with Germany were sufficiently thesame t h i n g to w a r r a n t all-out submarine warfare; it seemed to them areasonable, if desperate, remedy. W h e n the Germans began their U-Boatattacks, W o o d r o w Wilson asked Congress for a Declaration of W a r . T h e trouble was that the U n i t e d States could not simply a r g u e that itwas going to war because its ships were being attacked in the war zone,because to do t h a t would raise the question of why the American shipsh a d to be in the war zone in the first place. Instead Wilson h a d to arguethat we were as high-minded i n going to war as we had been i n stayingout. So we were to fight "the w a r to end war," which could only meanthat we i n t e n d e d to p u t the Europeans in their place once and for all; wewould "make the world safe for democracy," which meant that not onlywould we p u t the Europeans in their place but would dictate theirpolitical systems for them as well. In other words, in order to justifyw h a t it i n t e n d e d to do, the U n i t e d States h a d to ignore a g o o d deal ofwhat it h a d done, a n d to distort a good many of the facts of its own and 31
  4. 4. the s u r r o u n d i n g world. As we will see, partly for local reasons a n d partlybecause it was inevitably d r a w n into the national experience, Seattle wasbeginning to do exactly the same thing. # * # D u r i n g the winter of 1917, when the United States was being told toprepare itself for war (even before President Wilson, who h a d been re-elected because "he h a d kept us out of war," h a d his second inaugural),there were two big items i n the news in Seattle: the trial of the mayor,H i r a m Gill, on grounds of conspiring with a bootlegger, Logan Bil-lingsley, and the trial of T o m Tracy, one of seventy-six Wobblies w h o h a dbeen charged with m u r d e r after the shoot-out known as "the EverettMassacre" the previous November. Fortunately these two trials can tellus a great deal about Seattle on the verge of war, a n d what h a p p e n e d tothe local press as it h a n d l e d these trials in the context of the coming war. T h e most interesting of the local newspapers for our purposes is theSeattle Star,, an afternoon Scripps tabloid that h a d grown in the previousten years from the citys " t h i r d " a n d "class-conscious" paper (behind thestaid and respectable. Post-Intelligencer and the middle class, would-berespectable, often hysterical Times) to become Seattles most p o p u l a rpaper; the Star had a circulation of about 67,000 in 1917, impressive for apaper which did not publish on Sunday in a city of a b o u t 300,000. I t h a dgrown from a sheet of six to eight pages, most of t h e m filled with featuressyndicated by the Scripps chain, to something like a genuine newspaperof as many as twenty pages, with a good many of the stories written bylocal people. Its editorial policy was progressive i n tone. It h a d sup-ported all campaigns for m u n i c i p a l ownership of the n a t u r a l monopolies,it was in favor of prohibition, it was pro-labor w i t h o u t being really anti-business, and it tended, as tabloids will, to encourage its readers to takesides without ever really trying to educate them. Its audience, one pre-sumes, was primarily that segment of the working class which was becom-ing, or trying to become, m o r e settled, m o r e respectable, more oriented tothe newly-popular movie houses t h a n to the older b u t now disreputablesaloons. Back in 1913 the Star h a d supported the Dry a n d reform candi-date, George Cotterill, for mayor, though it did not strongly opposeH i r a m Gill, who was a staunch W e t and w h o claimed also to be forreform. By 1917, however, after the state of W a s h i n g t o n h a d voted itselffirst anti-saloon and then anti-drink, the Star was as staunchly opposed tothe mayor as were the older a n d m o r e respectable papers. D u r i n g thewinter of 1917 it moved back and forth in its b a n n e r s from hooting at themayor, whose credentials as a reforming Dry it h a d never quite believed,to shrieking at the people to get ready for the noble a n d just war thatAmerica was about to enter. W h a t makes the Star interesting is not just t h a t it was shifting itspolitical bearings towards super-patriotism b u t t h a t it still showed someof its older a n d more responsible bearings now a n d then. T h u s , t h o u g h it32
  5. 5. began on February 7 to carry S T A N D BY T H E P R E S I D E N T across thetop of its editorial page, a n d though on t h e 13th its only headline readP R E P A R E , it could still denounce legislation offered in the City Councilthat m a d e flag ceremonials mandatory o n all public occasions. T h u s ,though it could enter eagerly into the Mad H a t t e r logic of " W a r betweenthe U n i t e d States a n d Germany would spell peace for the world," it couldreport the trial of the Wobblies charged w i t h m u r d e r during the EverettMassacre fairly well a n d always dispassionately. B u t in March, when themayor, Gill, went on trial, it h a d to report t h a t story, the Wobbly story,and the war news all at once, and it began to lose its head, apparentlybasing its layout on the principle "the last shall be first": the Wobblytrial was relegated to the back pages, the war news took second place, andthe booze scandal trial dominated. T h e Gill trial was the kind of farcethat is almost inevitable when a cause like P r o h i b i t i o n grips the people,and unfortunately the Star couldnt even a d m i t it was a farce withoutseeming to favor mayor Gill and liquor. For a week the bootlegger,Logan Billingsley, bathed himself in confessions: he did sell booze, heh a d been wanted for m u r d e r back in O k l a h o m a t h o u g h he wasnt guilty,he h a d bribed Gill a n d the Chief of Police to gain official support for hisbootlegging. T h e Star reported all this gleefully, and didnt act for am i n u t e as though Gill could get out of this one. T h e r e was even theadded implication of guilt because George Vanderveer, Billingsleys law-yer a n d allegedly in on the conspiracy, was at t h a t m o m e n t defending theWobblies i n the Everett trial. However, it d i d n t take Gills lawyer verylong to topple the whole story: Billingsley was trying to frame Gill, wastrying t o bribe witnesses, was giving $1000 to the fire-eating prohibitionistminister, Rev. M a r k Mathews, to open a vice campaign against Gill. Ittook the jury only a few hours to find Gill n o t guilty, and the Star which 3had acted r i g h t u p to the point of the verdict as though of course Gill wasguilty, h a d to d r o p the case as though it h a d never happened, and switchsuddenly from booze to war. Fortunately for the paper Wilson askedCongress to declare war just two days after the Gill verdict and the Starcould begin to w h o o p it u p : "Today, in this l a n d of ours, there are onlytwo classes of people. O n e class consists of Americans. These will standsolidly b e h i n d President Wilson. All others are T R A I T O R S . " O n the same day, April 4, George V a n d e r v e e r was opening his defenseof T o m T r a c y in the Wobbly case, and all t h e papers almost ignored it.T h e Star was n o t yet so hysterical that it was going to make the same mis-take here that it did with Gill; it p u t the story o n the back pages, did notdenounce all Wobblies as traitors, and r e m a i n e d detached whenever itdid r u n a story on the trial in ensuing days. B u t that this was not onlythe longest criminal trial to date in King C o u n t y b u t also one of the mostexciting a n d most i m p o r t a n t was something n o n e of the major paperscould realize or w o u l d countenance. W h a t even the Star could not hidewas that the Wobblies, though clearly not "standing behind the Presi- 33
  6. 6. d e n t / were going to win, a n d t h a t the sheriff of Snohomish County a n dhis deputies, who clearly were "standing behind the President," h a d beenresponsible for a good deal of bloodshed, a great n u m b e r of beatings andat least half a dozen deaths. T h e story of the Everett Massacre need notbe told here; N o r m a n Clarks history of Everett, Mill Town (Seattle,1970) is the fullest account, though almost all histories of the I.W.W.include some telling of the tale. W h a t we learn from the Star is thatVanderveer p r o d u c e d m a n y witnesses a b o u t w h o m n o bias could be al-leged a n d w h o said that deputies on the dock in Everett h a d taken pot-shots at u n a r m e d m e n w h o h a d j u m p e d off the Verona after the ship haddocked and the deputies h a d opened fire. B u t the Star felt it could notreport the following, which came o u t as the prosecutor was trying to shakea defense witness. T h e prosecutor tried to get the witness to say therewere cartridges and weapons aboard the Verona after it had left Everetta n d r e t u r n e d to Seattle. H e got nowhere. Prosecutor; D i d n t you pick u p anything at all from the deck? Witness: I picked u p an eye. A mans eye. 2After a n u m b e r of such incidents, it was no longer surprising that Tracya n d the Wobblies were quickly acquitted, a n d by a j u r y carefully pickedto exclude any w h o felt any ideological sympathy for the I.W.W. cause. Even after the trial was over, and "forgotten" as the Gill case h a dbeen, the Star still was n o t free to envisage a country united in its loath-i n g of German militarism and its support of the President; the evidencethat people in Seattle were divided kept cropping u p . T h e Star couldflatly assert that support for the war was so strong t h a t all the soldiers thecountry needed could be drawn from enlistments, b u t when t h a t provedpalpably false it was forced to support the countrys first conscription lawa n d to shout S E D I T I O N ! when Socialists H u l e t Wells and Sam Sadlerwere arrested for opposing the law. It could proclaim in a headline t h a tSeattles businessmen were all for conscripting profits as well as men, b u th a d to admit in the ensuing story that the businessmen it interviewedwere saying that of course they wanted to support the war effort b u t t h a tthey would strongly oppose anything so radical as a n excess profits tax.T h e Star could a n n o u n c e that all rank-and-file working men, unlike theWobblies and the Socialists, were solidly b e h i n d the war, b u t it could notavoid reporting strike after strike, in the l u m b e r camps, in the shipyards,in the packing plants, in the offices of the telephone company. It foundWells and Sadler guilty before their trial began, b u t then h a d to reportthat the j u d g e threw out three of the five charges a n d that the jury wash u n g on the other two. It could print a page of a textbook called ImVaterland that was used in Seattles schools and insist that it be with-drawn, then had to say t h a t the school board members found little wrongwith the book, though continued pressure from the Star did force theb o a r d to withdraw it "temporarily in the interest of preserving tran-34
  7. 7. quirky." W h a t all these stories show is t h a t the vestige of all that hadbeen rather good a b o u t the Star k e p t forcing it to contradict itself. T h r o u g h the summer of 1917, the radicals h a d consistently been chal-lenged a n d equally consistently h a d been able to demonstrate the follyand even the perfidy of their challengers. News of the Everett Massacreand the trial did a great deal to h e l p the I . W . W . gather support through-out the Northwest, and it was also b e g i n n i n g to shift its program fromagitation a n d reform to something m o r e revolutionary, though the Wob-blies almost never advocated a n y t h i n g as wild as the opposition claimed.As the countrys industrial m i g h t was trying to mobilize fully, the exist-ence of the Wobblies became m o r e and m o r e a n outrage to the respect-able. O n N o v e m b e r 15, fourteen W o b b l i e s were arrested in a bunkhouseat C a m p Lewis, just south of T a c o m a ; the " i n c r i m i n a t i n g evidence" theStar said was found consisted of n o t h i n g m o r e t h a n "newspaper clippings,private a n d confidential correspondence, a n d extracts from radical pub-lications." T w o days later a h e a d l i n e r a n " B A R E G E R M A N P L O T A TC A M P L E W I S , " which of course was n o t true, as the story showed: " T h eofficials here have been working for m o n t h s to connect German spies withvice conditions in Seattle . . . a n d secret service agents have spent weeksgathering evidence to show t h a t the I . W . W . is inspired by German capi-tal." So there was no plot, only a n effort to p r o v e one. But all this clown-ing, by the government as well as the Star, was concealing somethinggrimmer. O n December 10 a lawyer w h o n e e d e d one of the Wobbliesarrested at C a m p Lewis i n a n o t h e r case f o u n d his m a n in jail and askedh i m with what he h a d been charged. W i t h n o t h i n g , it turned out. T h em e n were simply being incarcerated, t h e G e r m a n plot and the privateand confidential correspondence p r e s u m a b l y h a v i n g come to about whatone would have expected. T h e lawyer got all fourteen out on a habeascorpus writ, b u t it is not fun to c o n t e m p l a t e w h a t would have happenedto the m e n h a d the lawyer n o t come along. T h e n there was A n n a Louise Strong, w h o became the arch-traitor forthe respectable because she h a d deserted n o t only her country, b u t herclass. She h a d come to Seattle w i t h h e r father i n 1912; he was minister ofthe Q u e e n A n n e Congregational C h u r c h ; she was a social worker; she hada doctorate from the University of Chicago; she h a d written a number ofbooks, including an e x p a n s i o n of h e r dissertation, The Psychology ofPrayer. I n 1913 the two h a d g o n e to J a p a n to study working conditionsthere; they r e t u r n e d to Seattle in 1915, a n d shortly thereafter A n n aStrong r a n for the School Board. H e r credentials were both respectablea n d progressive, a n d she was herself young, vigorous and attractive. Shewon easily. But the j o b p r o v e d merely o n e r o u s , because if the "interests"she h a d dedicated herself to fighting were b e i n g served by the endlessawarding of contracts for rewiring or a n e w playground, she had n o wayto find out, and the whole scale of the operations seemed too petty tomatter. Slowly she found herself moving, in effect, down off old, estab- 35
  8. 8. lished, respectable Queen A n n e Hill into lower downtown, the h a u n t ofthe more radical. She testified at both Wells-Sadler sedition trials. Shereported the story of the Everett Massacre for the New York EveningPost. She sat beside Louise Olivereau, a self-confessed anarchist, while shewas being tried and convicted for distributing anti-conscription literature.She wrote stories for the only radical paper in Seattle, the Daily Call. Predictably, petitions began to be circulated d e m a n d i n g A n n a Strongsrecall from the School Board. "Yet at first they got so few signatures t h a tthe recall languished and almost died. A friend of mine was passing therecall headquarters on a p r o m i n e n t thoroughfare and was asked by awoman who h a d stopped to observe the placards: W h a t are they re-calling her for? W h a t has she done? . . . Shes against the w a r / said myfriend. . . . My God, who isnt/ g r u n t e d the woman, and moved o n . " 3B u t that was only after the first Wells-Sadler trial. After she appeared incourt with Louise Olivereau and after the Im Vaterland incident (thoughshe had finally voted to withdraw the textbook), the petitions beganfilling u p , a n d by late in 1917 enough h a d been collected to force anelection, which would be held along with the regular municipal electionin March of 1918. A n n a Strong should not have h a d a chance. All her old supporters,the various womans clubs, temperance leagues, PTAs, the M u n i c i p a lLeague, had deserted her; the three major newspapers were solidly op-posed: "It is sufficient for loyal Americans to know that she is an un-yielding pacifist/ said the Star, " W i t h connections of that kind, h e r placeas a public official is inconsistent with American aims and purposes." T h eStar, it will be noted, was discovering what t h e Seattle Times h a d dis-covered earlier: when in doubt, use the word "American" as a bludgeon.T h e Union Record printed the names a n d addresses of those who h a dcirculated petitions for Miss Strongs recall, a n d at a glance it looks asthough the whole city was against her. But a second glance reveals thatthe majority of the addresses in the Union Record list are in w h a t werethen outlying residential areas, places where the Star reading, old-lineworking class or m i d d l e class people were moving. From First Hill,Queen A n n e Hill, Capitol Hill, Washington Park, M a d r o n a a n d Mt.Baker Park, from those areas closer to the center of the city where peopleof considerable wealth lived, there was little activity, proving (as couldbe proved in a n u m b e r of other ways, incidentally) that the affluent h a dretired from all such struggles. N o r from those working class districtsthat still showed their working class loyalties came support for the recall.W h a t we seem to find, then, is that the gradual movement of A n n a LouiseStrong to the left was most obviously an outrage to those patriotic a n dnewly established people who could see in her an implicit threat to theirrecently acquired status, and these people received solid, though usuallynot very vocal opposition from the more securely established. T h e election of 1918 is not easy to decipher, though clearly the36
  9. 9. patriots a n d good citizens won by a narrower margin than was expected.For mayor the leading candidate was Ole Hanson, a simple-minded for-mer real estate operator, and in the primary the remaining vote wasfragmented, the winner being a nondescript m a n named James Bradford,w h o m labor found itself supporting without m u c h enthusiasm. T h a trace, a n d A n n a Strongs recall, were the big issues. Ole Hanson saw theWay, the T r u t h a n d the Light: "My o p p o n e n t is supported by everyI.W.W., by every anti-government agitator, by every pro-German, and byevery near-I.W.W. labor leader in the city." T h e Star saw m u c h in thisrhetorical ploy: " T r e a s o n cannot be tolerated, and if we in Seattle aretruly American, it will n o t be. Let not seditionists and NEAR-SEDI-T I O N I S T S gain the least foothold." It was worse, it would seem, to bealmost a traitor, like A n n a Strong, t h a n to be the real thing. T r u etraitors, like Louise Olivereau, professed n o loyalty to America a n dAmericanism, a n d they could be easily handled by arrest and conviction.B u t A n n a Strong professed great love and loyalty to America, she wasfighting to save the country from mania, a n d because she h a d done noth-ing with which she could be formally charged, she was more dangerousthan a confessed traitor. She could not be called a bum, or a deportableforeigner, a bomb-thrower, or a Wobbly, so the only way to suppress herwas in to insist that " T h e Real Issue is A M E R I C A N I S M " and not truth,justice a n d the American way, in all of which A n n a Strong believed. Ole H a n s o n won easily, and by all rights A n n a Louise Strong shouldhave been repudiated, banished. "But, though n o word of our side wasp r i n t e d for three m o n t h s by any newspaper except the Seattle Daily Call,yet w h e n the votes were counted, the good citizens who had expected aten to one victory over a handful of traitors/ won by only two thousandvotes in a total of eighty-five thousand. T h e y actually lost the city councilto the reds who h a d intelligently prepared a whole slate, while thepatriots h a d emotionally concentrated on the recall and the mayor. T h epatriots were momentarily crushed into silence; they were actually wor-ried." A n n a Strong is either misremembering or willfully embroidering 4the facts here, b u t most of what she says is true. H e r side of the storycould only be found in the Call, which never h a d a circulation of moret h a n 15,000, a n d the good citizens obviously did expect to defeat hereasily. B u t 85,000 is the n u m b e r of registered voters in Seattle in 1918,not the n u m b e r who actually voted, and the margin of her defeat waslarger t h a n she says: 27,157 for recall, and 21,824 against. Nor were thecouncilmen elected very red, though they were vigorously anti-establish-ment. Still, A n n a Strong was right in believing that there were splits inthe citizenry which could not be resolved by appeals to Americanism orby the fear of traitors and near-traitors. "Instead of the time honoreddivision between the progressives and the interests in which the pro-gressives won most of the offices while the interests remained unscathed 37
  10. 10. in the industries, a bitter battle ensued between good citizens a n d thereds/ "5 W h a t A n n a Strong did not seem to realize was t h a t she was describinga city getting deeper and deeper into trouble. W h a t she saw as the "timehonored division" between the progressives and the "interests" really h a dnot existed in Seattle m o r e t h a n fifteen or twenty years earlier. Seattleh a d fought h a r d to obtain municipal ownership of its natural monopolies,a n d if it did not win every fight, it did gain m u n i c i p a l water, electric,a n d sewer systems t h a t were models for their age. Between 1900 and 1915,mostly due to the impetus of the wealthy, Seattle h a d acquired a first rateboulevard a n d park system, though at t h a t time it was one that could beenjoyed mostly by those rich enough to afford an automobile. I n thesame period most of the regrading of the downtown area h a d taken place.W h a t had happened, however, was that the h u g e economic growth ex-perienced at that time was simply too s t u n n i n g for m a n y people to realizethat forces were being unleashed which should have been controlled. T h ewealthy began to retire to their lovely estates a n d roads and to let Seattlebecome an increasingly simple city economically. T h e progressives, intheir turn, allowed themselves to become preoccupied with moral matterslike prohibition, gambling and sexual habits, a n d to let the "interests"take whatever was left to be grabbed: the Great N o r t h e r n Railroad cameto Seattle o n its own terms and the h u g e piers on H a r b o r Island wereallowed to b e developed privately without p u b l i c control b u t w i t h thehelp of public funds. It was the sort of division that needed only theimpetus of the war to become a genuine class war, with the affluent stand-ing idly aside, the middle class becoming pious a n d chauvinistic a n d theleft becoming the repository for old-line progressives as well as the manynew radicals created by the rapacity of the war machine. It was a fight inwhich, invariably, both sides would lose, because each was finding moreways to distrust and distort the other. O n the one side, drinking or sup-porting Wobblies or not buying Liberty Bonds was becoming treason,while on the other buying a car and moving to the suburbs and reading the Star a n d being unwilling to strike became immoral, selling out.Seattle was simultaneously becoming more radical, and known as a radi- cal city, and becoming m o r e bourgeois, g r a d u a t i n g its working class into the middle class: it was becoming a city where people were aware of class and status distinctions a n d afraid of people n o t "of ones own k i n d . " Of course it is m u c h easier to be sympathetic to the radicals, partlybecause we know their stories so m u c h better. A m a n who found the waruseful in gaining some k i n d of economic security and who used t h a t se-curity as a means of performing all those m i d d l e class rites he h a d alwayswanted to perform, like buying a house, sending his children to goodschools, living a reasonably sober and godly life: such a m a n stands littlechance of being remembered clearly precisely because we have to imaginehim; he himself is nameless a n d faceless. B u t A n n a Louise Strong, and38
  11. 11. H u l e t Wells and Sam Sadler, w h o had a g r a n d rabble-rousing wife Kate,and George Vanderveer who gave u p his respectability to become counselfor the d a m n e d , a n d T h o r w a l d Mauritzen who made the Daily Call asuccess after starting with only $500 and hope—all these people have comedown to us, gaudy and wonderful. F u r t h e r m o r e , in many ways the rad-icals wartime critique of their city and country now seems much the best,because they were m u c h more alert and probably more intelligent thanthe m a n who was gaining his small measure of economic security and whowanted only to enjoy it. Inevitably, as the historian of Seattle movesthrough the war years, h e finds his sympathies increasingly moving left-ward, though he must always seek to imagine and understand those whodid not so move. Luckily for the historian, careful study of the rise of radicalism inSeattle and the Northwest does reveal m o r e than ways of being sympa-thetic. T h e movement itself was almost inevitable: some people weremoving westward, restlessly and angrily, and they ended u p in Seattlebecause it was the last frontier. Others were in nearby logging camps thatdid not even offer the few amenities available in grubby mill and miningtowns farther east. Others were coming because Seattle had had a boom-ing a n d reasonably progressive past not l o n g before—in J o h n Dos PassosThe 42nd Parallel one m a n urges another in a lumber camp to movewest to Seattle where, h e has heard, they have great free night schools.Others were coming to Seattle in some way defeated—they had tried tostump farm on logged-off land a n d kept seeing the wilderness return, orh a d tried to dry farm east of the Cascades where the soil exhausted itsmoisture in a year or two, or h a d tried to establish a Utopian colonysomewhere in the isolated parts of Puget Sound—and were choosing thesharp edge of radicalism r a t h e r than the dull one of bourgeois assimi-lation. T h e war, really, only sorted out m o r e quickly the way people alreadywere going. You could get a j o b in the shipyards in Seattle to avoid thelogging camps or the draft, a n d you m i g h t find in the steady work andgood wages only worse reminders of the wickedness of capitalism andcapitalistic warfare. O r you m i g h t take the same j o b and find in it ameans of escaping economic uncertainty and of joining the middle class.You could join a u n i o n , the better to radicalize it or the better to seekhigher wages a n d lower hours. Both the j o b and the union could beproof t h a t indeed the American system worked, and both could be seenas proof t h a t it did not. It m i g h t seem the Wobblies were right and thatthe owners only offered pie in the sky bye and bye. Or it might seem thatit really was the radicals w h o offered the pie. In any event, the warpushed everything closer to the surface, closer to a point where tensionscould be resolved only in dangerous ways. T h e shipowners and lumberbarons were in a hurry because the h u g e profits would not last forever,a n d so they were more amenable to labors demands; the prohibitionists 39
  12. 12. were In a h u r r y because suddenly the whole country seemed eager to godry; the patriots were in a h u r r y because soldiers were dying in Francea n d the world had to be m a d e safe for democracy; the Wobblies were i na hurry because their numbers were growing faster t h a n their wildestprewar dreams and they felt they h a d to strike while the iron was hot; thewould-be bourgeois and t h e wealthier arrivistes were in a hurry becausesuch a chance might not last forever. If the historian feels more sympathyfor the radicals than any other group, he must not forget t h a t they toowere caught u p in something quite unreal, in that people were becomingless able genuinely to comprehend the world a r o u n d them, a n d in some-thing decisive, in that when Seattle emerged from this experience it wouldbe a different place. O n e sympathizes with the radicals precisely becausethey could best understand and predict the very hysteria that was over-taking the city, b u t they too were its victims. In one sense, Seattle was too young to resist. It h a d come to its afflu-ence and large population all within the previous twenty years, a n d thehabits and patterns of life were unsettled, especially compared to those inolder cities farther east. But in another sense Seattle was just a little bittoo old to resist. By the time war was declared there h a d been a stiffeningof the economic joints in the previous two decades, and economic activityh a d become increasingly the domain of a r a t h e r small n u m b e r of peoplewho h a d become rich quickly and who of course began to treat t h e worldaround them as their own; their interest becomes the opposite of civic-minded. I n 1880 and 1890 anything that was done to help Seattle gener-ally would help these people, b u t in 1910 these people h a d their moneyand had grown indifferent to Seattle generally. By the time the war camethe impulse towards economic diversity, towards municipal ownership ofthe natural monopolies, h a d faded; Seattle was too old to resist the crisisof the struggle which the war h a d b r o u g h t sooner than w o u l d haveotherwise happened. These two perspectives—Seattle was too young, Seattle was too o l d -need not b e resolved. T h e first is the more distant and long-ranged, theview that would seem n a t u r a l to anyone who knows about the older citiesof the world. W h e n one begins to become aware of the centuries-longhistory of L o n d o n or R o m e or Peking, when one sees how m u c h a city canrise and fall a n d recover in the course of hundreds of years, one sees n oreason why Seattle, founded in 1851 and still a frontier city in m a n y ways,should have been strong or independent enough to create its own destiny.T h e "interests" grabbed w h a t they could, the city became a center ofradicalism, the city could not resist the frenzy of the war—of course, saysthe historian of older cities and longer-lived worlds, of course. T h e sec-ond perspective, on the other hand, is one that can seem attractive onlyto the local historian because h e is more aware of changes that come yearby year and decade by decade. If Seattle was too young to do other thanbecome victim to forces t h a t were d o m i n a t i n g cities and regions far older40
  13. 13. than it was, nonetheless, says t h e local historian, it h a d had a good dealmore power to resist such forces in 1897 or 1907 than it did in 1917.U r b a n populism in Seattle h a d been a varied a n d exciting experiencea r o u n d the t u r n of the century, a n d that populism had been both de-p e n d e n t u p o n and instrumental in creating a varied and exciting econ-omy. But gradually the arteries were beginning to harden—the moneyedpeople were withdrawing, the middle-class was becoming class-conscious,the workers were beginning to see everyone else as their potential enemy,populism was splintering off i n t o Prohibition, unionism and radicalism—so t h a t the city, instead of b e i n g able to look to itself to find means ofsolving its problems and locating its opportunities, was beginning to dis-trust itself a n d hedge its bets i n ways that m a d e it a potential victim of themore pervasive blindness t h r o u g h o u t the country caused by the war. Seenthis way, Seattle was not too y o u n g b u t too old to resist. I n the fall of 1918 Seattle a n d America were besieged by rumors ofarmistice a n d of the Bolshevik revolution. T h e n there was the influenzaepidemic, which hit Seattle especially hard—the mortality rate from theflu rose to 252 per h u n d r e d t h o u s a n d . L a b o r was becoming restless, espe-cially as rumors of uprisings in all the belligerent countries began to bereceived. T h e war was almost over, yet n o t h i n g had improved with theprospect of peace. O n election day the people of Washington were to voteon a referendum on the 1917 bone-dry law, b u t the total vote was barelytwo-fifths of what it h a d been two years earlier. T h e Drys won, two toone, b u t it did n o t seem to m a t t e r . T h u s , though the Armistice causedwild rejoicing, it brought no peace or harmony. Mostly it only signaled tothe capitalists that it was time to w i t h d r a w a n d retrench and to the laborunions that they h a d better work fast to consolidate their wartime gains. I n his book on the Seattle General Strike, R o b e r t L. Friedheim offersa careful analysis of the make-up of labor unions and conditions at theend of the war, a n d here only a short sketch can be offered. T h e war hadgiven impetus to the Wobblies to try to revolutionize the old craft unionA.F.L. system into their O n e Big U n i o n , and, as we have seen, it causedmany working class people to take on characteristics of the middle class.These labels are never accurate, a n d it must be added that many leadersof the Seattle Central L a b o r Council, by no means a back-sliding group,were home-owning a n d God-fearing, n o t only themselves sober b u t alsoProhibitionist. By comparison with the Wobblies, men like Harry Ault,who edited the Union Record, a n d James D u n c a n , president of the Ma-chinists a n d chairman of the Central Labor Council, who also taughtSunday School, seem trustworthy for w h a t they were, but stodgy. By com-parison with their A.F.L. counterparts elsewhere in the country, however,A u l t a n d D u n c a n were flaming radicals. Aults paper was the only laborp a p e r in the country, and after the Daily Call folded, it was in its pagesthat the radicals h a d their only h o p e of gaining a hearing. Duncan twicecast the only vote in the n a t i o n a l A.F.L. conventions against the re-elec- 41
  14. 14. tion of Samuel Gompers as president. Both A u l t and D u n c a n agreed withthe Wobblies that there should be some kind of industrial unionism,disagreeing mostly over methods. T h e hope and strength of Ault, Duncan, a n d the other labor leaderslay in a very strong local labor organization, one that could, they thought,b r i n g together the h u n d r e d s of smaller unions into one u n i t e d frontagainst any Seattle employer or group of employers. T h e i r weakness,which they d i d n t seem to recognize fully, lay in the fact that m u c h oftheir strength was a result of wartime shipbuilding. T h e Metal T r a d e sCouncil, which was a major power in the shipyards, h a d been tough andsuccessful in getting the shipbuilders to pay very h i g h wages, a n d themajor builder, Skinner a n d Eddy, was willing to go even higher t h a n theothers in order to keep a constant supply of workers. T h i s led to com-plaints in the name of equity from Charles Piez of the federal EmergencyFleet Corporation, b u t he h a d been silenced by the Metal T r a d e s Coun-cils agreeing not to strike d u r i n g wartime. At the time of the Armistice,the unions were trying to get all the builders to raise wages to the level ofthose paid by Skinner and Eddy. At this point they were free to strike toget what they wanted, b u t they were also vulnerable simply because thegovernment and the shipbuilders could afford such a strike and indeedmight even welcome it as a means of getting a lot of suddenly u n w a n t e dworkers out of town. T h e incident that set the almost inevitable conflict i n motion involveda misdelivered telegram. Piez h a d wired the Seattle shipbuilders that ifthey gave in to union demands the government would cut off their steelallotment. H e sent it to the employer group k n o w n as the Metal T r a d e sAssociation b u t the messenger delivered it to the Metal T r a d e s Council,a n d so the unions learned that t h o u g h Piez h a d given t h e m an apparentlyfree h a n d to negotiate if they waited u n t i l after the war, he h a d in factdouble-crossed them by blackmailing the shipbuilders. At this p o i n t end-less speculations became possible, and people have gone on speculatingever since. Maybe the telegram was n o t misdelivered, and if it was therecould be a variety of explanations as to why the shipbuilders wanted theunions to know what the government was u p to. B u t because a goodmany of the conjectures are almost equally reasonable, there is little p o i n tin going into them all. Whatever h a d happened, o n the m o r n i n g ofJ a n u a r y 21, 1919, 35,000 workers struck the shipyards. Under m o r e n o r m a l conditions that m i g h t have been that. T h e ship-yard-owners would make n o move to negotiate because they had n o reasonto do so; the unions would suffer a heavy blow and would have h a d thento decide whether to give in. A good many business people did n o t carem u c h because it seemed to them, despite wild stories a b o u t a postwarshipping boom, that shipbuilding was not a major p a r t of Seattles econ-omy. B u t J a n u a r y , 1919 was not at all a n o r m a l time, even t h o u g h allthat the various parties expected to h a p p e n d i d in fact happen. T h e idea42
  15. 15. of a general strike was not familiar to m a n y people in Seattle; even theWobblies a n d those who h a d d o n e their Marxist homework did not knowabout general strikes as a m e a n s of b r i n g i n g the employing class to itsknees. R a t h e r , Seattle labor leaders t h o u g h t first in terms of what wascalled a sympathy strike, a n d b e h i n d t h a t idea was the feeling that a showof force w o u l d be helpful. B u t the m o r e t h e u n i o n leaders became con-vinced t h a t the government, or the shipbuilders, or the newspapers oremployers in general, h a d become scared of labor power in Seattle andwere out to crush it, the m o r e the idea of a general strike seemed attrac-tive. Conversely, t h e more anyone tried to say just what such a strikewould gain, the m o r e people got confused or apprehensive; to lash outagainst a c o m m o n enemy is always a better way to gain adherents than tostate a series of clearly-defined goals. T h u s , w h e n David Skinner, who h a dbeen t h o u g h t friendly to labor because he p a i d high wages, sent a wire toCharles Piez saying t h a t most workers were against the strike and that thetrouble lay with "the radical leaders whose real desire was to disrupt thewhole organization of society," h e p r o v i d e d j u s t the kind of target that amass movement needs to organize. H e l p was offered by the local andnational press which kept insisting t h a t the rank-and-file did not want tostrike. However, when the largest u n i o n local in the world, the Boiler-makers 104, held a meeting, they voted u n a n i m o u s l y in favor of the ship-yard strike a n d thereby gave great i m p e t u s to unite all Seattle labor in amore general strike. T h e Boilermakers voted o n J a n u a r y 26. T h e next day a meeting wascalled to sound o u t opinion, a n d by the time the leaders met a n u m b e r ofunions, i n c l u d i n g some of t h e m o r e conservative ones like the roofers, thecooks a n d the hotel maids, h a d already m e t a n d had declared themselvesin favor of a general strike. Some u n i o n s of course opposed any breach ofcontract because it violated the very principles on which the unions hadbeen organized, b u t soon these u n i o n s f o u n d themselves surrounded. Atthe meeting on the 27th it was agreed t h a t if a majority of the unionsvoted by February 2 to have a general strike, a mass meeting would beheld to decide w h a t to do. F r i e d h e i m describes what happened next:"Even before the committees could effectively organize themselves, fivemore Seattle unions r e p o r t e d t h a t their members had voted to strike: theStructural I r o n Workers, t h e Newsboys, t h e engineers in the gas planta n d the public schools, C a r p e n t e r s local 1335, and Barbers Local 195.. . . N i g h t after night, as locals h e l d their meetings, votes for a generalstrike continued to roll i n . " T h e very n a m e s of the unions show that this 6was not a simple class m a t t e r decided by large numbers of factory hands.T h e s e unions h a d been in existence almost as long as the A.F.L. itself,a n d the members of the smaller u n i o n s h a d no obvious reason to allythemselves with the large i n d u s t r i a l u n i o n s like the Boilermakers, to sayn o t h i n g of the I.W.W. After t h e C a r p e n t e r s and the Barbers came theJewelers, the Housepainters, the A u t o T r u c k Drivers and the smaller 43
  16. 16. draymen unions. By the 29th only the Gas Workers and the Federal Em-ployees were opposed. T h i s does not m e a n that every m e m b e r of everyu n i o n supported the general strike, b u t it is amazing that of 101 unionsin Seattle the majority of all b u t two were in favor. A n n a Louise Strongs account of the next few days is not the fullest,b u t it is the best: T h e General Strike Committee, composed of more than three h u n d r e d delegates from one h u n d r e d and ten unions, met all day Sunday, February 2, 1919. T h e y faced and dis- regarded the national officers of craft unions, who were tele- graphing orders from the East. T h e y met the threats of the Seattle Health D e p a r t m e n t to jail drivers of garbage wagons if garbage was not removed, by agreeing to permit the col- lection of "wet garbage only" on special permit u n d e r the strikers control. T h e y rejected as strike slogan the m o t t o " W e have n o t h i n g to lose b u t our chains and a whole world to gain" in favor of "Together W e W i n . " For they reasoned that they h a d a great deal to lose—jobs at good wages with which they were buying silk shirts, pianos and homes. T h e y wanted solidarity b u t not class war. T h e n so little did they realize the problems before them that they fixed the strike for the following T h u r s d a y at 10 A.M. and adjourned to meet on T h u r s d a y evening after the strike should have started, meantime referring any new problems that m i g h t arise to a rather hastily elected "Committee of Fifteen." 7Anna Strongs jibe at the lunchpail unions with their pianos a n d pinkshirts is a nice if perhaps unfair touch, b u t her sense of the naivete of thewhole venture is what is most p o i n t e d and appealing, because she doesnot seek to exclude herself from the g r o u p . She was a middle class aristo-crat, a theoretician and enthusiast, not a worker, b u t she genuinely soughtno more t h a n to give a voice to the workers. One reason A n n a Strong is so wonderful is that she really tried to say,both then a n d later, what it was the workers were doing. T w o days beforethe strike, she wrote in a n editorial for the Union Record: " W e areundertaking the most tremendous move ever made by labor in this coun-try, a move that will lead—No O n e Knows W h e r e ! W e do not needhysteria! W e need the iron march of l a b o r ! " She saw even then t h a t any 8attempt to say where the whole t h i n g was going could only lead to theloss of this or that element a m o n g the workers. T h e n , looking back, shesays: "Later, when I was arrested, this editorial was one of the countsagainst me. Its very vagueness saved me. No one knows where—theprosecution claimed this threatened anarchy. T h e defense retorted that itmerely admitted the fact t h a t the future is unknown. Neither gave thereal essence of those words. T h e y appealed to the faith of the pioneer ininevitable progress; they stirred the passion of the march to the undis-covered West. Yet they carefully evaded battle." T h e idea of a n undis- 9covered West in 1919 seems preposterous until one remembers t h a t fifty44
  17. 17. years later people are still coming to Seattle for reasons not unlike thoseA n n a Strong mentions. In the same way the slogans " N o One KnowsW h e r e " and " T o g e t h e r W e W i n , " precisely because they do appeal tosomething like "the faith of the pioneer in inevitable progress," need tobe taken seriously in any assessment of what was really happening. Aspolitics such slogans are shams, b u t it is important to see the strike asmore t h a n politics, just as it is i m p o r t a n t to see the idea of the 1919undiscovered West as not being preposterous. It h a p p e n e d . At 10 A.M. T h u r s d a y , February 6, the city stopped.Foodlines were set u p , and essential services were performed, all at thedirection of the Committee of Fifteen. But n o t h i n g else, and the silencethat resulted apparently surprised a great many people. Workers hadbeen urged to stay home, so they did. T h e streets were left to childrenand dogs, a n d even they found little to do because everything else wassilent. As an initial show of peaceful force the strike could not have beenmore successful. B u t that was as far as anyone had planned. T h e Wob-blies h a d said that after the strike proved successful the working menwould somehow just assume control of the citys manufacture and services.Others felt that an initial show of strength was enough. Most of theworkers seem not have k n o w n w h a t they wanted or expected. Certainlythe Committee of Fifteen, with the power of the city in its hands, did notplan, and the Union Record said almost n o t h i n g about the future. As a result, w h e n the other side moved, the strikers could do littleexcept say that they would or w o u l d not cooperate. Mayor Ole Hansonslowly began to see he could m a k e his name as a patriotic strike-buster.T h e rest of the country seemed alarmed; A n n a Louise Strongs editorialwas interpreted by the good citizens of the city and country as a revolu-tionary document, and if it was, a n d if the strikers were revolutionaries,then they h a d to be crushed, n o t talked to. T h e National Guard wasordered out, a n d H a n s o n claimed immediately that that had stemmed therevolutionary tide. H e then t h r e a t e n e d to declare martial law. T h e laborleaders told h i m all these moves were fraudulent, designed only to mis-represent the situation to outsiders. T h e y pointed out that the n u m b e r ofarrests in Seattle on the first two days of the strike had dropped to two-thirds the normal level. B u t H a n s o n was clearly u n d e r pressure to dosomething, so h e ignored such facts a n d sent a formal notice on the eve-n i n g of Friday, the 7th, to t h e Committee of Fifteen: "I hereby notifyyou that unless the sympathy strike is called off by 8 oclock tomorrowm o r n i n g , February 8, 1919, I will take advantage of the protection offeredthis city by the national g o v e r n m e n t a n d operate all the essentialservices." T h i s notice probably secured Hanson the support of businesspeople in Seattle and of good citizens everywhere, b u t labors response wasdefiant. N o m a t t e r how anxious m a n y u n i o n m e n were to get back and tosee if their jobs were still there, they werent going to be ordered back. O n Saturday afternoon t h e Committee of Fifteen offered the 300-man 45
  18. 18. General Strike Committee a resolution declaring the strike a success a n dasking the m e n to go back to work as of Saturday midnight, b u t them o m e n t the leaders began consulting the rank a n d file they encounteredopposition to the resolution, a n d no one went back to work that night.But this was to be the last show of strength. No one worked Sunday any-way, a n d by Monday cracks were showing in the solid front of labor,enough so t h a t the Committee of Fifteen knew t h a t continuing the strikecould only serve to create factions within the labor movement. O n Mon-day the Committee urged everyone to stay off the j o b u n t i l Tuesday, andto go back to work then. T h o s e at work already on Monday stayed on thejob, b u t everyone did go back on Tuesday. T h e strike was over. Many people at the time h a d to see the strike as a failure, and R o b e r tFriedheim, in writing the only full treatment of the strike thirty-five yearslater, agreed with them. T h e men had gained n o t h i n g , a n d Ole H a n s o nm a d e the rounds of the lecture circuit as an expert in crushing Reds.A n n a Louise Strong wrote: "Shall one blame the yellow leaders w h osabotaged the strike a n d wished to end it? Such a charge is easy to m a k e—and true. B u t it is more to the point to ask why it h a p p e n e d t h a t assoon as any worker was m a d e a leader h e wanted to end that strike. . . .T h e strike could produce n o leaders willing to keep it going. All of uswere red in the ranks and yellow as leaders. For we lacked all intentionof real battle; we expected to drift into power. W e loved the emotion ofa better world coming, b u t all of our leaders a n d not a few of the r a n kand file had m u c h to lose in the old w o r l d / 10 A n n a Strong was never agreat writer, b u t she h a d a rightness of instinct that makes her testimonyinvaluable. I have said earlier that as political slogans " T o g e t h e r W e W i n " and" N o One Knows W h e r e " were shams, as Ole H a n s o n proved r a t h e rquickly; after all, h a d they not been, h a d the strikers really known w h a tthey wanted to win, it would have been Hansons bluff that would havebeen called. But it is not simply as politics that the slogans or the strikemust be seen. W h e n A n n a Strong says the strikers were red in the ranksand yellow as leaders, she is r e m i n d i n g us that men like James D u n c a nand Harry A u l t did not feel dispossessed a n d in need of revolution. T h e yh a d a stake both in their labor movement, and, equally i m p o r t a n t , inSeattle. Seattle was not only where they h a d come to power, n o t onlywhere they h a d seen labor become stronger t h a n anywhere else i n thecountry, b u t where they lived, their h o m e . T h a t did not abate their rageagainst the interests or H a n s o n or David Skinner, b u t it shaped theirvision of w h a t they had, and therefore of w h a t they might lose. Ault,Duncan, A n n a Louise Strong and all the others h a d gained their powerd u r i n g the unusual conditions of the war. Ault h a d worked for years toedit a labor daily, a n d he h a d gained his d r e a m because the w a r h a dgiven him the possibility of a large circulation and of business peoplehaving to come to his p a p e r to advertise. A revolution could have cost46
  19. 19. Ault everything h e h a d gained, and as a result he was cautious. T h e warhad produced, for the working m a n , visible villains in the form of em-ployers m a k i n g h u g e profits, and it h a d given h i m a way of dealing withthose villains a n d of a p p e a r i n g to beat them. But the more the workingm a n won, the more h e could lose, the more Seattle was where he h a dsettled, the more cautious h e became as a leader. As I have said earlier,Seattle was becoming d u r i n g the period both more radical and morebourgeois, a n d n o t h i n g shows this more than the success and failure of theGeneral Strike. For success it was. T h e strikers were wonderful: practical, decent,idealistic, scrupulously democratic, able to take the energies of a greatvariety of people and, for a m o m e n t at least, to harmonize them. In thatm o m e n t the self-seeking that a fragmented craft u n i o n system builds intoitself, the anger a n d disillusion that were the wars major results, then a t u r a l pettiness of h u m a n beings, all were abrogated. But by its veryn a t u r e it was a local success, and for that reason it was quickly over, be-cause by its localness it expressed the tie of many people to their place.As Friedheim puts it: " T h e strike had been a failure, and they all knewit. I n the days ahead they were to learn that it was worse than a f a i l u r e -it was a disaster." T o say this, however, implies that the strike might 11have been a different k i n d of success from the success it was and that thesubsequent fragmentation of the labor movement would n o t have hap-pened h a d the strike n o t happened. Both implications are false. T h e wargave the radicals and the labor movement false hopes just as it was givingmany of t h e m homes in Seattle. A n n a Louise Strong says that the heydayof the Central L a b o r Council was in the period when people coming infrom elsewhere m a d e great speeches. But the longer those speakers stayedthe less revolutionary they became, and when the wartime boom was overthey also became less powerful. I t must be remembered, too, that it was not only the war that had ledlabor to believe t h a t this city was a place whose continued growth wasassured. I n the decade before the war Seattle was booming, though it iseasy to see now that it was a boom based more on earlier economic diversityand stability t h a n on a n y t h i n g h a p p e n i n g during that decade to insurefurther growth. Money was becoming more concentrated, a n d as it did itbecame m o r e cautious, more content in collecting the blue chips thatcould be extracted from l u m b e r and the railroads. T h e economy ofSeattle was in m u c h worse shape in 1914 than could have been seen at thetime by any b u t the most perceptive, and when, on top of that, the wargave the area a n o t h e r huge boost, laboring people were misled into think-ing that Seattle h a d unlimited possibilities for everyone. So the General Strike really is a demonstration of the kind of hold thepast can have on people. Even the Wobblies took the wild wartime de-mands for productivity as a sign that the workers were coming into theirown. But even as the war was going on the I.W.W. was being decimated 47
  20. 20. by the execution or conviction of its greatest leaders, a n d the movementwas not great enough to be able to afford such losses. L a b o r generally h a dto begin to find out all over again what its resources were, and in theensuing years it was forced to learn that what Seattles crisis h a d obscuredwas that the prewar a n d wartime booms were n o t creating conditions forfurther growth. I n m a n y ways the depression began here not in 1929,b u t in 1919. I n that year one famous m a n visited Seattle, a n d another who h a d notyet achieved fame r e t u r n e d to Seattle after having d o n e a hitch in theNavy. T h e visitor was W o o d r o w Wilson, m a k i n g his whirlwind t o u r ofthe country in an effort to gain mass support for the League of Nations,coming to Seattle n o t long before he was paralyzed by a stroke on thetrain between Pueblo and Wichita. J o h n Dos Passos gives a small pictureof Wilsons reception in Seattle: " I n Seattle the wobblies whose leaderswere in jail, in Seattle the wobblies whose leaders h a d been lynched,w h o d been shot down like dogs, i n Seattle the wobblies lined four blocksas Wilson passed, stood silent with their arms folded, staring at the greatliberal as he was h u r r i e d past in his car, h u d d l e d in his overcoat, haggardwith fatigue, one side of his face twitching. T h e m e n in overalls, theworkingstiffs let h i m pass in silence after all the other blocks of hand-clapping a n d patriotic c h e e r s . " Resolute, righteous, in most respects 12right, faces turned to the past, the Wobblies died, crushed as m u c h bypeace as by war. T h a t was one Seattle in 1919. T h e other was the Seattle seen by Dave Beck w h e n he came h o m e fromthe Navy, a n d he saw anarchy, idealism, disillusion: "Beck t h o u g h t thestrike h a d been wrong, criminally wrong; it h a d been impetuous, it h a dbeen pointless; it b r o u g h t disrepute to Labor a n d h a d won nothing. H ewas disgusted with the idealists who h a d dreamed it u p . H e would n olonger answer when the Wobblies greeted h i m as a fellow w o r k e r . 13Resolute, righteous, in some respects right, face t u r n e d to the future, DaveBeck went back to driving truck, soliciting business for his boss, organ-izing the laundry teamsters. T h a t was a n o t h e r Seattle in 1919, a city cutsmaller, defeated, grim, u n a w a r e of what h a d h a p p e n e d and so of whereto go, ready for the ministrations of Dave Beck. University of W a s h i n g t o n footnotes 1. Anna Louise Strong, I Change Worlds (New York, 1935), 47. 2. Lowell Hawley and Ralph Potts, Counsel for the Damned (Philadelphia, 1953), 205. 3. Strong, I Change Worlds, 63. 4. Ibid., 66. 5. Ibid., 65. 6. Robert L. Friedheim, The Seattle General Strike (Seattle, 1964), 86-87. 7. Strong, I Change Worlds, 75-76. 8. Ibid., 79. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid., 81-82. 11. Friedheim, The Seattle General Strike, 146. 12. John Dos Passos, 1919 (New York, 1932), 249-250. 13. Murray Morgan, Skid Road (New York, 1951), 223.48