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General Strike

General Strike

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Published by Andrew Knox

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Published by: Andrew Knox on Sep 25, 2010
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The Seattle General Strike:
The Revolution That Never Had A Chance
ByAndrew KnoxFor Fred Nollan,English 102, Winter Quarter 2010Seattle Central Community College
On the first day of February, 1919, mild hysteria spread over the populace of Seattle.Like a disease, fear and panic subtly permeated the community. There was still order, that wasnot in question. The question was, rather, how long would this order stand? Edwin Selvin,editor of the Business Chronicle, paid for publication of an article in the
Seattle P.-I.
, claimingthat “a community crisis confronts Seattle and Tacoma. Upon how the citizens meet this greatestof crises and upon them alone depends the well-being of the entire Puget Soundregion”(Selvin 7). While perhaps hyperbolic, and writing in the interest of business, Selvin had a point. The following two weeks in Seattle would affect the entire nation, sparking the first RedScare in the United States and eventually leading to the Cold War.This panic was the threat, and subsequent action, of a general strike. A general strike is astrike that involves the complete paralyzing of industry in an area by means of complete labor stoppage (Cambridge). The difference between a strike and a general strike is comparable to thedifference between an epidemic and a pandemic. One is local, the other is widespread. Astandard strike has only the capacity to disable a certain company the strikers bear grievanceagainst, whereas, a general strike has the capacity to disable an entire area such as, within thecontext of this paper, the City of Seattle. Just saying a general strike disables a city is too vague,however, as a general strike shuts down all of the businesses, the city government (both in political and infrastructural terms), the entertainment sectors, automobile transportation and public roads, food production, virtually any facet of a community. In concise terms, a generalstrike paralyzes an entire society.In the closing days of World War I, the Russian monarchy was deposed by a group of Marxist-Communists calling themselves the Bolsheviks. This was an unprecedented2
development in the history of political affairs: a revolution of the working people standing up tothe aristocracy that had perennially taken advantage of them. The Bolsheviks, and the newnation state they crafted, the Soviet Union, were seen by people in power around the world asextremely dangerous rabble-rousers, idealizing the unity of the common man and setting intomotion schemes to export their revolution to the corners of the earth. Even in the United Statesthere was fear of a Bolshevist uprising, because, although human equality was the rule, it was notthe reality.The Seattle General Strike of 1919 starred two opposing forces: organized labor and theestablishment. Key establishment figures in the Seattle General Strike include Ole Hansen (theMayor of Seattle), Charles Piez (the Director General of the Emergency Fleet Corporation), andMajor Gen. John F. Morrison (a military commander assigned to maintain order in the area). Tothis day, it is not crystal clear if these men were acting on their own interests, or in a fiduciaryrole, on behalf of the power elites, who pulled the strings behind the scenes. The term “power elites” refers to the upper-class movers and shakers in a society, the men with the money that runthe market and make the big decisions (Shively 7). Power elites are variously business leaders, political leaders, or wealthy people of any occupation interested primarily in retaining their wealth.This is not to say that there wasn’t a substantial group of poor laborers who were drawninto supporting the establishment through propaganda that inserted notions of “communism bad,America good;” that economic and social mobility was more than a cleverly constructedmythology. In 1919, as is so today, the ability to move up and out of the lower class was rare; if you were born poor, you would most likely die poorer. Through monopolistic control of the3

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