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On January 21, 1919, shipyard workers in Seattle, Washington, USA, went on strike for higher wages to accommodate rising postwar prices. On February 6, in an act of solidarity, thousands of Seattle workers from over a hundred local unions joined the strike, which lasted for five days and paralyzed the city. It was the first general strike in U.S. history. In a city of 315,000 people, more than 65,000 were on strike. The strikers served food, supplied hospitals, and kept peace in the streets with tremendous organization and efficiency. The poem below was written by “Anise” (a pen name of Anna Louise Strong) in the Seattle Union Record for which she was feature editor from 1916 to 1921.

They Can’t Understand

What scares them most is
That NOTHING HAPPENS!
They are ready for DISTURBANCES.
They have machine guns
And soldiers,
But this SMILING SILENCE
Is uncanny.
The business men
Don’t understand
That sort of weapon.
It comes
From a DIFFERENT WORLD
Than the world THEY live in.
It is really funny
And a bit pathetic
To see how worried
And MAD
The business men are getting.
What meetings they hold,
What WILD RUMORS
They use
To keep themselves
STIRRED UP.
Yet MOST of them
Might be real pleasant
HUMAN BEINGS
Except that life
Has separated them
Too much from the common folks.
It is the SYSTEM
Of industry
That  makes them sullen
And SUSPICIOUS of us,
Not any NATURAL depravity.
It is the system
That trains them to believe
In the words of our
Beloved Ole,*
That they can bring in
Enough ARMED FORCES
To operate our industries.
But how many
MACHINE GUNS
Will it take to cook
ONE MEAL?
It is your SMILE
That is UPSETTING
Their reliance
On ARTILLERY, brother!
It is the garbage wagons
That go along the street
Marked “EXEMPT
By STRIKE COMMITTEE.”
It is the milk stations
That are getting better daily,
And the three hundred
WAR Veterans of Labor
Handling the crowds
WITHOUT GUNS.
For these things speak
Of a NEW POWER
And a NEW WORLD
That they don’t feel
at HOME in.


* Ole Hanson, the mayor of Seattle at the time

 


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00