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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago: Crisis erupts as shipyards go on strike

This strike at the Seattle-Tacoma shipyards would turn out to be the first step in what would soon become a momentous episode in state history: The Seattle General Strike of 1919. (Spokesman-Review archives)
This strike at the Seattle-Tacoma shipyards would turn out to be the first step in what would soon become a momentous episode in state history: The Seattle General Strike of 1919. (Spokesman-Review archives)

An estimated 40,000 workers went on strike in the big shipyards of Seattle and Tacoma, precipitating a crisis.

Seattle’s big steel shipyards were all closed, along with most of the wooden shipyards. The strike was led by 21 unions affiliated with the Metal Trades Council. Strike leaders said that other workers would soon join the strike, paralyzing the Puget Sound industry. They were striking for higher wages.

So far, the walkout had been peaceful. But legislators in Olympia said they were ready to pass a “state constabulary bill” if the strike turned violent.

This strike would turn out to be the first step in what would soon become a momentous episode in state history: The Seattle General Strike of 1919.

Also from the strike beat: Meanwhile, Spokane was having a strike of its own, far less momentous.

All of the “boy ushers” at the Clemmer Theater (today’s Bing Crosby Theater) walked out with only 15 minutes warning in a dispute over wages.

The 12 boys demanded a raise of a nickel an hour, from 15 cents to 20 cents for the regular ushers and from 20 cents to 25 cents for the head ushers. They contended that ushers in other Spokane theaters were getting 25 cents an hour.

Dr. H.S. Clemmer, the proprietor, said he wasn’t necessarily opposed to a raise, but he “did not intend to be railroaded into it.”

Instead of granting the demand, Clemmer and some other employees “took off their coats” and worked as ushers for the evening’s shows.

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