Seattle’s reputation as a pro-labor town has mostly been founded on the memory of the General Strike of 1919 and the WTO protests of 1999. However, many other such events have occurred here to strengthen that reputation. Chief among these was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newsroom strike of 1936. This event stands out especially for being among the first significant white-collar strikes in the United States.
The P-I strike began on the date in focus here, when 35 journalists employed by the P-I (half the paper’s newsroom staff at the time) walked off the job in response to the paper’s decision to fire two longtime newsroom employees as punishment for joining the American Newspaper Guild. The Guild, founded in 1933, was new and controversial at the time, since journalists were then considered white-collar workers, and thus not typical union material.
The strike was as much a protest against newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst as it was against the P-I management. The P-I had been owned since 1921 by Hearst, the nation’s most influential publisher, whose publishing empire included major newspapers and magazines across the United States. Hearst’s avid anti-communism, anti-unionism, and vocal opposition to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had made him widely despised by organized labor nationwide. Hearst was especially hostile towards the Guild, and was determined to prevent his employees in Seattle from unionizing his newspaper there. In fact, the striking P-I workers found encouragement from strikers at another Hearst newspaper, the Wisconsin News in Milwaukee, earlier that year.
When two key P-I employees — drama critic Everhardt Armstrong and lead photographer Frank “Slim” Lynch — joined the Guild, the P-I, under Hearst’s orders, manufactured reasons for firing the two journalists. Management accused them of inefficiency and insubordination, but the men claimed the action was taken because they had joined the Guild. At the time, Armstrong had worked at the P-I for 17 years, while Lynch had worked there for 15 years, and both were highly revered by their colleagues.
Other members of the P-I newsroom staff supported the two fired Guild members by walking off the job. The Seattle Central Labor Council then declared the P-I unfair to organized labor and called for a boycott. The strike quickly won the support of all the unions in Seattle, including the Teamsters, then led by the legendary Dave Beck. Longshore workers, lumber workers, metal workers, and Teamsters all joined the picket lines outside the P-I building. Beck provided additional support by threatening that Teamster drivers would refuse to deliver newsprint for the P-I to be printed on.
The firing of Armstrong and Lynch was merely the tip of the iceberg that fomented the strike. During the weeks preceding the strike, many P-I employees had become disgruntled over increasingly harsh management actions. So-called “efficiency” changes by management had resulted in the dismissal of experienced workers who were then replaced by workers who lacked experience but could be paid lower wages.
The strike resulted in the suspension of publication of the P-I for three-and-a-half months. The P-I attempted to get its editions published at The Seattle Daily Times, but the unionized typographers at the Times prevented that from happening. Thus, the P-I did not publish from August 19, 1936, until late that November. Meanwhile, the strikers published their own newspaper, The Guild Daily, staffed by striking P-I employees, which quickly became popular among Seattle citizens who supported the strike. By the end of the strike, that paper’s circulation had reached 60,000 copies per day.
The strike coincided with the 1936 national election season. President Roosevelt — Hearst’s ideological adversary — was re-elected on November 3, 1936. After the election, Hearst settled with the American Newspaper Guild, giving the Guild its first victory and cementing Washington state’s reputation as a state where labor had genuine political power. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer strike officially ended on November 25, 1936, and the P-I resumed publication on November 29. Having begun as an upstart fight by a small, local union, the strike ended as a major victory for white-collar labor nationwide.
Sources: “The Right To Publish,” The Seattle Star, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “Statement of P. I.,” The Seattle Star, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “Statement of Guild,” The Seattle Star, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “This Shameful Page” (editorial), The Seattle Daily Times, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “Violence Flares at News Plant as Guild Men Strike,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “A Statement by the Post-Intelligencer,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “P.I.-Guild Strike Is ‘Coasting’,” The Seattle Star, August 15, 1936, p. 1; “Guild Gives Answer To Statement of P.-I.,” The Seattle Star, August 15, 1936, p. 1; “Guild Strikers Hold Blockade on P.-I. Building,” The Seattle Sunday Times, August 16, 1936, p. 1; “Publication Of P.-I. Still Is Blocked,” The Seattle Star, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “P-I Blames Beck,” The Seattle Star, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Says the Guild:,” The Seattle Star, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Newspaper Management Says Future Activities ‘Up To Community’,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Guild Issues Own Statement On Merits of Its P.-I. Strike,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “One Picket Arrested as Drunk, One Hurt in Fight in Guild Strike,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Guild, P.-I. Mediation Proposed,” The Seattle Star, August 18, 1936, p. 1; Archie Binns, Northwest Gateway: The Story of the Port of Seattle (Binfords & Mort, 1941); William E. Ames and Roger A. Simpson, Unionism or Hearst: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Strike of 1936 (Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, 1978).