On June 22, 1917, the three unions now on strike held a well-attended downtown parade, with 900 women marchers. Music was provided by the musicians' Local 76 and a good time was had by all.

Every Seattle union that had met since the strike began was contributing to the laundry workers' cause, and the strikers also enjoyed great public support.

    The laundry girls go public and win

They even solicited sympathy from the customer class. A union rep, for instance, spoke to the King County Legislative Federation, petitioning support from their women’s club delegates. The laundry girls sponsored an information booth at the Fremont Canal Festival; they also marched in Columbia City’s ‘Rainier Valley Fiesta.’

The business agent, or leader, of their union was none other than Johanna I. Hilts - who, three years earlier, had taken on the owners at the 1914 Minimum Wage Conference.

Finally, on June 23, a member of the Owners broke ranks. This was the Peerless Laundry, which acceded to the union’s demands. The move precipitated a war within the Laundry Owners’ Club. D. C. Keeney and company told the Peerless president T. J. Williams that he must forfeit to them his entire plant and business. They also asked for $5,000 for "breach-of-agreement". Williams, however, stood firm - refusing to turn over his plant and telling the Owners’ trust, "I am willing to take a chance."

The crippled owners did not, in the end, pursue their legal battle. Yet the strike against them dragged on into July. The case of the Peerless deluged the owners’ trust with bad publicity — a typical damning headline was "Club Tries to Use Club." The final blow, however, came from the owners’ very class and community. When the weekly "Business Chronicle of the Pacific Northwest" published an article backing the union, they minced no words, headlining it "Owners Wrong in Strike of Laundry Girls". In part, it read:

"This is the first time that this newspaper — which is opposed on principle to strikes and the general arrogant attitude of organized labor — has seen merit in the strikers’ cause … The Business Chronicle believes that those laundries that will not pay their female help enough to live on with at least some semblance of decency, should be rebuked not only in the name of humanity, but also for the good of all business."

By July 6, the Owners knew they needed public redemption; finally, they entered into negotiations with the union. Two days later, the long strike was ended, in a deluge of front-page headlines.

With the help of Local 566 and Local 40, the girls of Local 24 had won a wage increase, full union recognition and a closed shop. They also won, as the Seattle Daily Times reported, "betterments in working conditions that are generally regarded as equally if not more important."

This sentiment indicated the role the owners’ cartel had played. Their oppressive arrogance and their disregard for conditions had strengthened both the girls’ determination and public sympathies.

While other unions declined in power after World War I, Seattle’s laundry workers maintained the strength they had forged. In 1920, three years after the strike, they could boast 1,000 members.

on to Setting the stage for other battles    

back to Home & Dry Gazette