In 1932, pleading economic depression, laundry owners asked a favor from the unions; to start contract negotiations three years early. For the drivers, Dave Beck agreed to wage reductions - of $10 per week or from $40 to $30. But the girls of Local 24 was not so easily swayed.

     Bitter fruit: The strike of 1932

While they did agree to quite substantial minimum wage reductions - from $17.25 to $14.25 - they balked at the additional loss of all holiday pay.

Once again the owners, headed by John Hagen, got together a "holding company" through which the cartel could oppose them. Incorporating on June 27, 1932, they called it the "Seattle Laundry Company, Inc.". The next day, "blunt notices" were pinned up in the Empire Laundry, as in all other "Company" laundries. These notices announced by fiat a 15% cut in wages — and the complete removal of holiday pay. Many workers claimed the notices also asked them "to give up their union."

On August 4, 1932, in seven laundries, 1,200 women laundry workers walked off the job. The following day, the strike had spread to eleven laundries. The day of the first walkout, in Seattle Superior Court, charges were formally filed against the Seattle Laundry Company, Inc. They were brought by none other than David D. Beck and Samual R. Gibboney. (both described in the press as "two stockholders of one of the [laundry] concerns." They did indeed hold stock in Superior Service Laundries, a five-strong chain Beck had been wooed to supervise in 1926.)

This time, Beck had gone — by legal means — to the heart of the matter. His suit charged that "nearly all Seattle laundries had organized a monopoly to maintain excess prices and stifle competition." He told the press he had brought the suit as "a stockholder", to stop Superior Service from entering a monopoly. Beck claimed Seattle Laundries, Inc. involved 32 laundries (its secretary told the press the number was 22). Judge Kaxis Kay issued a restraining order, forbidding Superior Service from entering into a laundry "combine."

The same day, the Associated Press "disclosed" that Attorney General John H. Dunbar was "investigating the alleged Seattle laundry combinations."

The 1917 strike had featured parades and plenty of public sympathy. This one, from its inception, involved strike breaking, pitched battles and destruction of property. The first calls to police occurred on August 5, when 80 striking laundry girls engaged with strikebreakers. The women fought with hatpins and knives and even pots of pepper; three of them were detained by the police. In another incident, a would-be scab was badly beaten. The women injured ranged in age from 22 to 53; many were afraid to give police their names.

As rumors of "two hundred strike-breakers from Tacoma" were circulating among the striking laundry girls, the laundry owners became afraid of further violence. By Saturday am, they were asking the police for protection — The Seattle Times' headline read "Police on Guard Over 11 Laundries." Crowds of workers were assembled outside of these laundries and police chief Tony Norton pleaded for peace with those who were picketing. (He also issued an order for "strict neutrality" when his officers started taking sides with the strikers.)

The day before, members of Seattle Laundries, Inc. held an emergency meeting all afternoon. But, as always, they declined to answer charges — or to make any kind of public statement. Hagen, however, was losing control of his prize possession; by Saturday, some girls were leaving their jobs at his Empire Laundry. That evening, all across Seattle, "warfare broke out anew". Police alleged that women pickets beat a non-union man, stoned a scab delivery driver and stole bundles of laundry.

Another "development" was broadcast in the Sunday newspaper: Prosecuting Attorney Robert M. Burgunder had sharply criticized the laundry owners’ practices. Burgunder sounded somewhat like Beck when he said:

"Laundry prices are entirely too high. The laundries have made no move to bring there prices down to current commodity levels. Instead they have entered into agreements which they secretly violate by giving rebates to preferred customers. But the general public is forced to pay the bill and the employees have suffered by the consequent decline in business."

on to A violent final struggle    

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