How Many Machine Guns Does It Take to Cook One Meal?

The Seattle and San Francisco General Strikes

Victoria Johnson

  • Published: 2008
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History
  • Bibliographic information: 200 pp., 4 illus., 5.5 x 8.5 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

How Many Machine Guns Does It Take to Cook One Meal? explores the cultural forces that shaped two pivotal events affecting the entire West Coast: the 1919 Seattle General Strike and the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. In contrast to traditional approaches that downplay culture or focus on the role of socialists or communists, Victoria Johnson shows how strike participants were inspired by distinctly American notions of workplace democracy that can be traced back to the political philosophies of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

Johnson examines the powerful stories and practices from our own egalitarian traditions that resonated with these workers and that have too often been dismissed by observers of the American labor movement. Ultimately, she argues that organized labor's failure to draw on these traditions in later decades contributed to its decreasing capacity to mobilize workers as well as to the increasing conservatism of American political culture.

This book will appeal to scholars of western and labor history, sociology, and political science, as well as to anyone interested in the intersection of labor and culture.
Victoria Johnson is associate professor of sociology at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

"This book corrects the view that American unionism was conservative in its political orientation by examining the 1919 Seattle General Strike and the 1934 San Francisco General Strike, both of which were radical to the core and deeply embedded in the communities out of which they arose. The book is a bold undertaking that presents the other face of labor in American history."
-David Olson, University of Washington

"Shows how a militant shop-floor unionism capitalized upon radical republican political traditions to produce a distinctive movement for labor solidarity that subordinated the more state-centered ideologies of socialism and communism to the sidelines."
-Daniel Jacoby, author of Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America

1. New Wine in Old Bottles: Rethinking American Exceptionalism
2. "A New Power and a New World": The Seattle General Strike, 1919
3. "To Organize and Control the Job": The San Francisco General Strike, 1934
4. Explaining General Strikes: The Instrumentality of Culture
5. The Making of Moral Certitude: Institutions, Identities, and Resonance