May 9 Solidarity on the Docks

May 9, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1934.

That was the day the West Coast Maritime strike began.

It was an historic strike that shut down the major ports along the Pacific coast.

The strike also coincided with the pivotal Minneapolis Teamsters Strike and Toledo Auto-Lite Strike.

From Seattle to San Diego, longshoreman walked off the job.

Harry Bridges led the Albion Hall caucus in San Francisco.

They demanded higher wages, shorter hours and union representation.

They also demanded a coast-wide agreement and a union hiring hall to replace the hated daily ‘shapeup.’

Longshoremen were fed up with the gangster-run, company union that controlled the arbitrary, day labor hiring on the docks.

From the pages of the Waterfront Worker newsletter, militant longshoremen took on the shippers, the government, craft unionism and racism of the union.

On the first day of the strike, dozens of black longshoremen joined the union and convinced others not to scab.

Soon all unions on the docks walked out in solidarity.

By May 15 all west coast ports were completely shut down and 25,000 were out on strike by the end of the month.

In his book, Workers on the Waterfront, Bruce Nelson notes the qualities that made the strike a success.

He points to the militancy and discipline required to stand up to the National Guard during the deadly, main battle of July 5, the workers solidarity across craft lines necessary for the San Francisco general strike that followed, a defiant rank-and-file independence, and the understanding that intensive red-baiting could only serve the bosses.

Though workers were forced back to work through arbitration, they were awarded their demands that fall.

It would take more job actions to make those awards a reality.

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