Read about the struggles of the Longshormen’s union and their sacrifice. Learn about Bloody Thursday and Harry Bridges:
The strike established the right of working people to have a voice in the workplace, play a role in city politics and lead lives of dignity on and off the job. And it laid down the economic and political foundation on which the city’s various countercultures could flourish.
On May 9, 1934, 10,000 longshoremen went on strike up and down the West Coast, protesting below-subsistence wages and the humiliating daily hiring experience known as “the shapeup.” In this exercise in employer absolutism, workers gathered early in the morning on the foggy docks along the Embarcadero, competing with one another in a desperate race to the bottom of the Depression wage scale. Once at work, the worker might remain there for 10, 12, 16 or more hours. Injuries accumulated faster than cargo on the dock because of the frantic pace of the work. And should they imagine complaining, there were always more workers waiting to take their place.
One who refused to take it was Australian immigrant seaman Harry Bridges, who began working the San Francisco docks in 1921. Patiently organizing his fellow workers, Bridges and like-minded dockworkers reached out to the other maritime unions in May 1934, and within weeks, 40,000 workers were on strike, shutting down almost every West Coast port. Employer associations, supported by San Francisco government officials, police and the commercial media, responded with major organized violence. Police and the employers’ armed thugs sent hundreds of strikers and sympathizers to hospital emergency rooms.
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