Longshoreman's Strike of 1934
President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed our
nation had a rendezvous with destiny, that is, the American people would
survive the Great Depression and achieve unparalleled economic and
social well-being. In some ways American labor gained a measure of FDR's
dream during the 1930's. After a century of unending struggles for the
right of their unions to exist, the New Deal assisted American workers
at a time when the national labor movement was declining precipitately
During June 1933, Congress enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act
(NIRA) to combat the economic depression by shortening hours of labor,
increasing wages, and eliminating unfair trade practices. The Act also
created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to work with industry
and labor to increase employment. Section 7-A of NIRA provided workers
the choice of their own representatives to bargain collectively with
On the Pacific Coast, where company unions had dominated industrial
relations since the early 1920's, the effect of the federal legislation
was to open a new era in employer-employee relations.'
A notable exception to the Pacific Coast labor situation was Tacoma,
where ILA Locals 38-3 and 38-30 were the only major closed shop
longshore unions on the West Coast.
These locals were respected by both the ILA international office and
other Pacific Coast longshoremen for their efficiency and strong
leadership. During 1934 Paddy Morris was Pacific Coast ILA Organizer,
and Jack Bjorklund was District Secretary. Morris and Bjorklund had
spent years trying to organize the West Coast, but until 1929 their
organizing drive stumbled along with little progress.
Then worker militancy asserted itself. ILA locals were chartered in
Everett and Grays Harbor in 1929. Portland was next in 1931 and Seattle
in 1932. When San Francisco, key to the coast, was organized during the
fall of 1933, longshoremen were ready to move. By March 1934, forty-four
ILA locals held charters in the Pacific Coast District, and longshoremen
were once again solidly unionized from San Diego, California, to Juneau,
As the Pacific Coast ILA reconstituted itself, district members became
involved in developing another important provision of NIRA, Section 7-B.
This clause asked industries to voluntarily prepare codes of operation
which would stimulate economic recovery and at the same time recognize
the needs of working people. From
July 2 trough 5, 1933, a special session of the Pacific Coast District
ILA met in Seattle to review a tentative code prepared by Tacoma.
The 56 delegates added or eliminated as they saw fit the various clauses
or conditions affecting practically every line of work on the
waterfront. The delegates then sent the tentative code with their
revisions to the various locals for their acceptance, modification or
rejection. The code referendum was overwhelmingly approved by the
Pacific Coast District ILA officers, including Jack Bjorklund and Paddy
Morris, went to Washington, D.C. with the membership's recommendations
for inclusion in the Section B shipping code. When they arrived in the
nation's capital city the ILA men discovered that maritime employers
already had prepared their version of the code and refused to meet with
longshore representatives concerning a joint proposal. Attempts by the
NRA bureaucracy to bring the shipping companies to the conference table
to discuss the shipping code with the union men were futile.
The shock of the employers' attitude at the code hearings added to the
fighting mood of ILA delegates to the Pacific Coast District Convention
when they met in San Francisco from February 25 to March 6, 1934. The
convention immediately named a negotiating committee to meet with the
employers' team, led by Thomas G. Plant, chairman of the San Francisco
Water Front Employers.
Chairman Plant kept delaying the meeting with the longshoremen until
Paddy Morris, Acting Chairman of the Convention, became so upset with
dallying that he stepped down from the podium to advise the delegates:
I want to say that this convention should do this: they should instruct
that [negotiating committee] to thresh out the full question at issue
with them the employers definitely and positively on Monday and give
them an ultimatum that unless they agree to meet with us as a district,
that there will be no more meetings with them as local employers. And if
they refuse to do that on Monday, you can then decide Goddamned quick
what you want to do. And then you can go back to your Local with
something material and substantial. If you don't do that, you won't have
any Locals, I am afraid . 3
This convention listened to Paddy Morris. The delegates instructed the
convention negotiating committee to demand: Recognize the ILA District
as the official collective bargaining agent or the convention will take
a strike vote. When Jack Bjorklund, negotiating team chairman, reported
back to the convention that the employers were willing to talk about
wages and working conditions, but not on the closed shop situation, the
following resolution was proposed:
Whereas, We have given March 7th as a dead line for our employers to
comply with our demands, and whereas
We have instructed our committee that in the event our employers do not
comply with our demands on said date, that within ten days they shall
proceed to take a strike vote, and whereas
President Ryan has requested us to take no drastic action until the 22nd
of March on which date we have been informed the Code will be signed,
He further requests us to forward our strike vote to him to use same in
Therefore, be it Resolved, that we instruct our Committee that in the
event our employers do not comply with our demand by March 7, that they
immediately take a strike vote of all Pacific Coast Locals, and
Be it further Resolved, that said strike vote be forwarded to our
International President, to use in our behalf, and
Be it further Resolved, that we inform the International President that
if our demands are not met by our employers on March 22nd a strike will
be called in all Pacific Coast ports at 6a.m. on March 23rd.'
The resolution passed by a resounding voice vote of AYE and the
convention adjourned. Up and down the West Coast, a referendum vote by
the rank and file to strike carried by a huge majority, with only
Anacortes voting against striking. As March 23 approached and there was
no progress in negotiations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested
the ILA Pacific Coast District Executive Board to delay the start of the
Roosevelt promised to appoint a fact-finding commission to investigate
the controversy and recommend a solution. The ILA Board complied with
the President's request and waited. But the President's mediation panel
could not find a workable compromise, and on May 9, 1934, 12,500 West
Coast longshoremen went on strike. Moreover, this time longshoremen were
supported by the seamen, engineers, masters, mates and pilots and other
The maritime workers tied up their vessels when they reached port and
struck as soon as meetings were convened to approve the strike. As
coequal, but separate strikers, the seagoing men demanded higher wages,
three instead of two watches, and employer recognition of their
respective unions. Thus, the first industry-wide strike in shipping
It was to be a memorable strike that eventually involved nearly 35,000
workers and lasted 83 days.
Immediately union spokesmen went to the press to explain their position
to the general public. In Tacoma a committee was formed to carry out
that task for the duration of the strike. Named the Tacoma Longshore
Press Committee, it was led by Robert Hardin, Paddy Morris, Ernest
Tanner and Tiny Thronson. Hoping to gain public support for their cause,
this union committee sent the following letter to local newspapers and
All we're asking for is a fair shake and if we get that we will be
satisfied. We also wish to impress on the minds of the public that we
don't like strikes, but we are forced to fight for what we believe are
our just dues. We were informed there was to be a code under the
National Recovery Act for the shipping industry and that our work would
be covered ... The promised code was not forthcoming and there is still
none today. A code, however, was given the shipowners and that gave them
the edge over us right off the bat.
Then it was proposed by Dr Boris Stearns of the US. Department of Labor
that the government supervise and operate the hiring of all
longshoremen, and the elimination of our local booking offices in all
ports. That was turned down at a convention of Northwest longshoremen
held at Portland last winter In December, however, we were given 10
cents an hour raise in basic pay, making 85 cents. We were receiving 90
cents prior to 1931.
Then we were again assured that in the near future the promised code
would be signed and the employers would be forced to meet us. On
February 25, we held a convention in San Francisco and elected a
committee of seven to meet San Francisco employers and shipowners. 7hey
refused to recognize our committee as representing the ILA.
It was then that we, through our international president, issued the
ultimatum setting March 23 as the time of the strike ... There was ... a
telegram from President Roosevelt, who proposed he would find an
impartial board. We complied with the President's request and the board
was appointed and met with our executive board. The shipowners refused
to take part in the conference at first, but were later persuaded by the
President's board. They refused point blank to give us any consideration
in regard to hours and wages, thus breaking the agreement they made with
our organization and the President's board.
We feel that Tacoma Waterfront Employers will agree to our claim that
through our work Tacoma has had far more efficiency and far fewer
accidents in the loading of ships than at any other
port on the Coast.
Tacoma ILA. Statement Issued Thursday, Noon May 9,1934
Similar statements to newspapers and radio stations were made in all
ports as the strike began. Recognition that public opinion was important
indicated a growing sophistication by longshoremen in their struggles to
beat the employers. No longer did longshoremen simply believe their
cause was just and that the public would somehow understand their point
The men now understood that it was necessary to explain repeatedly to
the people the circumstances causing the strike and what the goals of
the workers were. The general tenor of all longshore publicity during
the twelve-week strike stressed that the stoppage was a struggle by
workers to achieve job security through the closed shop and union hiring
The West Coast maritime strike became front-page news nationally, and
most editors and publishers sided with employers. Their editorials and
feature articles repeated management's position that the strike was a
Communist plot and longshoremen were being duped by radicals. The
subject of Communist control of the ILA was brought up by the employers
as early as the meeting between the convention negotiating committee and
the waterfront owners before the strike. ILA District Secretary
Bjorklund told the
... at Tacoma, these men in question [Communists] were hired by the
employers and when trouble broke out they tried to lay the
responsibility on us ... It was specifically stated in our Constitution
that any man who belonged to a dual organization should be expelled from
our organization. So they didn't get away with that. I finally told them
that I had been jumped on from hell and back again by the employers and
the communists, and that, personally, I was fed up on it.'
The greatest national attention was directed toward the strike in San
Francisco. The Bay City was not only the headquarters of the largest ILA
local, but also of other maritime unions and most of the shipowners. All
maritime crafts became deeply involved in strike activities. There were
daily parades on the Embarcadero to draw attention to the cause, and
more importantly the joint Marine Strike Committee maintained a full
complement of pickets at all San Francisco docks to keep out
strikebreakers. Fully aware of the importance of San Francisco as the
major testing ground, the ship- ping industry braced itself for another
fight to the finish.
The Tacoma Longshoremen's "Flying Squad"
In the Pacific Northwest, strike activity took place mainly in Seattle,
Portland and Everett, where police, armed guards, scabs and longshoremen
fought sporadically on the docks and in nearby streets. Tacoma escaped
most of the violence because Commencement Bay employers made few efforts
to import scabs and force the docks open.
Perhaps the reason for the reluctance of the employers to break the
picket lines was the formation of a special unit of Tacoma longshoremen
called the Flying Squad. When the 1934 strike was only three days old,
the Flying Squad participated in scab-clearing on the Seattle docks.
Altogether 600 Tacoma and 200 Everett longshoremen stormed the Seattle
waterfront from Nelson Dock to the Bell Street Terminal driving scabs
away from employer piers. Led by Henry Brown, Victor Olson, Fred Sellers
and George Soule, the Tacoma Flying Squad spent much time in Seattle and
other Washington State ports strengthening the ranks of their coworkers
whenever employers threatened to open a port with scabs.
Although organized as an official union activity, even the Tacoma Strike
Committee did not always know what the Squad was doing. Secrecy was
considered essential to success, and staying out of jail.
Evidently, much planning had taken place by Tacoma longshoremen before
the strike began. On March 30, 1934, Tacoma Locals 38-30 and 38-3
amalgamated into ILA Local 38-97, thereby ending the long-standing
rivalry between lumber handlers and general cargo longshoremen. The
merger of the two Tacoma locals clearly meant a united front toward
employers. Moreover, the ever busy Paddy Morris was the Tacoma Central
Labor Council President in 1934, and on the day the strike began the
council passed a motion that if troops are used to break the
Longshoremen's strike, the Council will call a general strike.
Washington State Governor Clarence Martin reacted to the Tacoma Central
Labor Council announcement by calling a conference on May 16, 1934,
which included the shipping employers, the ILA, the Council, State
Federation of Labor, and the Teamsters. The meeting turned out to be a
failure because employers urged the Governor to use the National Guard
to open Washington ports.
The union representatives told Martin to keep his hands off or there
would be a general strike from Bellingham to Portland, Oregon. After the
meeting, Martin announced that he hoped the men would go back to work
under a truce, pending the outcome of federal mediation efforts in San
Francisco. Puget Sound longshoremen refused to consider his suggestion
of a truce and continued to picket the docks.'
In the midst of the first hectic month, ILA President Joseph P. Ryan
invited himself to the West Coast to settle the strike. On May 28, 1934,
Ryan, en route to San Francisco, stopped in Tacoma and Seattle where he
complimented the men for their magnificent fight. Pressured by the
federal government mediation service, employers negotiated with Ryan and
ILA Pacific Coast District representatives.
A proposed agreement on May 28, 1934, recognized the ILA, but failed to
provide for a coastwide agreement, or the union hiring hall. The
longshoremen rejected the proposal decisively when it was sent to the
locals for ratification. In fact, the Ryan proposal outraged the Tacoma
local. A spokesman for 38-97 told the Tacoma Daily Ledger:
We are right back where we started from. Hours, wages and working
conditions we have stated our willingness to arbitrate, but the hiring
hall is the vital issue. There can be no compromise with dishonor .
When 95 percent of the longshoremen on the Pacific Coast voted to go on
strike, the issue of hiring halls and methods of dispatching the men was
the paramount question. The proposition submitted back to us by the
employers is not an offer It is an insult to the intelligence of the
There can be but one answer and that is absolutely no.'
Undaunted, Ryan entered negotiations again with the employers on June
16, but this time with the assistance of Dave Beck, president of the
Seattle Teamsters, and Mike Casey, Beck's counterpart in San Francisco.
Both Beck and Casey thought the maritime strike had lasted too long and
the strikers should take what they could get from the employers.
Ryan emerged from his meeting with the employers with another settlement
very similar to his May 28 agreement, but with a Beck and Casey
guarantee binding Teamster unions to cross picket lines if any
longshoremen failed to return to work under the provisions of the new
Ryan then called upon the San Francisco local to ratify the agreement,
but the Golden Gate City strikers turned him down. He immediately flew
to Portland, Oregon, and met with the longshore-
men there. The men listened quietly and then shouted down his proposal.
Ryan traveled to Tacoma, where he met with the joint Northwest Strike
Committee. The ILA President pleaded with the committee to ratify his
The strike committee listened politely, but like San Francisco and
Portland strikers, the Northwesterners voted Ryan down without a single
vote in favor. Walter Freer, chairman of the joint Northwest Strike
Committee and also President of the Tacoma ILA local, reported to the
press, No body of men can be expected to agree to self-destruction.
When the Teamsters failed to carry out their threat to cross longshore
picket lines, and President Ryan declared he was taking a back seat in
any further negotiations, the initiative passed to the Pacific Coast
District ILA negotiating team of Cliff Thurston from Portland, Paddy
Morris and jack Bjorklund of Tacoma, and William J Lewis of San
Francisco. At the same time a membership referendum instructed the new
team to add to the original demands of ILA recognition, closed shops and
union hiring halls, a new proviso that employers must also reach
satisfactory settlement with other maritime unions. The employers
emphatically rejected the latest ILA Pacific Coast District proposal.
Historically, longshore and maritime strikers were organized in
coastwide unions that determined basic strike policy and represented
their members in dealing with the government and employers. However, it
was understood that the membership of each union had the final say on
proposals to and from the employers. In the day-today contest with the
employers over all aspects of the 1934 strike, the striking maritime
workers were united in joint strike committees in each port. The joint
Northwest Strike Committee was composed of representatives of the
striking unions in Puget Sound, other Washington ports and Portland.
As the strike continued, Seattle employers and newspapers agitated the
public about the plight of starving Alaskans. The joint Northwest Strike
Committee decided to release vessels to alleviate the distress. The ILA
signed the Alaska Agreement with shipowners on June 8, providing for the
closed shop, union hiring hall, the six-hour day and retroactive wages
to be arbitrated. The employers also agreed to demands from the seagoing
unions, and the vessels were loaded and sent to Alaska from Seattle.
Coinciding with the second round of negotiations between Ryan and the
shipowners, the Mayor of Seattle, Charles L. Smith, and a newly formed
Tacoma Citizen's Emergency Committee announced on June 15, 1934, a
coordinated effort to open their ports by force, if necessary. Mayor
Smith proclaimed an emergency and took over personal control of the
police force. Then Smith announced he would guarantee police protection
to anyone loading or discharging cargo in the Queen City
In Tacoma, the Chairman of the Citizen's Emergency Committee, John Prins,
told the Daily Ledger on the same day, June 15, that we are prepared to
open the port and afford our languishing industrial and business life
some relief Three days later, on June 18, the Citizen's Emergency
Committee followed up their first statement with an open letter to
A MESSAGE TO THE 5000 WORKERS IN TACOMA WHO HAVE BEEN THROWN OUT OF WORK
BY THE LONGSHOREMEN'S STRIKE THE PORT OF TACOMA WILL OPEN
This is a definite promise by the Tacoma Citizens Emergency Committee.
You, who are eager to work, and have had the opportunity to work until
interrupted by this strike, will have the opportunity again-the Port of
Tacoma WILL OPEN.
Business was beginning to pick up in Tacoma. Mills and factories were
re-opening. Thousands had been called back to their jobs. Then this
strike. Factories, unable to receive raw materials and unable to deliver
finished products, were compelled to close down.
600 TACOMA LONGSHOREMEN HAVE NO RIGHT NOR WILL THEY BE PERMITTED TO
DICTATE THE FUTURE TO 106,000 PEOPLE"
While the Citizen's Emergency Committee was securing Tacoma City Council
approval for assigning additional police officers to patrol the docks,
Mayor Smith tried to reopen a Seattle pier on June 2 1. The result was a
pitched battle at Smith Cove between strikers, scabs, police and armed
guards. The police used tear gas and night sticks, and kept Smith Cove
The joint Northwest Strike Committee retaliated by suspending their
special agreement exempting Alaska shipowners from the closure of the
port. As a spokesman for the Strike Committee related to the press, the
Alaska deal was based on an agreement that the Mayor and the city would
assume a neutral attitude. Alaska Governor John W Troy quickly wired the
joint Northwest Strike Committee to please cooperate, but the committee
referred the Governor's request to the Seattle Mayor and the
On June 22, the Tacoma Citizen's Emergency Committee decided to reopen
the Port of Tacoma. A Tacoma policeman, who was sympathetic toward the
strikers, alerted longshoremen that a Greyhound bus filled with scabs
was coming from Seattle to Tacoma around 5 a.m. At that early hour the
bus pulled up in front of the ILA hall at 14th and Pacific and the
strikebreakers transferred to waiting trucks. Longshoremen at the hall
did not challenge the scabs.
But down at the Milwaukee dock the Flying Squad and 400 Tacoma strikers
were waiting for the strikebreakers. Retired longshoreman Victor Olson
remembers that the Flying Squad nailed shut the dock gates so that scabs
could not pass through to the piers. Olson also recalled that there was
a parley beside the trucks between Tacoma longshoremen, the Seattle
scabs, and the local police. The law officers disarmed the scabs of
their pistols, blackjacks, tear gas cannisters and baseball bats.
The strikebreakers then climbed aboard the trucks and went back to
Seattle. Many years later Olson declared, I'd do it again. I believe in
the right to fight for my job.
As strike activity eased in Tacoma, the situation became more tense in
Seattle. General strike talk similar to 1919 surfaced as Seattle
strikers, aided by Tacoma's Flying Squad, continued to battle police and
strikebreakers on the Queen City's waterfront.
The Seattle longshoremen sent a request to the Seattle Central Labor
Council asking for a work stoppage by all union labor in the city.
Tacoma, Longview, and Portland Central Labor Councils already had
expressed their willingness to call a sympathy strike if National Guard
troops were sent to the docks. However, in the Seattle Central Labor
Council, the Teamsters successfully blocked a vote by the delegates to
support longshoremen and marine workers, and general strike discussions
While turmoil continued on the Seattle docks, the Tacoma Citizen's
Emergency Committee tried to open the Port of Tacoma again. Chairman
John Prins negotiated on June 25 a special agreement with port
authorities to supply a berth for scab ships. But Prins' understanding
with the Port Commissioners was short-lived when, quite mysteriously,
the Port reneged on its promise. At the same time union pickets
disappeared from the Port of Tacoma piers.
This action followed a closed-door meeting between the Port COmMiS-
sioners and the joint Northwest Strike Committee. Though cha- grined,
the Citizen's Emergency Committee claimed credit for the Port-longshore
truce once it became public knowledge. Despite renewed attempts by Prins
to reopen the port, there was no movement of ships into or out of the
On the same day the Emergency Committee's agreement with the Port of
Tacoma failed, federal mediator Charles A. Reynolds told longshoremen
and Alaska employers that a new agreement covering supplies for the
Northern Territory must be reached soon or government troops would load
chartered ships. Other public officials, as well as the newspapers,
decried the longshore embargo of food and medicine for the Alaskans, and
by July 3, public opin- ion was turning against the strikers.
On July 5, 1934, the joint Northwest Strike Committee agreed to load
Alaskan ships in Tacoma under the terms of the first Alaska agreement.
It was also understood that no effort would be made by employers to open
Commencement Bay by force.
Concerned that its business would be lost to government-chartered ships,
the Alaska Steamship Company acceded to the joint Northwest Strike
Committee's demands. The Tacoma Port Commission then authorized use of
its docks. On July 6 the first four Alaska steamers arrived at the
Tacoma piers with union crews.
As a result of the joint Northwest Strike Committee's victory over
Alaska shipowners, longshoremen from Pacific Northwest ports traveled to
Tacoma, where they were dispatched from the union hall to work the
ships. Half of the wages was paid directly to the men, one-fourth was
sent to their local strike committee, and another fourth went to the
joint Northwest Strike Committee. The committee sent $2,000 to the San
Pedro strikers, $300 to San Francisco, and various amounts to other
The joint Northwest Strike Committee also set aside $1,500 to organize a
coastwide maritime federation that would make permanent the solidarity
of the longshoremen with the seagoing unions. Throughout the long
strike, discussions took place between the ILA and the Masters, Mates
and Pilots; Marine Engineerly, Sailors; Cooks and Stewards; Marine
Firemen, and Radio Telegraphers about establishing a united organization
for greater strength. By the end of the strike there was universal
support for the idea of a federation among all maritime unions.
The End of the 1934 Strike
The lifting of the Alaska shipping embargo ended the Tacoma Citizen's
Emergency Committee's campaign to force ihe Port of Tacoma open. The
committee announced that the Seattle Waterfront Employers' Union would
protect Tacoma's interest in the dispute with the longshoremen and the
maritime workers. In turn, the WEU sent a representative to participate
in hearings with the newly constituted National Longshoremen's Board (NLB)
in San Francisco.
Labor legislation passed by Congress during June 1934 empowered the
President to establish boards of investigation and arbitration in labor
disputes. The NLB was the first created by Roosevelt under the new
federal law. On June 26, President Roosevelt appointed
Archbishop Edward Hanna of San Francisco, Assistant Secretary of Labor
Edward F McGrady, and San Francisco attorney Oscar K. Cushing to the NLB
to bring the contesting sides together and settle the strike.
But by this time the positions of both the employers and the strikers
had hardened to granite. At the NLB hearings longshoremen insisted on
the union hiring hall, increased wages and better working conditions, as
well as recognition of the marine unions. As expected, the employers
adamantly rejected the longshore and marine unions' demands.
With the failure of the first effort by the NLB, the San Francisco
employer group now determined to open the Embarcadero even if it took
every available police officer in San Francisco. On July 3 employers'
trucks rolled out of Pier 38 behind eight police patrol cars. Police
Captain Thomas M. Hoertkorn, waving a revolver at pickets, yelled, The
port is open!
The strikers surged forward and threw bricks, cobblestones and railroad
spikes at the trucks. The police answered with night sticks, tear gas
and bullets. The pickets retreated and merged with the crowd. July 4 was
quiet, but on July 5, known as Bloody Thursday, one striker and a
sympathizer were killed downtown and a mammoth confrontation took place
on Rincon Hill. Here the strikers fought with bricks and stones, and the
police hurled tear gas and used night sticks on strikers. Finally the
battle was over and the police had won."
Within hours of the Rincon Hill battle, national guardsmen took
positions along the San Francisco waterfront. The Golden Gate City was
particularly tense on July 9 as thousands of longshoremen, other union
men and women, and their sympathizers walked silently down Market Street
in the funeral procession for the two men who had been killed. The long,
solemn march awed many who saw it. The employer history of the strike
credits this funeral procession with turning the tide of public opinion
in favor of the strikers.
In response to affirmative votes by affiliated unions, the San Francisco
Labor Council declared a general strike on July 15, 1934. It was a
peaceful and effective strike that lasted three days. Though most of the
California newspapers editorialized that the general strike was led by
Communists, the general populace
remained sympathetic to the strikers.
On the second day of the general strike, the San Francisco Labor Council
debated a resolution calling for arbitration of all out- standing issues
between longshoremen and marine workers on the one side and employers on
the other. Harry Bridges, Chairman of the San Francisco joint Marine
Strike Committee, asked that the hiring hall issue not be included in
the arbitration package. However, the Council voted 207 to 180 in favor
of arbitrating all issues. On the next day, July 18, the National
Longshoremen's Board reacted to the labor council's resolution by
offering its services as arbitrator.
The labor council then went a step further and declared on July 19 that
the general strike would end, upon acceptance by the shipowners and
employers of the striking maritime workers, of the terms
of the President of the Longshoremens Board."
On July 20 the leaders of the waterfront employers and newspaper
publishers held a private meeting in a San Francisco suburb. After the
meeting, newspapers carried featured stories announcing that the
employers would accept arbitration if the ILA also submitted all
differences to the NLB.
Shipowners also agreed to elections on all vessels and to accept union
recognition if a majority of the seamen voted for the union. Thus, on
Saturday evening, July 21, every ILA local on the Pacific Coast voted on
whether to submit their differences with the employers to the NLB. The
rank and file voted in favor of arbitration 6504 to 1525 and went back
to work the next week.
During October 1934, the National Longshoremen's Board announced its
decision in the form of an Award. The NLB sought to effect a compromise
on the most important issue, the hiring hall.
The hiring of all longshoremen shall be through halls maintained and e
dispatcher shall be operated jointly, declared the Board, but
selected by the International Longshoremens Association. While on the
surface this section of the Award appeared to be a compromise, in
reality longshoremen had won a major victory. The dispatcher was the key
to hiring, as owners and the ILA had learned from the 1917 NAC ruling.
The government then had taken over the hiring halls and appointed union
men as dispatchers with the end result that unions controlled who was
sent to work on the docks."
The NLB also created a joint Labor Relations Committee of three
employers and the same number of longshoremen to operate each hall. This
committee was also required to maintain a list of registered
longshoremen who would receive preferential employment over casuals.
Grievances by either workers or employers were also resolved by the
Labor Relations Committee. Additional ILA gains included wage increases
to 95cts an hour straight time and $1.40 for overtime, a shorter week of
thirty hours, and a sixhour day.
The longshoremen's allies in the 1934 strike also made significant
gains. The marine union elections resulted in recognition and collective
bargaining rights for the unions on most coastwise and offshore shipping
lines. However, the unions were defeated in elections held on the tanker
fleet. The men working for the oil companies voted to stay members of
Overall, the 1934 strike was a major victory for the marine and
longshore unions. Not only had they won most of their demands, but the
men had also gained a sense of power and solidarity during the strike
that carried their unions to further victories in future negotiations.
Employers did not come away from the NLB Award emptyhanded.
Shipowners and dock managers gained the power to introduce labor saving
devices and to institute such methods of discharging and loading cargo
as they considered best for the conduct of their businesses. This was
the first major Pacific Coast settlement that included a provision
concerning mechanization. It was to be an increasingly important issue
between longshoremen and owners as new machines began to replace men on
the docks and in the ships' holds.", As far as Tacoma was
concerned, Local 38-97 was exempted from the joint hiring hall provision
mandated by the NLB Award. The Tacomans kept their hall under full union
control with their own dispatcher, there by maintaining a pace-setting
standard for the rest of the ILA.
The 1934 victory over the employers marked the apex of Tacoma influence
in the affairs of Pacific Coast longshoremen. The work of Jack Bjorklund
and Paddy Morris in organizing and consolidating the ILA membership into
a bastion of labor strength unknown in previous eras had taken fifteen
years. But signs of change within the ILA were on the horizon. Ambitious
men like Harry Bridges were emerging on the waterfront.
Supported by the large San Francisco local and Communists, Bridges soon
sought to wrest control of the ILA Pacific Coast District from the
established leadership. It was to be a power struggle with immense
consequences, especially for the Tacoma local.
1934 Longshore Strike
Jerry Lembcke, and William M. Tattam, "The 1934 Longshore
Strike," One Union in Wood, a political history of the
International Woodworkers of America. New York: Harcourt, 1984 p. 28-30.
Until 1934, a longshoreman's job security was tied to the paternalism of
the work-crew foreman; whisky, money and other assorted favors
guaranteed jobs. Men milled about outside company offices at early
morning shape-ups until a signal from the boss indicated that they had
been selected for the day's stevedoring.
Then, in May, 1934, the jurisdiction of the company unions which were
maintained by the West Coast shippers was challenged by the
International Longshoremen's Association, An. The Waterfront
Employers'Association of San Francisco refused the iLA's demands for
union recognition, a dollar an hour wage, a thirty-hour week and a
unioncontrolled hiring hall.
Led by Harry Bridges in San Francisco, longshoremen retaliated by
shutting down the waterfronts from San Diego to Seattle and pressing for
a coast-wide working agreement.
From May 9 to July 31, 1934, docks along the Pacific Northwest were
controlled by the striking longshoremen. Normal shipments of lumber and
agricultural products were curtailed, and sawmills were forced to close
when lumber could no tonger be shipped by water. By June, with no end in
sight, 17,000 lumber workers were laid off and payrolls were slashed
almost in half.
However, members of the National Lumber Workers Union solicited funds
for the longshoremen and spoke in favor of the strike; as a result,
lumber and sawmill workers supported the strike and did not scab despite
their own desperate straits. Even the big mills at Longview, Washington
ground to a halt when for four days, beginning June 19, 1934, sawmill
workers there went out on strike in sympathy with the longshoremen .
On July 3, San Francisco businessmen announced that their trucks and
drivers would move through the picket lines to the piers along the
Embarcadero and remove the goods stranded there since the strike began.
Longshoremen attacked the trucks with bricks, and police retaliated with
clubs, tear gas and gunfire.
Two days later, on Bloody Thursday, the Battle of Rincon Hill left two
longshoremen shot to death by the police, thirty wounded and forty-three
more either clubbed, gassed or stoned. Four days later, 15,000
longshoremen and sympathizers marched up Market Street behind a flat-bed
truck carrying the coffins of the slain longshoremen Union sympathies
were now cemented, and on July 16 a three-day general strike began in
San Francisco .
Anti-radical hysteria engendered by the general strike spread quickly.
West Coast police departments sided unequivocally with the shippers and
invested themselves with the kind of patriotic fervor reminiscent of the
Palmer Raids of the early 1920s. On the first day of the San Francisco
general strike, Portland police searched freight trains arriving from
the south in an attempt to head off a feared invasion by "flying
squadrons" of communist agitators; 130 men, mostly hoboes and
migrant workers, were taken into custody.
Two reputed labor agitators, who supposedly planned to
"radicalize" the local longshore strike by promoting a general
strike, were also found on the train.
When local shipping companies demanded protection in order to continue
loading ships along Portland's strike-bound waterfront, Oregon Governor
Julius Meier ordered 1,000 National Guardsmen to mobilize immediately.
Fortunately, the troops remained camped on the outskirts of the city
after the Central Labor Council threatened to call an immediate general
strike if the Guardsmen moved to the waterfront .
Between July 16 and 21, 1934, even though the San Francisco general
strike had ended and the ILA had agreed to arbitration, the Portland
police continued their searches and seizures. Private residences,
Communist Party headquarters, and the Marine Workers Industrial Union
hall were raided. Union records and Communist literature were seized and
taken to the police station.
Three men were arrested for advocating criminal syndication, and
thirty-two others were taken in for violations of the Oregon Criminal
Syndication Act of 1919. All of those arrested were closely associated
with the Communist Party and had worked with the Unemployed Councils to
keep the unemployed from crossing the longshoremen's picket lines .
Dirk DeJonge, once the Communist Party's candidate for Mayor of
Portland, was tried and sentenced on November 21, 1934 to seven years in
prison. The charges brought against him included advocating violence
during the longshore strike, being in possession of Communist Party
literature, and conducting and attending Communist Party meetings.
After the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the conviction and Dirk DeJonge
had spent nine months in the Oregon State penitentiary, the United
States Supreme Court, on January 4, 1937, unanimously decided that the
lower courts had erred in convicting him. The Court held "that the
Oregon state law as applied to the particular charge as defined by the
state court is repugnant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth
The results of the 1934 longshore strike did not pass unnoticed by
loggers and sawmill workers. The joint control of hiring halls with
employers, the thirty-hour work week, wage increases and exclusive
bargaining rights won by the longshoremen constituted notable union
More importantly, however, the organization of the longshoremen meant
that woodworkers had a strong ally for their own union activities. The
two groups of workers were closely linked through family and
occupational associations, while the Communist Party tied together the
activists in both unions. If the woodworkers struck, it seemed a virtual
certainty that the longshoremen would support them.
LONGSHOREMAN'S STRIKE OF 1934.
Gordon Newell, "The Longshoreman's Strike of 1934," H.W.
McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Superior
Publishing Company, 1966, p. 428.
In June  Mayor John Dore, an avowed friend of labor, retired as
mayor of Seattle, and was replaced by Charles L. Smith a more
conservative type. Perhaps recalling the nationwid; publicity which had
accrued to Mayor Ole Hanson when he claimed to have broken the Seattle
general strike of 1919, Mayor Smith prepared a compromise agreement
which he submitted to the unions on a "take it or leave it"
When the strikers decided to leave it he issued a proclamation that, as
of June 21, Seattle was an open port, a move which had been successfully
made at Los Angeles, with the result that former Puget Sound, Columbia
River and San Francisco cargo was moving from that port, as well as from
those of British Columbia.
The Seattle police chief soon afterward tendered his resignation and
Mayor Smith took personal charge of the police. On June 21 a force of
250 policemen broke the picket line at the Smith Cove piers, mounted
patrolmen leading the attack with swinging clubs. Non-union crews
immediately began discharging cargo from the Donaldson Iiine European
freighter Modavia and the Everett of the Tacoma Oriental Steamship Co.
The unions immediately repicketed the Alaska vessels and the I. L. A.
asked other Seattle unions to join a general strike in protest, a plan
which was foiled by the refusal of Dave Beck, Northwest head of the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to cooperate.
Pickets displaced from Smith Cove transferred their activities to the
employers' non - union hiring halls at the Smith Tower and Alaska
Building, taking forthright measures to discourage prospective
strikebreakers from entering. Within a week the unions agreed to permit
Alaska sailings to be resumed, but only from Tacoma, and only upon the
understanding that no effort would be made by governmental officials
there to reopen the port to general shipping.
Violence was fast reaching its peak. At San Francisco a pitched battle
between police, strikers and sympathizers resulted in 34 persons being
shot, two fatally, and about 40 others gassed or badly beaten. Shots
were fired by Portland police when 500 strikers attacked a locomotive
attempting to move tank cars from the Union and Shell Oil Co. plants. A
number of strikers were beaten by police clubs, a number of policemen
seriously injured by rocks and bricks.
By mid July, vessels were still handling cargo at Smith Cove under heavy
police guard, although picketers skirmished continually with guards,
sometimes evading them and succeeding in beating up non-union
longshoremen, ship's officers, or others observed violating the line.
Steve Watson, one of the ,'special deputies" of the Citizens'
Emergency Committee of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, was shot and
killed in mob violence at 3rd and Seneca, in the heart of
"uptown" Seattle. At this point the major issue remaining was
the question of whether longshore hiring halls should be controlled
entirely by the union or operated jointly by labor and management.
President Roosevelt appointed an arbitration board to settle this issue
and departed on a three-month vacation. It was finally agreed that the
strike would be called off, pending arbitration of the remaining issues.
All unions returned to work on August 1 but immediately walked out again
on behalf of the maritime unions.
The truce agreement provided that all men employed after May 16 who had
not previously followed the sea should be dismissed, but that men on the
ships as of May 16 who had previously been employed at sea could be
retained. The marine unions demanded that all personnel who had remained
on the ships during the strike should be discharged.
The unions, after the brief walkout agreed that they had misinterpreted
the agreement and work was resumed the following morning.
The position of the longshoremen's unions was strengthened in the 1934
strikes by their recognition, for the first time, as bargaining agents
under the National Recovery Act (NRA). The maritime unions were not
particularly effective during the 1934 strike, but as a result of the
longshoremen's success (and NRA) they quickly became powerful in their
The 84 -day period of economic stagnation and violence had ended, but
its scars were a long time healing. The bitter ness of the .1934 strike
was repeated during the next few years in a period of labor unrest such
as has never been recorded in the history of the Pacific Northwest,
before or since.
Foreign steamship operators were forced to route their vessels and
cargoes via British Columbia ports during the long tie-up of American
ports and some of them, having transferred their major Northwest
functions north of the border, retained them there. Indicative of the
tremendous advantage enjoyed by Canada during the strike is the lumber
A total of only 2,748,920,847 feet was shipped from all Northwest ports.
Washington exports total ed only 1,294,942,925 feet, a figure which
Grays Harbor alone had approached during the boom years, and a decline
of over a quarter of a billion feet over the depression figures of 1933.
Oregon shipments dropped to 594,513,208 feet, but British Columbia, a
negligible factor in predepression figures, showed almost a 30% gain in
1934 over 1933, reaching a total of 859,464,714 feet, approaching the
Washington figure and far exceeding that of Oregon. This was a trend
which was to continue to the present time.
Gordon Newell, "The Longshoreman's Strike of 1934," H.W.
McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Superior
Publishing Company, 1966, p. 428.
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