Israeli ship blockaded in San Francisco, dockworkers refuse to cross picket

Israeli ship blockaded in San Francisco, dockworkers refuse to cross picket

To oppose the Israeli state's recent attack on a ship carrying humanitarian aid to Palestine, community and labor activists have successfully prevented the unloading of an Israel ship at the Port of San Francisco. The city's dockworkers--long known for their militancy--refused to cross the picket lines.

20th June 2010

In a historic action and unprecedented action today, over 800 labor and community activists blocked the gates of the Oakland docks in the early morning hours, prompting longshore workers to refuse to cross the picketlines where they were scheduled to unload an Israeli ship.

From 5:30 am to 9:30 am, a militant and spirited protest was held in front of four gates of the Stevedore Services of America, with people chanting non-stop, "Free, Free Palestine, Don't Cross the Picket Line," and "An injury to one is an injury to all, bring down the apartheid wall."

Citing the health and safety provisions of their contract, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers refused to cross the picketline to report for duty.

Between 8:30 and 9:00 am, an emergency arbitration was conducted at the Maersk parking lot nearby, with an "instant" arbitrator called to the site to rule on whether the workers could refuse to cross the picketline without disciplinary measure.

At 9:15 a.m, after again reviewing the protests of hundreds at each gate, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the union that it was indeed unsafe for the workers to enter the docks.

To loud cheers of "Long Live Palestine!" Jess Ghannam of Free Palestine Alliance and Richard Becker of the ANSWER Coalition announced the victory. Ghannam said, "This is truly historic, never before has an Israeli ship been blocked in the United States!"

The news that a container ship from the Zim Israeli shipping line was scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area today has sparked a tremendous outpouring of solidarity for Palestine, especially in the aftermath of the Israeli massacre of volunteers bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza on May 31.

With 10 days advance notice of the ship's arrival, the emergency "Labor/Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People" was set up. On Wednesday, some 110 people from unions and community came to help organize logistics, outreach and community support. Initiating
organizations included the Al-Awda Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the ANSWER Coalition, the Bay Area Labor Chapter of USLAW and the Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace & Justice.

This week the San Francisco Labor Council and Alameda Labor Council passed resounding resolutions denouncing Israel's blockade of Gaza. Both councils sent out public notices of the dock action.

The ILWU has a proud history of extending its solidarity to struggling peoples the world over. In 1984, as the Black masses of South Africa were engaged in an intense struggle against South African apartheid, the ILWU refused for a record-setting 10 days to unload cargo from the South
African "Ned Lloyd" ship. Despite million-dollar fines imposed on the union, the longshore workers held strong, providing a tremendous boost to the anti-apartheid movement.

Today's Oakland action, in the sixth largest port in the United States, is the first of several protests and work stoppages planned around the world, including Norway, Sweden and South Africa. It is sure to inspire others to do the same.

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Jun 21 2010 18:30


Attached files


Jun 26 2010 04:48

I agree that these kinds of "spectacular" protests can be useful for expanding the idea of what a union can be/do for the rank and file. Thanks for the perspective, Gurley, I'd like to hear more.

Jun 27 2010 06:16


A better definition would label it as a pseudo-protest by the Popular Front of pro-Democratic Party Labor Councils from Alameda and San Francisco Counties and the Stalinists in ANSWER.

They passed resolutions at the labor councils, which everyone does for everything...its like a rubber stamp in San Francisco. The Labor Councils had nothing to do with this protest.

Everything, literally EVERYTHING, was pre-arranged with the consent of the Oakland pigs

Very true

The involvement by rank-and-file port workers was from nil to non-existent. Only 3 or 4 members of the longshore union, ILWU Local 10, had any part in the planning. No one from any of the other maritime sectors at the port participated in any way.

This is and always has been one of the big failings of the radicals in the ILWU, is that they very often do not have a significant base of support from within the union. But, part of the "game" of pulling off these actions is that they are "community picketlines" NOT ILWU job actions. For anyone from local 10 to participate in the picketline would defeat the purpose of having the picketline and possibly put them in violation of the contract. That's why you wont see any ILWU members in the picket.

There were other maritime union members there (I was there haha) but your right. The leftists and radicals need to reach out more to regular rank and file workers....but I wonder how many people here who do "rank and file" type organizing can honestly say that are able to mobilize a significant number of people from their union to turn out to a political protest (at 5am).

The refusal to cross the picket line didn't happen. An arbitrator ruled it was unsafe, allowing the ILWU workers to go home with pay. Many did even this begrudgingly because there was no guarantee that they'd get paid at the overtime rate for working on Sunday.

That's how these things work. The activists set up a picketline, the longshoremen show up and say its unsafe, the arbitrator rules and everyone goes home. That's the game. Like it or not...yes...that's how it works. Sorry its not up to your standards.

Also, if you weren't there how do you know they begrudgingly went home. The people I saw were happy they were going home early with pay on fathers day.

But Xxxxx was there and said that he and some others wanted to come back for the next shift at 5 am and continue setting up pickets as long as the Zim ship was trying to dock. He was shut down by the ANSWER leader who said they had decided on a 24-hour picket at a previous meeting. I imagine a major reason mainstream labor supported the action was because they knew (with ANSWER's guarantee) that it would be tightly circumscribed and enforced by ANSWER security and the left trade union bureaucracy.

Yes, people did want to come back the next day, but ANSWER had absolute control over this whole operation. There was plenty of energy to come back and I think we could have pulled it off. The thing is, and I can understand local 10's feeling, that it IS hard to ask people to take off two days for a political action. There wasn't allot of organizing done within Local 10 and it would have been hard to ask those guys to do it 2 days in a row. Its a political failing of the radicals in that union.

And again, I don't know where you are getting the narrative that this was supported by other unions. There was zero labor support other than meaningless resolutions, the support of Local 10 not the cross the picketline and few hodgepodge labor activists. The bulk of the support for the protest came from the Palestinian and Muslim communities turned out by activists in ANSWER, the anti-war and free Palestine movements.

When I heard that it was prearranged that the picket would only be up for one day -- in order to "help" the workers be able to alienate their labor-power on the docks the next day -- I voted with my feet and stayed home.

So your devoting several long posts to an action you didn't even attend ?

What would today been like if the workers called for the strike, and the union officialdom and the left had to tail that process? The action would have had a thousands times more energy and business papers around the world would have commented about it in worry. Consciousness would penetrated through out the working class without one newspaper being sold.

This had me laughing. When we shut down the port on May Day against the war and in violation of the contract ... I could just feeeeel the working class consciousness penetrating my ...oh oh...wait... I think I need to change my pants. Actually nobody gave a shit when we shut down on May Day... there was some heightened consciousness. I am in a small ILWU local and we had probably about 40% of our union members marching in SF that day against the war.

Its these little actions that build consciousness over eventually you have the power and unity to do something big.

I agree that ANSWER sucks...they played a huge role in preventing the picket from lasting more than 24 hours. They made no room for anyone from outside their cadre to get involved. The picket was overwhelmingly nationalist, sectarian and authoritarian. I haven't been to Stalinist meeting in a loooong time and trust me...I won't be repeating it again anytime soon.

But the ILWU has a long history of taking political stands for a variety of different issues by using some of the stronger points in their contracts...such as the right to honor picket lines (regardless of the nature of the picketline) due to safety concerns and the "stop work" meetings. Some of the political causes they have supported include opposing South African Apartheid, freedom for Mumia Abu Jamal, in support of the Charleston longshoremen's struggle, in support of the Liverpool Dockers and against the War in Iraq. In all of these instances you had a small group of organizers using the contract to push for political action. Often this was with the tacit support of the local because some of them actually believed in the struggle (to a certain extent) but it also gave the union an opportunity to show a little muscle...remind the boss what they can do etc..

There is so much disinformation on this thread...I need to take a break so I can go to bed and penetrate some more working class consciousness.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 26 2010 08:42

Thanks for those insights Gurley. I think with information like that we can achieve some sort of balanced critique of the action, so please keep involved!

Chilli Sauce
Jun 26 2010 08:49

Gurley, aside from ANSWER being authoritarian pricks, how much of this was coordinated with the dockers prior to the action? I understand that flyers were posted up around the port, but did the dockers come to work expecting the picket line to be there?

And, if they'd wanted to, could the workers have crossed the picket line? Let me put it this way: after the arbitrator's ruling are workers obligated not to the cross the picket (i.e. it becomes union policy) or does it just mean that if they don't cross the picket they won't be penalized?

Jun 26 2010 14:55

I will admit upfront that I could have participated in this action but chose not to. This had more to do with personal priorities for the day than a lucid critique of the nature of the protest and how it was planned. (And, to be honest, I’m not as moved by the issue as maybe I should be; there’s far too much nationalism on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict for me.) However, in its wake, I have closely followed accounts posted online, including here and on a Bay Area list-serve. I have to say I’m glad I stayed home with my family because it sounds like it turned out to be exactly the type of activist cluster-fuck you couldn’t pay me to partake in.

Gurley’s account helps flesh out some of the rank-and-file ILWU-side questions that I have had, so thanks for that. I have been wondering why the workers from those two shifts didn’t stick around to participate. I still don’t know why, although I’ve been tempted to find a way to ask them directly. (I don’t know any of them.) Was it really because participating could have been in violation of their contract, or did they just not really care – or did they have misgivings - about the political issue?

Gurley asks, “I wonder how many people here who do ‘rank and file’ type organizing can honestly say that are able to mobilize a significant number of people from their union to turn out to a political protest (at 5am).” Not too many, that’s for sure, because we’d be in much different shape otherwise. But the question is “Why not?” Instead of seriously posing that question to ourselves and each other, and most importantly, to the very rank-and-file we would wish to protest alongside at 5 am, we have instead defaulted to a “That’s just the way it is; the rank-and-file would rather stay home and watch the game on TV” position, which leads to a rationalization of this kind of substitution for workers’ self-activity. Luckily, I see the emergence of a searing critique of our tired Left methods emerging among a newer generation of radicals here, some of whom participated in and later criticized the port action, as H. posted above.

Mike Harman
Jun 26 2010 15:36

Yeah I agree with huli on that last bit "can you persuade your workmates to turn up to a political demo at 5am" is completely the wrong question to be asking.

Boris Badenov
Jun 26 2010 15:43

Actually I think that is the right question to be asking. The "rank and file" are going to bring the fight to the bosses at 5 am if it affects their livelihoods, but as far as a symbolic protest like this goes, there's not going to be much of a response. And this is not legitimizing lack of internationalism or apathy, but workers have their priorities, which very rarely coincide with those of professional activists.

Jun 26 2010 20:46
Hieronymous wrote:
In response to what Tojiah wrote, I think we need to be clear that groups like ANSWER treat the Israeli and U.S. working class as "subhuman scum" as well, making them directly responsible for all the barbarity of imperialism. This is nonsense that in effect denies that we even live in a class-divided society.

Groups being praised by the demonstrators in Oakland, like Hezbollah and Hamas, have track records of assassinating secular working class militants.

We need to always advocate for class struggle, based on internationalism, despite the overwhelming obstacles in places like Israel and Palestine. Which also means refusing to condone Popular Front coalitions like the one in Oakland that joined Palestinian, Turkish and other Islamicist nationalists, ANSWER's Stalinist protest police, the sectarian left, pro-Democratic Party labor councils and their allies in local elected political office.

Great job regurgitating internationalist talking points. This whole diatribe means nothing to Palestinian workers in the US who want to do something for their relatives and brethren in the West Bank and Gaza, and will not push them towards internationalism, especially considering how completely alien internationalism is to the Jewish Israeli working class, some of which gets to live on land Palestinian workers get ethnically cleansed off of.

If this keeps on being the sole contribution internationalists like you have to the discussion, Palestinian and Palestinian-sympathizing workers in the US (and all over, really) will keep on joining this kind stuntism and serving Stalinist/Leninist/substitutionalist interests.

And I don't need you to preach to me about Hamas and Hezbollah, as I probably know more victims of their "freedom fighting" than you do, and distinctly remember what it was like to know that the next bus I take will be my last.

Jun 27 2010 06:02
Gurley’s account helps flesh out some of the rank-and-file ILWU-side questions that I have had, so thanks for that. I have been wondering why the workers from those two shifts didn’t stick around to participate. I still don’t know why, although I’ve been tempted to find a way to ask them directly. (I don’t know any of them.) Was it really because participating could have been in violation of their contract, or did they just not really care – or did they have misgivings - about the political issue?

This was a community picket line, a tactic that "works" when members of the community or another union set up a picket ...this must be organized separately from the ILWU. This is not about the legitimacy of the picket line, it being a secondary boycott etc ect...this is about the picket line presenting a danger to the Longshoremen. If the Longshoremen join the picket line would they look fearful of their safety for crossing the line ? Probably not. Even the radicals in local ten were not marching in the picket, they were there talking to their co-workers as they showed up for work that day. Them joining in would defeat the purpose of it being a "community picket" and could jeopardize the health and safety ruling from the arbitrator.


Gurley, aside from ANSWER being authoritarian pricks, how much of this was coordinated with the dockers prior to the action? I understand that flyers were posted up around the port, but did the dockers come to work expecting the picket line to be there?

And, if they'd wanted to, could the workers have crossed the picket line? Let me put it this way: after the arbitrator's ruling are workers obligated not to the cross the picket (i.e. it becomes union policy) or does it just mean that if they don't cross the picket they won't be penalized?

I'm not sure if they knew. Sometimes local 10 will pass a resolution in support of the issue and sometimes of the protest. I don't know if they did that for this one. I think they probably, at the very least, announced it at their meeting. I do know that all the major maritime trade union federations passed resolutions against the Israeli raid on the Mavi Mara. Which was the catalyst for this action. Did they show up for work expecting it ? I'm not sure.

If the arbitrator rules in favor of the picket being a health and safety hazard all the longshoremen go home with I don't know why anyone would cross at that point. And I am pretty sure the arbitrator just shuts down the whole shift. So there would be nothing to cross the line to do, the shift is canceled due to health and safety concerns. As "H" mentioned, there were other pickets where the arbitrator ordered the longshoremen to work and they took a vote and refused to cross. That certainly has happened before. And on May 1st the entire coast refused to go to work defying the company's decision not to grant a "stop work meeting". I am sure that if some rogue longshoremen showed up for work the company would have found something for them to do. But, the ILWU...for all the slagging of that this thread has produced...generally stand together and if a vote is taken they respect the vote and stay united with the decision their co-workers made.

Jun 27 2010 14:45

I'm certainly not trying to "slag" the members of ILWU. And I don't read others' questions about rank-and-file participation as criticism of the members; rather, I think these are critical questions about the "community" in the "community picket."

For the organizers to use the workers' "refusal" to unload the ship to bolster claims about the legitimacy of the action is dishonest, and should be called out. Certainly, the next day, workers stopped "refusing," right? Why?

Why not honestly assess the agency of the dockworkers here? Historically, the rank and file of the ILWU has shown plenty of militant self-activity without the "help" of community Leftists providing cover through arbitrators rulings and phony pickets.

Jun 27 2010 15:34
Why not honestly assess the agency of the dockworkers here? Historically, the rank and file of the ILWU has shown plenty of militant self-activity without the "help" of community Leftists providing cover through arbitrators rulings and phony pickets.

This just shows your complete lack of understanding of how this whole tactic works. Sometimes the ILWU takes action by itself (and often the community comes out to support them) and other times they can partner with community activists to raise awareness around an issue through a stop work meeting or community picket. They are all tactics that we can use because of the strong contract that the ILWU fought for over the years.

I didn't write the press release and probably wouldn't use refusal. Although, like I said, I'm not sure if the ILWU voted to honor the picket at their meeting. Sometimes those decisions are not made public.

I don't understand your point ? Is your suggestion that the ILWU stop honoring community picketlines ? That it is a useless tactic ? I think, not only does it help non-labor based organizations further their cause, it also allows the ILWU to enforce some more edgy elements of the contract, educate their members about the importance of not crossing picketlines and also educate them about global issues that their union has a direct ability to affect.

Again, what is your point ? Maybe next time they will vote to not handle Israeli cargo....but often those decision are made because of "safety concerns" as often is the case with scab cargo. Would you consider that to not be a legitimate decision, deciding not to handle ("politicized") cargo because it is a "safety concern" for the workers ? Is this not a "pure" action because the union would decide to use a loophole in their contract ? Are you against contracts ? haha...really I don't understand your point.

I think you need to get a better grasp of how our contracts and maritime unions function.

Jul 25 2010 23:52

As a former member of ILWU local 6 (in the early 1990s), which was born in the "march inland" away from the docks, I'm pretty familiar with the ILWU legacy and fallacies around the cult of Harry Bridges.

And although you're not asking me, my answer regardless is "yes," I'm against contracts. Which is why the Bridges myth is bullshit. By World War 2 he was really the Grand Poo-Bah of Piecards. Sure, the maritime workers in the Bay Area kicked ass in the 1934 General Strike, breaking from Joe Ryan's mobbed-up East Coast-based ILA and congealing the gains of that strike victory (even though it was through arbitration) in a worker-run hiring hall and a contract. But they had to protect those gains with strikes again in 1936 and 1948.

But it was in the war years, despite all the trials and all the denials, that Harry's true nature as a toady of the Moscow line became apparent. He and the other picecards enthusiastically supported the no-strike pledge in WW2, even taking the position that any strike, no matter what the cause, "aided Hitler" (see Longshoremen's Bulletin, March 10, 1942). While contracts were pretty new, having come to prominence with the 1935 Wagner Act and firmed up in 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, Bridges and the bureaucrats suggested a 9-year contract after the war.

Now you've got to remember that as a young Australian, Harry was a Wobbly and the honored tradition of the IWW had been contracts weren't necessary with mobilized militancy on the shopfloor. Even the "Stormy Petrels of West Coast Labor" (see the awesome article by Richard Boyden called "The San Francisco Machinists and the National War Labor Board" in American Labor in the Era of World War II, edited by Sally M. Miller and Daniel A. Cornford), the sister organizations of machinists of IAM Lodge 68 in San Francisco and CIO Steel Workers Organizing Committee Local 1304 in Oakland, didn't have contracts even though they were a highly-skilled craft union. Their strength was based on class consciousness and they flaunted that at management who begged them to collectively bargain and sign contracts. Their refusal was based on the idea that contracts would hold them back and prevent them from fighting for even more. Even during WW2, they refused lucrative contracts, effectively telling the boss "we don't want your stinking contract -- because we'll just strike at the end of the month and force you to give us another raise!"

During World War 2, even ILWU vice-president Lou Goldblatt was toeing the pro-Moscow Communist Party line where the fight against fascism in Europe was supremely more important than class struggle at home. He affirmed the IWLU's position in denouncing the Stormy Petrels, saying "We on the labor side don't want to see any resumption in the San Francisco Bay Area... of the type of collective bargaining that prevailed six or seven years ago [the massive wave of sit-down strikes - Hieronymous] when you had a constant economic contest [and] one of the best strike records that anybody ever had in the country. We think we have had enough of that... We don't want the resumption of guerilla warfare which will inevitably result if this board [War Labor Board that was trying to crush the Stormy Petrels] fails to act..." (ILWU Executive Session Minutes, June 2, 1942, p. 401). It took until 5 years after the end of WW2 for the combined effort of the state, the collective bosses and the collaboration of the "official labor movement," including the AFL, the CIO, and Bridges and the ILWU, but also the Communist Party, to finally destroy the kind of class war from below that the Stormy Petrels embodied. But through the war years, these machinists in 2 different unions racked up more job actions than any other sector in the entire U.S. Some of their stellar militants had learned the ropes in the IWW-style "syndicalist hothouse of Chicago" before coming west.

Basically, I was uncritical of the Bridges myth until I attended the Bay Area memorial service soon after Stan Weir's death (he died in Southern California, but most of his adult life was lived up north). There I met his widow Mary, his kids and grandkids, as well as the "B" Men he fought with against Bridges and the whole ILWU bureaucracy (with a couple defections). Here's a brief version of their betrayal: soon after the Modernization & Mechanization (M&M) deal in 1960 that containerized the Port of San Francisco (and through expansion for the Vietnam War supply effort sent it across the Bay to the more spacious Port of Oakland), Stan and 81 mostly African American longshoremen were fired. Here's the story from Stan's obituary:

The "B" Men's Struggle

In 1959, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) created a new hiring category in San Francisco. "B" men would work irregularly and have the dirtiest jobs, with the promise of promotion to "A" status after a year. Until that promotion, they were second-class citizens, barred from participation in union meetings.

[...]Stan went to work on the waterfront and became one of three representatives of the approximately 700 "B" men.

Over the next four years, the promised promotion did not occur. Harry Bridges, president of the union, fired the other two reps. When Stan called for a replacement election, Bridges eliminated representation entirely.

In 1963, Stan and eighty-one other "B" men seen as Bridges' opponents were peremptorily fired. Their united battle to recover their jobs led to a seventeen-year lawsuit that was unsuccessful.

I was blessed to meet this beautiful interracial working class extended family at the memorial. It was truly wonderful to see Stan's grandkids play with their friends who were the grandkids of the other "B" men. And even better was hearing the critique of the ILWU from those cast off by Bridges' megalomania. I also met longshore workers who made the cut, but who were even more critical of the union. One told me of the rank-and-file having to fight tooth-and-nail against the union bosses obedience to contractual no-strike clauses to pull off the last strike the ILWU ever had, in 1971.

But what this comrade told me wasn't enough, so I visited the ILWU archives at the International headquarters in San Francisco. The head librarian/archivist at the time, Gene Vrana, was very helpful -- as he'd been on other research visits. But when I mentioned I wanted documentation on the '71 strike, he soured. I said he couldn't find anything but then lectured me about why I was always asking about strikes, saying "Don't you realize that they're [strikes] a thing of the past?" And this was only about 5 years ago. He went on to praise how ol' Harry and his underlings like Goldblatt had won such huge gains, that were locked into contracts at the result of collective bargaining, that strikes would "never" be necessary again. It was clear that, at least since ol' Harry was trying to come out of WW2 with a 9-year contract, this has been the ILWU party line ever since.

So when Gurley writes that for symbolic actions the union:

can partner with community activists to raise awareness around an issue through a stop work meeting or community picket.

we are assured that the legacy of ol' Harry Bridges lives on, that class struggle was left behind long ago, and that partnerships -- often really based on class collaboration -- with the NGO-nonprofit-industrial complex (Gurley's "non-labor based organizations") has replaced militancy based on working class agency towards class consciousness. It almost sounds PostModern, no?

It wasn't always this way, and the victories in the class war for over 150 years have actually given sectors like longshoring some of the highest industrial wages in the U.S. But as the coastwide lock-out of 2002 demonstrated, without an activated rank-and-file this might soon come to an end. It might be other port workers whose class consciousness will save the day, like the 16,500 troqueros who by a wildcat strike at the combined Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex on May Day 2006 completely shut down the busiest container cargo port in the Western Hemisphere.

Here's an excerpt of a history about the way it used to be on the waterfront in San Francisco (from a presentation I gave for a conference to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the '34 General Strike last year), where at times sectoral divisions broke down, the class united and fought "for itself":

I.W.W. & Radical Influences on the San Francisco Waterfront

Class struggle in San Francisco was always extremely violent. The first sailors’ strike was in 1850 and by 1853 they began to organize onshore. In this dynamic “labor was pitted against all of capital.” 1866 marked the first attempt to create a horizontal organization that united all waterfront unions. The first strike of all waterfront workers was in 1886, which also drew in striking brewery workers. It led to the formation of the Coast Seaman’s Union of all sailors on the Pacific Coast in 1891, the first of its kind in the world. This caused bosses to create an all-inclusive group called the “Board of Manufacturers” in response.

The 2nd Waterfront Strike of 1893 lost because a bomb was set off on Christmas in front of a non-union boarding house, killing 10. It weakened the workers' strength and was a victory for the bosses. Klondike Gold and the Spanish-American War brought an end to the depression and stimulated the SF economy soon after.

A milestone event was the formation in 1901 of the City Front Federation that included 13,000 waterfront workers from the Sailors Union of the Pacific, the Teamsters, and the various longshore unions. The bosses responded with the Employers Council. The 1901 Waterfront Strike erupted with a lock-out of the Teamsters and grew into a tangle of sympathy strikes that crippled the harbor for 3 months. It grew violent and 5 were killed and 300 assaults were reported. It ended in a negotiated settlement by the orders of Governor Gate. It ended in the maintenance of the status quo but was a victory for the local working class because it came out of the strike stronger than it started.

The 1916 San Francisco Longshore Strike succeeded in tying up $2.5 million in exports. A longshoreman was murdered, which tipped popular opinion in the strikers’ favor. But the Preparedness Day bombing, which killed 10 and seriously injured 40, quickly ended support for the strike. In the reaction, city voters passed an anti-picketing ordinance. Worse still, Tom Mooney was framed for the bombing and served 22 years in prison before being pardoned. In many ways it was San Francisco’s Haymarket, but Mooney’s eventual release is a testament to the strength of the local working class and the international campaign for his release.

The post World War I agitation that led to the 1919 “Seattle Commune,” the general strike where a committee of the working class ran the city for 5 days, was influenced by the cross-polination of class struggle up and down the West Coast, and led to the 6-week General Strike in Winnipeg Canada.

When the 83-day West Coast Maritime Strike in 1934 led to attempts of the National Guard to force open the SF waterfront by force, resulting in 2 deaths, the first union to go out in what became the General Strike were the Teamsters. The 1901 Waterfront Strike was sparked by Teamsters, who were soon joined by longshore workers and maritime workers because of their unity in the City Front Federation, so in ’34 they were returning the favor — in an amazing demonstration of working class memory.

Strangely, one person lived through this whole period and played a constant counter-revolutionary role. He was Dave Beck, who had risen up to be the Teamster leader in the West (the leader of the Teamster international through much of the same period was Dan Tobin), based in Seattle. Basically, he was a thug and a crook. He broke his teeth as a 24-year old member of the faction of Teamsters opposed to the Seattle General Strike in 1919. In ’34, as a Teamster leader in the West, he encouraged Teamster to scab on other workers in the SF General Strike. But he showed his true colors in ’46 in demanding that Teamsters in Oakland NOT take part in the General Strike, even though they helped start it. In the Parmount News newsreel footage of the Oakland General Strike, Dave Beck said that it was “… a lot of foolishness and more like a revolution than an industrial dispute.”

That pretty much sums up the way labor bureaucrats subsequently treat any kind of class-based movement in general and rank-and-file militancy in particular.

There's a need to reinvigorate the tradition of longshore workers who in 1919 in Seattle and San Francisco refused to load armament ships to supply the attacks on the Russian Revolution. Even the Albion Hall group that first met in San Francisco in 1933, at the worst of the Depression (with unemployment at its all-time high of 24.9%), began by fomenting job actions on the docks, things like slow-downs, sabotage, and quickie strikes. Within a year those efforts paid off in the 83-day West Coast Maritime Strike, which in turn resulted in the 4-day San Francisco General Strike. In examples like these, militants advocated working class agency as a means to the end of consciousness and heightened class struggle.

Symbolic actions only lead to the spectacular dead-end of media attention, the "awareness" Gurley refers to. But you can't achieve radical ends with symbolic -- and reformist -- means. To paraphrase Rosa Luxemburg, you can only learn to fight by fighting.

Jun 29 2010 16:47

On a final note, I've got to say that many of the radical actions mentioned above on the San Francisco waterfront came about through the influence of the I.W.W. and its main precursor, the "Chicago Idea" that rose with the 8-Hour Day Movement of the 1870s and 1880s and was defeated with the executions of the Haymarket Martyrs.

Here's what Sergio Bologna said, in his essay "Class Composition and the Theory of the Party at the Origins of the Workers' Council Movement," referencing how the militant tactics of the Wobblies presaged the strike wave in Italy that lasted from the "Hot Autumn" of 1969 through the end of the 1970s:

The IWW succeeded in creating an absolutely original type of agitator: not the mole digging for decades within the single factory or proletarian neighborhood, but the type of agitator who swims within the stream of proletarian struggles, who moves from one end to the other of the enormous American continent and who rides the seismic wave of the struggle, overcoming national boundaries and sailing the oceans before organizing conventions to found sister organizations. The Wobblies' concern with transportation workers and longshoremen, their constant determination to strike at capital as an international market, their intuitive understanding of the mobile proletariat - employed today, unemployed tomorrow - as a virus of social insubordination, as the agent of the "social wildcat": all these things make the IWW a class organization which anticipated present-day forms of struggle.
Jun 30 2010 01:19

Otro más pa mi gente... haha...just because I can't let it go smile

Its nice that H gives us a good and accurate history of the B men. But what he fails to realize is that many of the people who were active with this (and similar actions) were/are also supportive of the struggle of the B men and subsequent struggles within in the ILWU against more conservative elements within the international leadership.

From a bay area listserv:

Just to clarify a couple of points about the June 20 pickets that shut
down the SSA terminal at the Port of Oakland for 24 hours:

1) On Tuesday, June 8, the ILWU Exec. Bd. passed the resolution that
is mentioned below. On Thurs., June 10 there was meeting called on
24-hours notice and attended by representatives of the Palestinian
community in the Bay Area, the Transport Workers Solidarity Cmte,
ANSWER Coalition and other organizations to form the Labor/Community
Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The
Labor/Community Committee was the sponsor of the June 20 picket lines
at the Port of Oakland. Many, many organizations endorsed.


ANSWER did play a major role in the action. But it should be noted that
it was kicked off by the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee , a
Multi-Union Rank and file (and for this website's information...a non-sectarian) committee. After we decided to launch the effort Local 10 passed a motion condemning the attack on the Flotilla, called for an end to the blockade and praised the (then) up coming Swedish dockers
union action . Also various Labor councils passed similar motions ,
albeit with language weaker than the #10 resolution. This was followed by two Public meetings where numerous groups were represented.

Jun 30 2010 04:35

fascinating posts.
re: joe ryan, i'm only just finishing 'dark harbor' about the writing of the articles by malcolm johnson that became 'on the waterfront'. the book is mainstream journalism and not history, and mentions bridges only briefly as a red and a foil for the jingo ryan, but still ... coincidence.