Early Political History
The Scrap Iron Dispute:
The scrap iron dispute, with its most significant events occurring in December 1938, was a demonstration by the ILWU that, to an extent, dictated American foreign policy. The dispute regarded the loading of scrap iron onto ships headed to either Japan or China, or ships contracted by Japanese companies. It was believed that these pieces of scrap metal would leave the United States only to return in the form of munitions against Americans in the looming World War II. Thus, the ILWU took action to prevent this from happening. When five hundred sympathizers to the acts of war being committed in China by Japan formed a picket line on San Francisco’s waterfront between ILWU members and the Greek ship “Spyros” that was to be loaded with scrap iron and sail off to China, Longshoremen refused to pass through the picket line. This intense demonstration was resolved two days later when an embargo was placed on exporting to Japan. Demonstrations of the refusal to load scrap iron also occurred in Everett, Bellingham, Coos Bay, Astoria, Portland, Seattle, Puget Sound, and San Pedro.
Waterfront Worker Screening Programs by Army, Navy, and Coast Guard: 1947-1953:
Immediately after the Taft-Hartley Act was passed on June 23, 1947, President Harry Bridges called for a caucus to occur a month later to deal with the issue of the waterfront screenings, as well as other issues created by the Act. It was decided by the attendees of that caucus to by-pass the NLRB as reconstructed in the Taft-Hartley Act so affidavits would not be required of the ILWU members. However, screenings and blacklisting continued on military docks until July 1950 when President Truman signed an executive order extending the screening program to commercial docks, which were under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard. It gave the Coast Guard more of a policing role to play, having it issue identification cards to eligible waterfront workers. The ILWU responded with a number of caucuses and even a coast-wide vote regarding the waterfront worker screenings. The results of the rank-and-file vote were in favor of the ILWU National Executive Board’s proposal on a Screening Resolution.
Special thanks to Professor Margaret Levi, Professor David Olson, ILWU Archivist Gene Vrana, and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies