Pacific Coast Longshoreman    

(San Francisco: 1935-1937)

Report by Kristin Ebeling

Publisher: The International Longshoremen’s Association, Pacific Coast District

Dates:  The dates of this newspaper available at University of Washington Library, call number A6718, are August 12, 1935- November 30, 1936.   The Pacific Coast Longshoreman was published every Monday, although certain weeks were skipped.

Editor: The Pacific Coast Longshoreman was edited by the secretary-treasurer of the International Longshoremen’s Association, Pacific Coast District.   W.T. Morris held this position from the paper’s inception until Matt Meehan took over on July 20, 1936 when the Bridges administration came to power.

 

The Pacific Coast Longshoreman was the official publication of the International Longshoremen’s Association’s (ILA) Pacific Coast District, which represented dock workers up and down the West Coast. 

The ILA’s Pacific Coast District was formed after a coast-wide dockworkers’ strike in 1934.  Protesting poor wages, dangerous working conditions, and unscrupulous hiring practices, waterfront workers in West Coast port cities went out on strike on May 9th.  After eighty-five days of violence, arrests, and attempted strikebreaking, the Pacific Coast’s dockworkers won the strike and coast wide union recognition.  The West Coast dockworkers became part of the International Longshoremen’s Association, under the umbrella of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).   

The Pacific Coast Longshoremen began in 1935, about a year after the strike.  The publication ended  when the Pacific Coast District of the ILA voted to leave the AFL and create the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) which affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1937.[1]  The ILA’s Pacific Coast Longshoremen was succeeded by the ILWU’s, The Dispatcher, which was first published in 1942.[2]

The main objective of the Longshoreman was to keep dockworkers informed of international and local ILA news and achieve “closer solidarity through closer understanding.”[3]  The paper included reports from various locals, the results of membership votes,  and other events and announcements.  The paper also provided accounts on various labor struggles across America and throughout the rest of the world.

Beyond just reporting news, The Longshoremen also served the larger purpose of promoting working-class culture.  The pro-worker cartoons, editorials, and other types of propaganda that filled the papers’ pages demonstrated contempt for the employing class, reminded workers of the union’s importance, and encouraged solidarity and pride in union membership.

With these attitudes The Longshoreman stood in opposition to the main stream press of the time.  The foreword, for instance, stated that “We cannot expect our business to receive fair treatment at the hands of the capitalist press.”[4]  The Pacific Coast Longshoreman was therefore the voice of an important part of the working-class and it helped foster the ILA West Coast District’s culture of unity and militancy.

 

Components of paper

The Pacific Coast Longshoreman had several main sections which appeared in nearly every issue, including reports from ILA locals, political cartoons, an editorial page, and articles about domestic and foreign politics.  Some of the major topics discussed in these pages included the formation of the CIO, FDR’s reelection, and the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe.

 

Politics

The first issue of The Longshoreman stated that it would “not be led by any particular faction in any way.”[5]  Yet, the paper’s pro-labor stance naturally led editors to embrace ideas typically found on the left end of the political spectrum.  Moreover, longshoremen, along with loggers and workers in the seafaring trades had a long tradition of radicalism on the West Coast.  Before the formation of the ILA, many longshoremen had been affiliated with the radical Industrial Workers of the World, and in the 1920s and 1930s the Communist Party actively organized dockworkers.[6]  It is therefore likely that the left-wing influence of these organizations influenced the politics of The Pacific Coast Longshoreman.

But the paper was not all firebrand leftist rhetoric.  Because the ILA fell under the jurisdiction of the AFL, The Pacific Coast Longshoremen was often influenced by the conservativism of the main-stream labor movement.  The paper was therefore a product of conflicting political views and pressure from both sides of the political spectrum.      

The paper’s political schizophrenia was demonstrated in debates over the union’s party affiliation.  In an August 19th, 1935 editorial, authors rejected the idea of a new socialist or communist party, arguing that it would be divisive and, in the long run, “no substitute for the Union.”[7]  However, in another editorial printed on the October 23, 1935, the two-party system was critiqued.  The editorial stated that workers often forgot that “Democrats and Republicans are alike as two peas in the same pod.  One is Tweedledee and the other is Tweedledum.”[8]        

ILA members unsympathetic to the Democratic Party also used the paper to critique Franklin Roosevelt and argue that the New Deal was nothing but hollow rhetoric.  The December 2, 1935, issue, for instance, ran a picture of Roosevelt laughing, along with a caption that read “but the smile will be gone when he sees the real bog in which his favorite projects including the WPA, have fallen.”[9]   The same issue also featured a picture of a woman holding a sign that stated, “We can’t eat promises—We want jobs.”

The paper’s stance on capitalism was also somewhat contradictory.  Editorials argued that, “we should not lose sight of the fact that the trouble is inherent in the price and profit system.”[10]  But while the paper might have pointed to capitalism as the root cause of workers’ problems, authors never made an argument for outright revolution.  On the other hand, the paper ran many articles sympathetic to the Soviet Union.  An article in the December 23, 1935 issue, for instance, stated that, “Soviet Russia is increasingly prosperous.”[11]

 

Class-consciousness

Class conflict was a dominant theme of The Pacific Coast Longshoreman.  The paper’s editors, being working-class men, used The Longshoremen’s pages to demonstrate their contempt for society’s owning and employing classes.  Indeed, statement’s like “The more you study the figures on the present drift of things, prices, profits, and dividends, the more you wonder what the fat boys of industry are grumbling about” typified the paper’s attitude towards society’s wealthy.[12]  Almost every issue ran a cartoon titled “The Upper Crust.” These cartoons characterized the wealthy as fat, greedy and stupid.  One edition featured a portly business owner with a sign that read, “due to union demands, my family and I have been forced to sell our town house and move to a 24-room duplex apartment.”

The paper also took a firm stance against law enforcement.  Given the ILA’s history and the fact that police often served at the behest of employers, this is not a surprise.  For example, during the 1934 strike bloody clashes between strikers and police left six dockworkers dead.    An editorial in the first issue summarized the paper’s stance on the police when it said, “We are told, of course, that these forces are sent into strike zones to preserve law and order, but hardly without an exception they are sent in where there is no disorder and do immediately create disorders.”             

The Longshoreman’s opposition to the affluent owners as well as the police shows that the paper embraced the working-class roots of the ILA.    The paper reinforced the idea that the longshoremen’s interests were in direct conflict with their employers and their protectors.

 

Solidarity

Like many labor organizations, the ILA promoted a culture of solidarity.  The Pacific Coast Longshoreman reflected this culture in its language, articles and images. Articles referred to longshoremen as “brother” and notices presented by leadership were signed, “fraternally yours.”   The idea of brotherhood expressed in the ILA’s writings was intended  to create an unbreakable bond between the men and strengthen solidarity. [13]

The Longshoreman also encouraged solidarity across the labor movement.  An article titled, “The Real Union Spirit” saw the ILA’s “interests as inextricably bound with the rest of the labor movement.”  Indeed, the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all” was repeated over and over again throughout this publication.

The paper’s support for the broader labor movement, however, was more than just rhetorical and leaders used The Longshoremen as a medium to urge ILA members to participate in boycotts and other actions that supported the nation’s working-class.  For example, in November, 1935 The Longshoremen urged dockworkers in West Coast ports to refuse to unload cargo loaded by scabs in Gulf Coast ports, where dockworkers were fighting for union recognition.  W.T. Morris, president of the ILA, ran an announcement in the paper that said “Both President Lewis and I feel that it is our plain duty as union men to support our brother unionists on the Gulf in their fight for decent conditions.”[14] 

Additionally, the paper urged ILA members to use their purchasing power in support of the labor movement and it repeatedly ran articles reminding longshoremen to “buy union” and boycott non-union made goods.  The first issue of the paper, for instance, stated “Faint heart never won fair wages. Be persistent. Demand the union label, shop card and button.”   

 

The Bridges Administration

Harry Bridges was elected president of the Pacific Coast District of the ILA on July 9, 1936.    The entire editorial staff of the paper changed, leaving a new editor, Matt Meehan at the helm of The Pacific Coast Longshoreman.  The paper, however, was not drastically altered and the new editor ran cartoons, articles, and editorials very similar to his predecessor.  Moreover, although the Pacific Coast Longshoremen were about to leave the ILA and the AFL for the ILWU and the CIO, there was not an initial increase in militant language or articles.  

However, in 1936 the paper became noticeably more radical.  In that year, Bridges led the Pacific Coast District out of the ILA and started the ILWU.  Immediately after this move the paper became highly critical of the AFL.   An August 17th editorial read, “In our opinion the American Federation of Labor executive council has seriously damaged the entire labor movement.”  The article continued, “unions, craft and industrial alike, will suffer if the present split in the A. F. of L. continues.”[15]  In the August 24th, 1936 issue, an article stated that “there is no doubt that members of the International Longshoremen’s Association are definitely opposed to the unseating of 10 big unions by the executive board of the A. F. of L. because they are members of the C.I.O.”[16]  Also, coverage of the CIO unions and their struggles with the AFL increased from this point forward.   In the final issue, an article titled “May Go CIO” appeared, which criticized the ILA and AFL for using “strikebreaking tactics” in their failure to support a San Francisco maritime strike.

 

 Conclusion  

From 1935 to 1936 The Pacific Coast Longshoreman served as the voice of dockworkers on the western seaboard.  For present day readers, it serves as a window into the Pacific Coast District of the ILA.  It shows that the union was still ironing out its politics, with some articles supportive of the Democratic Party and others critical of it.  It also shows that the union was still in the process of figuring out its union ideology since some articles clearly argued that the union needed to turn in a more radical direction while others showed an affinity for the AFL’s conservativeism.

But if the paper shows that the ILA was still refining and debating its political stances, it also shows that the West Coast’s longshoremen had clearly come to embrace solidarity, support of the broader labor movement, and class consciousness.

Finally, The Pacific Coast Longshoremen gives readers a glimpse into the jurisdictional disputes and factional debates that occurred on the waterfront in the 1930s.  There is no doubt that The Pacific Coast Longshoreman was used to not only preserve labor ideals such as solidarity and to inform membership of union events, but as a tool to sway the opinions of membership in favor of joining the CIO.


 

[1] "The ILWU Story." ILWU.Org. 2005. 5 May 2008 <http://www.ilwu.org/history/ilwu-story/ilwu-story.cfm>.

[2] Levi, Margaret, David Olson, Jon Agnone, and Devin Kelly. "Union Democracy Reexamined." (2007): 13.

[3] "Foreword." Pacific Coast Longshoreman 12 Aug. 1935: 1.

[4] " Foreword." Pacific Coast Longshoreman 12 Aug. 1935: 1.

[5] “Foreword." Pacific Coast Longshoreman 12 Aug. 1935: 1.

[6] Kimeldorf, Howard. Reds or Rackets? New Jersey: University of California P, 1992.

[7] "What, Another?" Editorial. Pacific Coast Longshoreman 19 Aug. 1935.

[8] "The Great Political Joke." Editorial. Pacific Coast Longshoreman 23 Oct. 1935: 4.

[9] Back on the Job. 1935. Pacific Coast Longshoreman.

[10] "The Economic Dilemma." Editorial. Pacific Coast Longshoreman 21 Oct. 1935.

[11] "In Soviet Russia." Editorial. Pacific Coast Longshoreman 23 Dec. 1935.

[12] Editorial. Pacific Coast Longshoreman 14 Oct. 1935.

[13] Wellman, David. The Union Makes Us Strong. Cambridge UP, 1997.

[14] Morris, W.T. "Refuse to Hangle Gulf Ports Cargo!" Pacific Coast Longshoreman 4 Nov. 1935.

[15] Editorial. Pacific Coast Longshoreman 17 Aug. 1936.

[16] Pacific Coast Longshoreman 24 Aug. 1936.

Click to enlarge

(October 19, 1936)

(August 12, 1935)

(August 12, 1935)

(September 7, 1936)

The Pacific Coast Longshoreman was the official publication of the ILA's Pacific Coast District, which represented dockworkers up and down the coast.  It began in 1935, about a year after the dramatic 1934 strike in which the Pacific Coast ILA was created.


Politics and the ILA

The paper did not take a firm political stance.  At times it critiqued Democrats and the two party system, while other times it was highly critical of left-wing third parties.

(March 2, 1936)

(August 19, 1935)

(December 23, 1935)


Class Consciousness

The editors of The Pacific Coast Longshoreman sought to build ILA members' class consciousness.  They ran poems, cartoons, editorials, and articles denouncing the employing class and arguing for the importance of unions.

(August 12, 1935)

(September 9, 1935)

(September 28, 1936)

(November 2, 1936)

(March 18, 1936)


Solidarity

The paper vehemently supported other workers' efforts to form unions.  In 1935, the Pacific Coast ILA refused to handle cargo from the Gulf Coast--which had been loaded by scabs when dockworkers there went out on strike for union recognition.

(November 18, 1935)

(November 4, 1935)


Harry Bridges

In 1936, Harry Bridges was elected president of the Pacific Coast ILA.  Bridges had risen to prominence in the union when, during the 1934 strike, he served as the union's spokesman.

(July 13, 1936)

(July 20, 1936)


CIO!  CIO!  CIO!

Shortly after becoming president, Bridges began to argue that the ILA should align with the newly formed CIO.  In 1937, The Pacific Longshoremen ended as the Pacific Coast dockworkers left the ILA and formed the ILWU.

(August 24, 1936)

(November 30, 1936)

(May 20, 1936)

 

Copyright (c) 2008 by Kristin Ebeling