Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Timeline: Puget Sound Waterfront History 1894-2002

This timeline offers an overview of significant events in the history of longshore and warehouse workers in Puget Sound, primarily Tacoma and Seattle. It was complied by Blaine Holien, who served as an intern to the Harry Bridges Center Winter 2010. It uses information from two books by historian Ronald Magden: The Working Longshoremen and A history of Seattle Waterfront Workers, 1884-1934.

Date Event
1894: January 12 Union members declared a strike against Goodall, Perkins and Company after the company insisted that non-union members unload the cargo from their ships.  Union officials refused and ordered all Puget Sound Longshoremen to strike.
1895: March and April In an attempt to amalgamate all Puget Sound longshore unions into the Western Central Labor Union, the SLRU decided to break away from the WCLU later on in 1895.
1886: March 22nd Longshoremen along the Tacoma waterfront went on strike due to low wages, long hours, and lack of representation.
1886: March 28th The Longshoremen who went on strike on March 22nd, 1886, formally organized into the Stevedores, Longshoremen and Riggers Union of Puget Sound.  Their motto was "In union there is strength".
1886: June 12 The Stevedores, Longshoremen and Riggers Union was formed in Seattle.  They created a union based upon "the principles of right and the glorious standard of justice".
1889: June 6 The great Seattle fire occurred.  In what is now known as Pioneer Square, a glue pot boiled over in a nearby paint store erupting one of the largest fires the West Coast has seen.  Many wharfs along the waterfront burnt down with the exception of the Schwabacher Brothers' wharf.  That wharf proved critical in the repair of downtown Seattle in the rebuilding process.  One of the buildings that was constructed after the fire was the Longshore Hall and Reading room.  
1890: April 3rd Members of the SLRU cooperative and the Number Ones (current SLRU members) organized the Tacoma Trade Council in an effort to provide protection for union members and aid in the creation of other unions in Tacoma.
1890: August 13th Conflicts between gang bosses, who were members of the SLRU, and other members of the SLRU were on the rise along the Tacoma waterfront.  The Number Ones (current SLRU members) and the Number Twos (gang bosses who were tied to organized crime) split the SLRU into two parts.   
1892: March The Number Ones voted in favor of joining the the AFL, the first union in Washington to do so.
1896 The SLRU disbanded due to many differences amongst its members, including the Ones and Twos.
1897 1897 was a time in which much of the Tacoma waterfront was controlled by many different groups: the "Pension Gang', the "China Gang", and the remaining members of the now dissolved SLRU. 
1900: March 27 The Seattle Longshoremen's Mutual Benefit Association was established.   The association aimed to assist sick and injured members with weekly benefits.  The local later joined Seattle's Western Central Labor Union and the International Longshoremen's Association.  Ed Whalen was elected president of the newly created local.  He was also the previous president of the SLRU.
1900: May 4th Remnants of the Number Twos and Old Town newcomers obtained a charter as Local 179 from the International Longshoremen's Association.
1902: July Tacoma Local 179 participated in the ILA convention.  In order to organize all waterfront workers, members of the ILA voted in favor of changing the union's name to the International Longshoremen, Marine and Transportworkers' Association of North and South America.
1902: August 30 There was a disagreement with Seattle Local 163 and Tacoma Local 306 between McCabe and Hamilton Stevedoring.  The stevedoring company posted a wage scale that went against what the union had bargained for.  Pacific Coast Steam hired scabs to work in place of the striking workers.  This only outraged the union members.  The strike last approximately 162 days.
1903: April 1 James Madsen organized another union representing Seattle longshoremen, Seattle International Longshoremen, Marine and Transportworkers' Association Local 486.  Since the union failed to gain substantial members, veteran longshoremen created another union representing Seattle longshoremen, the ILMTA Local 552.  The WCLU and the AFL tried to amalgamate these two unions but the conflict between the parties continued.
1904 February and April The Sailor's Union in San Pedro, California and Astoria, Oregon stopped ILMTA members from loading cargo onto ships.  This jurisdictional conflict between ILMTA and the Sailor's Union continued on over the next few years.
1906: April 18 The great San Francisco fire destroyed much of the city's downtown core.  
1907: January 1 Over the course of 1907 four thousand workers had joined one of the 110 locals in the city of Seattle.  There were a total of 19,000 union members across the city during  1907.
1907: April 19 The Puget Sound Shipping Association was formed.  Seattle area dock managers, stevedore bosses, and steamship agents banded together to deal with the longshore union's demands. 
1907: April Tacoma longshoremen reorganized into the Longshoremen of the Pacific Coast.  
1907: May 4 The Puget Sound Shipping Association locked out Seattle union Longshoremen.  The association wanted to establish an open-shop principle.  On May 19th, the union and shipping association came to an agreement and all longshoremen went back to work.  
1907: Summer The Panic of 1907 hit Seattle.  10,000 workers were left jobless.  This was a time in which socialist ideas were being spread around Seattle claiming that the government was being inactive on construction projects that could lead to a massive improvement in employment numbers.  
1908: January 29th Employers in Tacoma refused to recognize the LPC and members went on strike.  Local 23 of Tacoma joined forces with locals around Seattle and fights soon broke out in Seattle amongst strikers and strikebreakers.
1908: September 29th Members of the LPC voted in favor of creating the Longshoremen's Union of the Pacific.  Their first order of business was to call off the strike of 1908.  This was a transition point for the LPC to reunite with the International Longshoremen's Association.  
1909-1910 These were some of the most difficult years in the history of longshoremen across the United States.  Employers cut wages across the board, regardless of union demands.  People were shot and killed over employment, primarily by strikebreakers.  
1911: September 5 The creation of the public port in Seattle granted union members an upper hand in the control of the wharfs.  The first port commissioner granted full access of the port to local unions.
1914: August 14 The Panama Canal opened up.  Seattle longshoremen and local officials saw this as an opportunity for Seattle to become the leading port city on the West Coast. 
1912-1913 Pacific Coast ILA locals demanded that any members belonging to the Industrial Workers of the World and to the ILA pick one or the other.  The ILA wanted to distance itself from "radicals" in the IWW.  Many members moved to the ILA which boosted their members by about 700.
1913: May 1 An agreement between ILA members and shipping association members allowed open-shop workplaces along the waterfront in Seattle and in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The only stipulation was that ILA members could not create a stoppage of work under any circumstances. The ILA members received the pay scale they demanded.  
1915: February 1 The West Coast employers established another association, The Federation of Waterfront Employers' Unions.  Its main intent was to receive more support, politically and publicly, against the ILA.  
1915: March 1 Bosses in Vancouver, British Columbia reduced wages amongst longshore workers without warning.  Seattle ILA officials announced that all locals in the area will boycott Vancouver based ships.  The boycott continued until April 2.  
1915: July 26 The Eighth Pacific Coast ILA Convention convened with the intent of averting yet another strike against the WEU.  
1916: May 1 The ILA district convention convened in Seattle.  Their main purpose was to create closed-shop laws around the Puget Sound region due to the fact that employers' profits had drastically escalated and employee's wages had remained constant.
1916: June 1st The walkout of 1916 occurred.  ILA members along the West Coast all walked off the job to protest the open shop laws that ruled the waterfront at that time.  Members wanted closed shops, overtime benefits, and an increased wage scale.  This was a very important strike in the history of the ILA, primarily due to the fact that although the ILA lost they gained valuable experience in fighting for what they wanted, especially the closed shop.
1916: September 7th The United States government created the United States Shipping Board in an effort to establish the world's largest fishing fleet and merchant marine in the world.  
1916: June-October The first phase of the 1916 strike was implemented.  At 6:00am, all West Coast Longshoremen went on strike because the WEU did not agree to the closed-shop principles.  On the morning of June 9th, WEU agreed to the wage scale submitted to employers on May 1st.  However, many employers continued hiring non-union members and again, West Coast ILA locals went on strike.  Finally after many fights amongst scabs, non-union members and union members, including a handful of murders and riots, ILA members went back to work on October 4th without winning their core demand for a closed shop.
1916: Fall After the ill-fated strike in 1916, many ILA members saw the rapid decline of union working conditions along the waterfront in the Puget Sound.  The WEU created their own labor bureaus, also known as Fink Hall.  The employers set the wages, hours, and every member had to carry a "rustling card."  On each card it showed whether or not you belonged to the ILA, if you had a police record, and if you had participated in the strike of 1916.  Many ILA members carrying these cards felt that they were degrading and represented a form of discrimination against union workers.   
1917: April 19 The United States entered World War I.  Jobs along the West Coast ports were plentiful during 1917 due to wartime production and shipping.  The WEU gave multiple pay wage increases during this period, and there were no recorded strikes. 
1917: August 1 The National Adjustment Commission was created to maximize efficiency along America's waterfronts and ports.  It created a line of communication between the WEU, ILA, other labor unions, and the United States Government.  In the first investigation between the ILA and WEU, the NAC found that labor bureaus would continue to be used along with rustling cards.  The only benefit that the ILA received during this time through the WEU was that the labor bureaus were now going to be supervised by the NAC, not by the WEU.
1918 The Port of Tacoma was created.  
1918 The Industrial Workers of the World, which had been extremely active along the West Coast, attracted many members of the Tacoma ILA local during 1918.  These members had now obtained dual membership with the ILA and the IWW.  
1918: November 8th Various Seattle businessmen created the Puget Sound Industrial Conciliation Committee to resolve disputes amongst employers and union members.  It consisted of three ILA members and three Waterfront Employers Union members (WEU).  
1918: December 1st In order to restrict any employer attempts to re instituteFink Hall, the ILA organized a membership drive.  The ILA decided to allow hand truckers into the union, even though most of them belonged to the IWW.  After the ballots were counted, the Wobblies had complete control of the ILA.  The president and vice president of the ILA were previous and/or present IWW members.  
1919 1919 was a triumphant year for the longshoremen of Tacoma.  Because of the increase in cargo coming through the port, the local had a resurgence of bargaining power.  Contract negotiations moved forward between the ILA and Waterfront Employers Union.
1919: January 14 The WEU met with district ILA officials, along with members of the NAC and the Industrial Conciliation Committee to formerly sign a closed-shop agreement. This was exactly what the ILA had wanted for over the past twenty years.
1919: January 28th ILA members voted on a general strike due to a labor leader in California being put to death.  40,000 Seattle workers vowed to strike in a sign of respect towards Tom Mooney, the labor leader sentenced to death.  This is another case of which ILA members decided to strike not on the basis of labor or working conditions but on morals and respect.   The United States government considered this a revolution and ordered everyone involved to go back to work or face harsh punishments.   
1920: April 3rd The WEU overturned the closed-shop laws again.  However, the Fink Hall was not as powerful as hoped.  Union power was becoming stronger and stronger.  Across the country longshoremen became members of the ILA, granting them more and more power throughout the 1920's.
1921: February 26th Local 38-12 and Local 38-16 established a Joint Representation Plan.  After a short two months, both locals fought to gain control of the registration process.  Later, Local 38-11 joined the Joint Organizing Committee.  The three Locals were against the "Foisie's fink hall" but they still needed to join together in a united stand against the WEU.
1921: May 24th Seattle Local 38-11, Local 38-12, and Local 38-16 were barred from the ILA.  The ILA later reinstated Local's 38-12 charter.  However, Local 38-11 and 38-16 were still not members of the ILA and they joined the Stevedores and Dock Workers' Union of Seattle.
1925: April 10th The implementation of the Seattle Longshore Safety Policy finally succeeded.  During the first six months of the policy, the amount of compensation to longshoremen amounted to an average of $20.22 per week.
1929: October 24th-29th The Great Depression hits the United States.  Wages and working conditions were reduced due to a decrease in cargo and profits for the waterfront employers.  This in turn decreased bargaining power for the Tacoma ILA. However, the Seattle waterfront noticed the decline in imports and exports as early as May,  1929.  It wasn't until February, 1930 that Longshoremen noticed the biggest decline in income that they have ever seen: the average income dropped approximately 20%.  The Joint Action Committee during this time was crucial in maintaining some sort of normalcy in the Longshoremen's lives.
1933: March 8th The 1st New Deal was created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The National Industrial Recovery Act was one of the most important New Deal programs enacted to help Longshoremen along both coasts of the United States.  NIRA gave workers the right to organize.  During this time ILA membership was on the rise up and down the West Coast.
1934 Over the course of 1934 there were a total of 1,856 strikes in the United States.  
1934: January 31st-February 3rd The National Recovery Administration held a hearing in Washington D.C. regarding the implementation of NIRA.  
1934: February 1st Harry Bridges and Eugene Dietrich of San Francisco Local 38-79 spoke to Local 38-12 and established a negotiating committee that would talk to employers along the West Coast.  The committee gave an ultimatum to the employers regarding bargaining.  It was the ILA that was to  be in control of all talks between the two parties, no government intervention was to take place.  They gave the employers until March 7th to accede to their demands, or a strike vote would ensue.   The employers passed the resolution.  However, after a few months had passed nothing had been accomplished by the employers.  The ILA decided to put another strike vote forward and the ILA members voted overwhelmingly to strike.
1934: February 25th The 1934 Pacific Coast District Convention got underway.  In an attempt to garner higher wages, enforcement of the closed-shop laws and better working conditions, West Coast ILA members voted in favor of a strike if their conditions were not met.  By May 9th, the WEU refused their contracts and the ILA went on strike, along with many other unions along the western seaboard.
1934: May 9th "The Great Maritime Strike of 1934" began.  Approximately 12,500 members of the West Coast ILA walked off the docks.  Sailors followed.  There were various other groups and unions that participated in one of the largest strikes in the history of the United States.  The ILA members wanted to end the "fink halls" and gain better wages.  Employers refused to meet union officials and one of the first industry wide strikes in the history of the United States began.  Nearly 35,000 workers that struck over the period of the strike.  Hundreds were injured, including 8 killed.  
1934: June 13th The Joint Marine Strike Committee was formed.  Harry Bridges was elected its first president.
1934: June 20th Seattle Mayor Charles Smith decided to force open the Seattle waterfront.  In coordination with Seattle, Tacoma tried to force open their waterfront as well.  In both cases, strikers blockaded the entrances to the piers.  The strikers continued to blockade the area around Smith Cove, including blocking a train from loading cargo from the awaiting ships.  However, on June 28th, teargas exploded in front of of the entrances to where the scabs were staying while working on the waterfront.  Striker Shelvy Daffron died of gunshot wounds to the back during this incident.  
1934: July 3rd In San Francisco, clashes between strikers, police and strikebreakers continued.  On one of the bloodiest days of the general strike, July 5th, 5 strikers were killed in San Francisco.  
1934: July 31st "The Great Maritime Strike of 1934" was over.  With forty-five ships waiting to be unloaded the work began at once.  The National Longshoremen's Board ruled that "the hiring of all longshoremen shall be through halls maintained and operated jointly".  Not only had the NLRB gained control of the hiring halls, membership within the union had sky rocketed after the general strike of 1934.
1935: January 9th Jack Bjorklund resigned as Pacific Coast District ILA secretary and the executive board appointed longtime ILA loyalist Paddy Morris. With this appointment leftist and conservative ILA members continued to disagree, the two sides led by Harry Bridges and Paddy Morris.
1936: November Key industrial unions led by John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers launch the CIO initially within the American Federation of Labor (AFL), later as a rival federation, the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
1937: August 11th Members voted at the Pacific Coast ILA Executive Board voted to secede from the the ILA and the American Federation of Labor creating the International Longshoremen's and Warehouseworkers Union (ILWU) and affiliating with the CIO .  Some members of the ILA sued the newly created ILWU for the rights to funds, records, and the charter of the Pacific Coast District.  This battle played out in the courts for a period of months.  Harry Bridges filed an appeal to the newly created National Labor Relations Board to recognize the ILWU as the official union of Longshoremen.   
1938: June Upset by the decision to leave the AFL, Tacoma Longshoremen cut off all ties with the ILWU, retaining the ILA affiliation.  They later went on strike to protest the NLRB's decision. The Tacoma local will finally join the ILWU in 1958.     
1937-1939 The Teamsters and the ILWU wage jurisdictional battles up and down the West Coast.  Teamsters are the strongest AFL affiliate in the region. Harry Bridges is president of the West Coast CIO director.
1939: June 23rd Tacoma ILA Longshoremen refused to load scrap iron onto a vessel headed for Japan.  Other ILWU ports also refused to load cargo headed to Japan, due to Japan invading China at the start of World War II.  
1941: December 7th Japanese airplanes attack the United States at Pearl Harbor; the U.S. enters WWII  Work was plentiful along the West Coast waterfronts and i t was also a time of rapid modernization along the waterfront, which reduced the amount of man hours needed to load or unload a ship.  
1950: May 3 The ILWU, along with ten other unions, were kicked out of the CIO for being led by so-called communists.    Bridges continued to lead the ILWU and the union continued its strong presence the West Coast.  
1952 The ILA and the ILWU on the west coast finally agree to join forces after many years of fighting back and forth.  
1961: June 30th The ILWU and ship owners agreed to the Mechanization and Modernization agreement.  Modernization along the waterfront had been in action for the past twenty years with new container equipment that radically changed the way that ships were loaded and unloaded.  
1971: January 1st The ILWU requested to be exempt from President Richard Nixon's nationwide wage freeze.  The employer's union refused and the ILWU went on strike for 134 days.  
1977: May 30 Harry Bridges retires from the ILWU.  Throughout his long labor career, he defeated many employers attempts at increased exploitation.  He created one of the most socially active unions that is still in existence today.  While many other unions have declined in membership and bargaining power, the ILWU has maintained a strong membership and has also maintained their bargaining power.  
1982 The world's largest shipping container company, Sea-Land, decided not to renew its contract with the Port of Seattle.  Instead, it signed a contract with the Port of Tacoma.  This was a major step in the restructuring of the Port of Seattle due to technological and economical changes that had taken place over the past few decades.  The work load was going to drastically increase along the Tacoma waterfront, along with the bargaining power of the ILWU in Tacoma.
1988: June 10 The ILWU rejoins the AFL-CIO.
2002: September 28th-October 8th The ILWU were locked-out during contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association with the Bush administration threatening to use the National Guard to run the ports.  The PMA wanted to cut wages and hours due to their claim that activity along the waterfront was declining.  The ILWU had opposing documentation showing that productivity along the waterfront had actually increased during this time.  The lockout ended  on October 8th when the ILWU and the PMA came to an agreement on wages and hours.