Sunday, September 1, 2013


The (The International Longshoremen and Warehouseman's Union (ILWU) celebrates the 75th year anniversary of the general strike that brought shipping to a standstill and gained a fairer hiring system and many other concessions from employers. It proved pivotal to labor management relationships in the maritime industry and throughout American industry in general.

Full disclosure when I was a young man I went from working in a couple of non-union warehouses in the Bay Area to working out of Local 6 on Hegeberger Dr. which you pass on the way to the Oakland Airport. As you turn off Hegenburger you pass a beautiful mosaic. In the fall and winter as the sun would slowly fade from the sky into pitch blackness we would drive through the darkness to catch a chance at working that day.

The steam from thermoses would float out over the room as some poured coffee, sometimes the faint hint of  booze would waft past.  The office was filled with men mostly huddled in chairs, playing cards, laughing. The room represented a hard won victory for the ILWU it represented the destruction of the old " shape up" system in which the Forman would come out on the docks or warehouses early in the morning and dole out jobs. This method was rife with favoritism and patronage. The ILWU hall was run by the union. In this hall members who had the most seniority got to pick the jobs they wanted. Finally people like me who were just getting started got a chance to prove ourselves

Warehouses like the converted lofts in Jack London Square were bustling before first light. All over the city men like me hoisted hauled and moved cargo. From the army Base at the foot of the Bridge This was back in the day before containers, when warehouses were lined with wooden palettes stacked with loose cargo. The air was full of the sound of the blaring horn of forklifts driven by the senior men. Folks like me scurried between the rows moving cargo to palettes that were whisked to the gaping mouths of semis. Suffice it to say the conditions in the union and non union shops were night and day. In high school I spent summers working in small non union warehouses in South Berkeley. The conditions in the small shops were relentless. By the end of the summer I had watched my friends slowly eliminated. Somewhere in mid summer we we joined by about 5 developmentally disabled kids. Try as they might they could not keep up. Slowly I saw one break down in a fit and literally turn in circles as the boxes fled past him.

My first job for the union was in a massive warehouse that distributed goods out to a chain of department stores. One day around noon an older worker s approached me and said:

"Put your cart up son,"
"But I'm not through, I said. "I haven't filled this list yet," we were given order to fill and we buzzed around the property picking up items which we would then deposit at their embarkation point.


"For the next half hour your through" he said "And if anyone says anything tell em to come see Joe, trust me they ain't gonna wanna do that. Now go on sit down in the break room and eat lunch like a gentleman brother."

"Yes sir" I said.

"I ain't no sir man I'm an enlisted man.... and I'm a lifer." I looked at his lapel and saw an enamel pin with ILWU Local 6 and the word Shop Steward.

Never seen the man since but he is a large reason I'm a union man to this day. Remember this - If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything! Though I haven't seen the inside of a warehouse for years I still believe in the ILWU motto to my heart - "An Injury to One - Is an Injury to All !"

Please see this article.

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