The Communist Party, the unions, and the San Francisco General Strike

NINETEEN THIRTY-FOUR marked a turning point for labor during the Great Depression. In that year, the number of strikes more than doubled to 1,856, while the number of workers on strike increased fivefold, to 1,470,000, compared to the period 1929–32.1 The San Francisco General Strike of July 16–19 was one of three key outbreaks of class struggle in 1934. As Art Preis observes in Labor’s Giant Step, victorious strikes for union recognition in “Minneapolis, Toledo and San Francisco…showed how the workers could fight and win. They gave heart and hope to labor everywhere for the climactic struggle that was to build the CIO [Congress of Industrial Organizations].”2 In each of these strikes, militants from left-wing organizations—Trotskyists3 in Minneapolis, Musteites4 in Toledo, and Communists in San Francisco—played a key role in providing leadership in the fight. Communists and socialists rose to national prominence, confrontation by workers with the employers and the state became a common occurrence, and industrial solidarity blossomed.

This article will attempt to explain how longshore workers transformed themselves from one of the worst paid, least stable, and marginalized groups in society into a powerful force for social and economic justice in the course of a few short years. This article does not purport to provide an exhaustive narrative of the maritime strike or the general strike itself. Instead, it will focus largely on the role of the Communist Party (CP), both its strengths and weaknesses, in the strike. The San Francisco party helped channel the growing working-class frustration with waterfront employers’ intransigence and the limits of New Deal reforms into a movement for a democratic, militant, and popular trade union that allowed rank-and-file workers to mobilize and win their key demands by means of one of the best organized strikes in U.S. history. The local party did so by rejecting the Third Period ultraleft policy of isolating Communists and radicals into sectarian dual, or revolutionary, unions. Instead, they returned to a set of trade union organizing tactics first developed by the CP in the 1920s under the umbrella of the Trade Union Education League (TUEL) and in consultation with the Communist International before its degeneration under Stalin. While I will not attempt to draw a straight line between the experience of 1934 and the debates over the question of general strikes and mass actions in the Occupy movement and the Left in general, I hope some of the lessons will be obvious.

The San Francisco General Strike developed as part of a West Coast maritime strike which, at its height, involved more than 130,000 workers in the Bay Area and about 200,000 coast-wide, bringing key sectors of the economy to a virtual standstill.5 In addition to the longshore workers and seamen, teamsters, building tradesmen, streetcar operators, and hotel and restaurant workers joined the strike. Tens of thousands of organized and unorganized workers joined in around the Bay Area, including six hundred Chinese laundry workers, nonunion truck drivers, and dozens of small manufacturing plants and service industry businesses. Many of these workers took the opportunity to ask the established unions for help in organizing their workplaces during and after what came to be called the Big Strike.

Meanwhile, the governor mobilized the National Guard to patrol the streets and set up machine gun nests at critical San Francisco waterfront intersections. The militarization of the streets provided cover for gangs of right-wingers, organized by the business-backed Citizens’ Committee and working hand-in-hand with the police, to raid union and Communist Party offices, and beat up and arrest radicals and strike leaders. Yet the repression could not compel workers to return to work before they had fought San Francisco’s richest businessmen to a draw, laying the groundwork for the greatest surge in unionization ever seen on the West Coast in the months and years to follow.

Even now, more than seventy-five years later, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) remains one of the strongest unions in the country, based on its control of the hiring hall, its commitment to antiracist organizing, and its tradition of using its strength to express solidarity with political causes, from opposition to South African apartheid and US imperialism to support for Mumia Abu-Jamal and immigrants’ rights. Most recently, ILWU members worked with Occupy Oakland in the winter of 2011 to shut down the docks in solidarity with the 99%.

Conditions before the strike
Despite their strategic position in the economy, longshore workers suffered terrible conditions even before the onset of the Great Depression. Essentially reduced to temporary workers, most had to stand in demeaning “shape-ups” every morning, hoping a foreman would pick them for a day’s work. This system lent itself to bribery, favoritism and abuse, and pitted workers against one another for jobs. After the defeat of a 1919 longshore strike, maritime bosses forced all workers to join a company union, called the Blue Book, and anyone who tried to organize a real union was summarily fired. This setup meant that union control of the hiring hall became the central demand in organizing on the docks.

Writing in July of 1934, California Communist Party leader Sam Darcy argued:

Due both to the physically advantageous position of leadership which San Francisco holds on the West Coast, as well as the activities of the militants, action in San Francisco became of decisive importance for the entire Coast.6

Employers, New Deal mediators, and workers alike agreed with Darcy’s assessment in this regard. In Reds or Rackets, Howard Kimeldorf argues that the CP was the “strategic pivot” which galvanized and directed maritime militancy into organizational rank-and-file control over the strike.7 The Communists argued that workers must rely on militant picket lines to win strikes; waiting for New Deal legislation to bring union recognition was hopeless. Moreover, they insisted rank-and-file workers should take democratic control over their unions and wrest power from corrupt and conservative officials. Communists put these two tactics to work inside the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 38-79 (the American Federation of Labor affiliate), transforming the San Francisco stevedores’ union into the vanguard of the strike movement.

However, the CP’s strategy in the ILA was the exception to the rule. The Communists pursued a very different strategy on cargo ships, trying to organize a dual union, the Marine Workers Industrial Union (MWIU), instead of fighting for rank-and-file control over existing seafaring affiliates of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), especially the International Seamen’s Union (ISU). Their decision to organize the rival MWIU weakened their influence in the maritime workers’ unions, allowing the more conservative AFL officials to maintain control over the sailors.

The Communist Party on the eve of the Big Strike
On April 24, 1934, the Western Worker, the West Coast Communist weekly paper, reported that national party membership had increased to 24,500 in the first three months of 1934, up from just 8,339 in the first half of 1931. The Western Worker also noted that “[t]he number of [party] shop units [in California] in 1930…was 64. At present it is 338 with 154 in basic industries. Even six months ago the number of shop units was only 140.”8 Thus, according to its own figures, the party grew threefold in about three years and, crucially, increased its organic connections to workplaces at an even greater pace. The party had emerged from the difficult years of the Roaring Twenties qualitatively stronger than its two rivals on the left, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Socialist Party.

According to Trotskyist James Cannon—who was no friend of the Communist Party after his expulsion in 1928 for opposing Stalin—in the early 1930s the CP had “the best disciplined, the most experienced, and the largest political cadre in the labor movement.”9 The party held that position at least in part by virtue of its willingness to lead the desperate, and usually defeated, strikes of the early Depression years. The experience and reputation the Communists gained in mills, mines, fields, factories, and offices grounded them in many of the crucial centers of class struggle that broke out starting in 1933 during the initial fights for union recognition.10 Their tenacity and heroism in the midst of desperate times for the working class, along with the still powerful memory of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the evident crisis of US capitalism during the Depression, made the CP’s growth possible.

The CP won this position despite a disastrous set of Soviet-mandated policies. According to Stalin, the First Period of global politics encompassed the 1917 Russian Revolution and the revolutionary wave that swept across Western Europe after the First World War. The Second Period saw the reconsolidation of capitalist rule and lasted from the defeat of the German Revolution in 1923 until 1928. According to Stalin, in the Third Period, which began in 1928, the final collapse of capitalism was imminent; the new line associated with this period required Communists to denounce any non-Communist political tendency as “fascist,” “social-fascist,” or even “left-social-fascist.” Although Stalin issued these pronouncements only eighteen months before the onset of the Great Depression, it is important to note that these policies were not based on a careful assessment of the global economy; rather, Stalin’s turn to ultrasectarian attacks on all political opponents was initially designed to marginalize any opposition to his power within the Communist International by posing as an ultrarevolutionary preparing for the immediate collapse of capitalism. In line with Stalin’s Third Period policy, US Communist Party leader Earl Browder declared in 1930 that AFL unions were “plainly fascist.”11 A few years later, Browder would go so far as to describe President Roosevelt’s New Deal as “comparable to the pre-fascist [stage]... in Germany in the period of Bruening” just before Hitler took power in 1933.12

Browder mechanically grafted several corollaries onto his “pre-fascist stage” theory, including the idea that “Every political party and grouping in America finds it necessary today to define its attitude towards…the Communist Party as a major question of its whole orientation.”13 This was, to say the least, a bold overstatement in light of the fact that FDR won more than 22,000,000 votes to the CP’s 100,000 in the 1932 presidential elections. Nonetheless, the central committee adopted a resolution on September 6, 1934, claiming that the recent strikes “are in one form or another directed not only against the capitalists, but they also are more and more directed against the new deal policies and the N.R.A. codes and arbitration features in particular.”14 This perspective led Browder to declare that the 1934 maritime strike “was truly the greatest revolutionary event in American labor history.”15

Yet the 1934 strike wave was not the beginning of a socialist revolution. Rather, as James Cannon pointed out after the Minneapolis Teamsters walkout, the strikers’ main objective was winning union recognition. He argued that 1934 marked the very beginning of working-class radicalization, not a prerevolutionary situation as the CP implied.16 The huge vote for New Deal Democrats in the fall elections of 1934 demonstrate that Cannon was much closer to the mark than the CP’s assertion that workers walked out in opposition to the New Deal. Thus, the Communist Party’s Third Period perspective distorted its ability to analyze the ebb and flow of the class struggle.

The Third Period also dramatically changed Communist trade union policy. In 1920, Lenin had taken up this question in his book “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, arguing that the newly formed Communist parties had to work within the existing trade union structures, including the AFL, “in order to win the working class over to our side.” He attacked the strategy of forming dual or revolutionary unions to compete with traditional unions, as the IWW had done, as “so unpardonable a blunder that it [was] tantamount to the greatest service Communists could render the bourgeoisie.” He emphasized that to “refuse to work in the reactionary trade unions means leaving the insufficiently developed or backward masses of workers under the influence of the reactionary leaders.”17 By the early 1920s, the Communists had adopted Lenin’s approach, building the TUEL into an important center of radical rank-and-file and local left-wing officials’ opposition to conservative bureaucrats based on militant struggle and union democracy, a policy labeled “boring from within” the AFL unions. Although the TUEL suffered due to the bosses’ offensive and the decline of strikes in the 1920s, Communists and their allies in the TUEL organized against racism in AFL unions, built large-scale strike support for garment workers in New York City in 1925–26, and challenged United Mine Workers President John Lewis in the widely popular “Save the Union” campaign in 1927–28.

The TUEL strategy did not mean that the Communists never initiated unions independent of the established AFL unions. For instance, before the Third Period, the CP helped lead a strike of textile workers in Passaic, New Jersey. The AFL’s refusal to organize these immigrant workers meant that they had no choice but to initiate an independent union.

Thus, while the Communists worked to build up rank-and-file organization, they also understood that local union leaders could sometimes play a positive role in the class struggle, and even national leaders could be pressured in the right direction, if only to defend their own interests. AFL leaders and the unions they represented, even unions based on a minority of skilled unions, or ones that practiced racially exclusive polices, had to be challenged and transformed from within, not simply dismissed from the outside.

It was precisely this set of policies that Stalin ordered the American Communists to reverse in 1929, transforming the TUEL movement overnight into a string of tiny, so-called revolutionary unions under the none-too-subtly-named Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) at a convention in Cleveland between August 31 and September 2, 1929.18 The Communists now called on members of rival AFL unions to quit and join the TUUL. Membership in TUUL unions was supposed to be based on an acceptance of revolutionary politics by its members: recognition of Soviet Russia, the necessity of communism, the impossibility of reforming AFL unions, etc. The CP and the TUUL’s criticisms of the AFL bureaucracy, and its president William Green, as conservative, demoralized, and in league with the bosses won a hearing among a substantial layer of radical workers. Yet, the effect of forming dual unions was to simply voluntarily withdraw the overwhelming majority of Communist unionists from the organizations the bulk of organized and unorganized workers considered their best hope for collective representation.

The TUUL never came close to competing with the AFL, but it did do a great deal of damage to the CP’s ties to the labor movement, isolating its militants. Moreover, the Communist’s Third Period politics blinded them to this reality. For instance, when AFL unions added 500,000 members to their rolls in the 1933 strike wave, four times the total the TUUL claimed to represent as a whole, the Western Worker declared that the TUUL unions “made greater gains [compared] relatively than any other unions.”19 The CP was not entirely oblivious to the AFL’s growth. In the spring of 1934, the TUUL convention did report the danger of working in “skeleton revolutionary unions” where the AFL unions mushroomed, noting that more than two thousand AFL locals endorsed the Communist-favored Workers Unemployment Insurance Bill. However, the convention also endorsed launching a Unified Federation of Labor to compete with the American Federation of Labor on a national level,20 a reaffirmation of the CP’s commitment to dual unionism on the eve of the Big Strike.

State of the California Communists
In 1929, according to a report by CP leader George Morris, there were only thirty party units throughout the state—only four in San Francisco—and the CP could count its membership in the hundreds.

The Party membership at that time [1929] was overwhelmingly made up of foreign-born [European immigrants], but there was not a single Mexican or Filipino worker in its ranks. A large number of its members were from the east, many being “hikers” (staying only during the summer, or if stuck and unable to get back east).… The number of Negro workers could be counted on one hand.21

In line with the national figures, the California Communist Party grew dramatically from 1931 to 1934. By 1934, the California party had 3,000 dues-paying members in 234 party units. The growth in California CP membership coincided with increased participation in struggles, especially in the fields and canneries. There, the TUUL-affiliated Agricultural and Cannery Workers Industrial Union (A&CWIU) led a series of strikes that gained notoriety for the party and, sometimes, improvements in wages and working conditions for migrant laborers. However, the A&CWIU never succeeded in establishing itself as a stable union.

Despite these difficulties through 1933, CP leader Sam Darcy continued to dedicate many of the best Communist organizers to the agricultural regions around San Francisco. Darcy had been transferred to California after he gained valuable experience as one of the central organizers of the Unemployed Councils in New York City. Darcy had a knack for planning large-scale actions, but even his considerable talents failed to fulfill the central committee’s hopes for the TUUL in San Francisco itself. Through 1933, Darcy reported, “Our Marine Workers [Industrial] Union, although having as many as four and sometimes six full-time functionaries in San Francisco alone, had not a single worker on the docks.”22 A similar situation existed at sea. Party journalist Mike Quin claimed that, “to all practical purposes [the sailors] were unorganized.”23 The party had not yet made its presence felt on the waterfront in any significant way.

Communist Party waterfront strategy
Harry Hynes arrived in San Francisco in mid-1932 and launched the Waterfront Worker newspaper in December 1932. According to labor historian Bruce Nelson, “Hynes was the MWIU’s first national secretary, until the Communist Party decided that his temperament was ill-suited for the responsibilities associated with such a position.”24 Nonetheless, Hynes’s decision to launch the Waterfront Worker played a crucial role in Communist organizing on the docks. The monthly mimeographed paper found a ready audience and circulation quickly increased to between one thousand and two thousand copies.25

At this point, Darcy became more closely involved in waterfront work. He contacted radical rank-and-file longshoremen such as Henry Schmidt and Harry Bridges, and organized what became known as the Albion Hall group, numbering about fifteen longshoremen by the summer of 1933.26 The Albion Hall group contained both working longshoremen and three or four Communist Party members who had tenuous ties to the industry. Its members collectively took over editorial direction of the Waterfront Worker, using it as an organ for the ILA membership drive in the summer of 1933. The Albion Hall militants would soon become the acknowledged leadership of the Big Strike and served as the vehicle through which the CP gained influence on the docks.

Darcy’s decision to abandon the dual union MWIU organizing on the docks because of the large number of dockers joining the ILA constituted another important development on the waterfront. By endorsing the establishment of ILA Local 38-79 in San Francisco, the CP helped build the union to which the overwhelming majority of longshoremen sought to affiliate. As Darcy put it,

The sentiment for the I.L.A. rapidly developed. Yet there was some tendency among the Communists at that time to organize competitive M.W.I.U. recruiting. The I.L.A. movement was so overwhelming among the men, however, that it would have been suicide to take the handful of militants away form the general stream of the movement. The Party, therefore, took a determined stand against it [ie., dual unionism].27

Moreover, by fighting for rank-and-file control and confrontation with conservative officials inside the ILA, the CP helped channel the radical traditions and increasing militancy of waterfront workers into organizational control over their own local.

In February 1934, a rank-and-file ILA convention assembled in San Francisco, providing a clear example of the CP’s influence in the ILA. The San Francisco ILA led a movement to elect only rank-and-file delegates to the convention, barring any paid official from acting as a delegate, although they were allowed to speak and participate. The convention passed Communist resolutions boycotting all ships flying the Nazi flag and called for the immediate release of Tom Mooney (a San Francisco trade union leader framed for a bombing he did not commit) and the Scottsboro Boys (nine young African American men sentenced to death in Alabama on trumped up charges of raping two white women).

Of even greater importance, the convention endorsed resolutions in support of a coast-wide Waterfront Federation to bring together all craft locals in each port and appointing a rank-and-file committee, including Harry Bridges, to begin negotiations with ship owners independently of national ILA officials.28 The Australian-born Bridges had joined the IWW in his youth and had acquired many years of practical experience as a union organizer, while his radical politics attracted him to the Communists. Crucially, he and Darcy developed a close working relationship and agreed on the need to revitalize the ILA from within.

While the CP worked to build up rank-and-file militancy within the ILA, they continued to pursue their dual union strategy of counterposing the MWIU to the ISU on ships. The roots of the MWIU went back to 1926 when the CP formed the International Seamen’s Club (ISC). The ISC was based on the TUEL’s strategy of “boring from within” the AFL-affiliated ISU and the IWW maritime unions. However, Stalin’s declaration of the Third Period led the CP to transform the ISC, after several intermediary steps, into the Marine Workers Industrial Union at a convention in New York on April 26, 1930. The MWIU’s charter typified the TUUL’s dual union ultraleftism, calling for its members to direct their struggles “toward the goal of the establishment of a revolutionary workers’ government.”29

Labor historian Bruce Nelson argues that the MWIU did strike a real chord with seamen radicalized by the Depression, broadening the new union’s appeal beyond Communist Party members for two primary reasons. First, as Communist Roy Hudson observed, “the largest single section of the delegates was overwhelmingly the IWW, and I include myself in this tendency.” These IWW-influenced seamen recognized TUUL’s dual and revolutionary unionism as akin to their own organization’s historic policy. Second, Nelson argues that “the absolute determination of [the ISU] officials to exclude dissidents from their ranks, [may have made it seem] impossible for Communists to bore from within the ISU.”30 While these considerations made the TUUL line in the maritime industry easier to rationalize, they did not make it any more effective. Lenin had argued that Communists must make any and all sacrifices to remain inside the conservative unions “and—even if need be—to resort to various stratagems, artifices and illegal methods, to evasions and subterfuges, as long as we get into the trade unions, remain in them, and carry on communist work within them at all costs.”31 It was necessary, Lenin argued, for Communists to be inside mass workers’ organizations, not organizing outside of them. The massive rush of workers into the ILA in the summer of 1933, and then into the ISU the following year, confirmed the value of this approach.

As long as the number of strikes and the level of struggle remained low—before the summer of 1933—the MWIU seemed to enjoy greater success than the moribund ISU on the West Coast. The CP had many more members on ships than on the docks and membership in the seafaring MWIU reached into the thousands. According to Roy Hudson, the MWIU national organizer at the time of the 1934 strike, “the membership of the MWIU had become equal to if it did not exceed that of the…ISU,”32 probably about 5,000 nationally out of roughly 130,000 unlicensed seamen.33 Hudson and the national party leadership maintained that the MWIU’s growth and the ISU’s stagnation presaged the dominance of their dual union among sailors.

In San Francisco, the MWIU put out a monthly mimeographed newspaper aimed at seamen called The Foc’sle Head, very similar in tone and appearance to the longshoremen’s Waterfront Worker. It fought unambiguously against affiliation with the ISU, calling for AFL members to quit their unions and join the MWIU.34 Hudson went so far as to attack Darcy’s “boring from within” strategy in the Party Organizer, an internal CP publication. He bemoaned the influx of 1,200 San Francisco longshoremen into the ILA and argued that, “If there had been a real organization [of the MWIU on the docks], if the Party had mobilized its forces and given more guidance to marine, we would be more in the leadership, we would have organizational control of the longshoremen.”35 While Darcy attacked the MWIU’s organizing on the docks as “serious sectarian errors,”36 Hudson and the Communist national leadership not only pushed ahead with the MWIU dual unions at sea, but also continually criticized Darcy’s “boring from within” strategy on the docks.37

Comparing these two tactics is revealing. On the surface, it appeared that Communist influence grew steadily among both groups of workers. Yet a debate at the rank-and-file ILA convention, where CP resolutions had gathered so much support, demonstrated the danger the dual union strategy presented. Conservatives at the February convention argued that the MWIU itself was “a Communist Party and dual organization” and received considerable support from the rank-and-file longshoremen for this line of attack on the CP. Even the Western Worker admitted that, “Despite the sentiment for militancy at the convention, considerable confusion still exists, as was clear when a delegation of the MWIU asked for the floor,” and was denied the right to speak.38

This confusion over the relationship between the MWIU and the CP, and the MWIU and the AFL maritime unions, continued to be a major problem throughout the course of the spring and into the strike itself. The CP’s entry into the ILA in San Francisco helped strengthen rank-and-file militancy, leading longshoremen to win greater control over their union. However, the party’s decision to continue organizing the MWIU on ships coast-wide and on the docks outside of San Francisco39 allowed the ILA officials to argue that the MWIU was, in fact, a dual union which stood in the way of unity among sailors and longshoremen.

The MWIU and national Communist Party leaders contended that the ISU had effectively died and that the MWIU should be regarded as the real sailors’ union. However, as the regeneration of the ILA demonstrated, even largely defunct AFL locals retained the aura of legitimacy, becoming the unions into which workers flocked when an increasing level of class struggle posed the possibility of lasting union recognition. Furthermore, to paraphrase Mark Twain, news of the ISU’s demise was greatly exaggerated. As MWIU leader Henry Hudson noted, the ISU’s membership at least equaled that of the MWIU in the spring of 1934.40 ISU membership definitely had hit a low point from the high of 115,000 at the height of the post–First World War boom, but tens of thousands of seamen still working in 1934 could remember the union in better days.41 The ISU also maintained a national bureaucratic apparatus that could count on the support of AFL president William Green and the other leaders of AFL unions. Lastly, Black sailors maintained a considerable degree of loyalty to the ISU’s “most functional affiliate,” the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCS), itself headed by a Black West Indian seaman named “Emperor” David Grange. Therefore, the MWIU faced a serious, if severely weakened, competitor in the ISU. As Nelson concludes, “while many seamen respected the MWIU’s fighting stance, they looked upon the ISU as a more permanent and realistic trade union organization.” 42 Thus, on the eve of the strike, the CP had established organic links to ILA Local 38-79, which would become the moving force behind the strike. On the other hand, the seemingly strong position of the MWIU proved fleeting, as sailors followed the longshoremen’s lead and began flooding past the CP dual union into the ISU.

Preparing for the strike
At the February ILA convention, the rank and file voted to strike on March 23 for a pay raise, shorter hours, and, most importantly, union control of the hiring hall. The longshoremen adopted a resolution requiring any proposed settlement negotiated with the ship owners by union officials to come before the entire ILA membership for a ratification vote. Nonetheless, ILA national president Joseph Ryan and ILA West Coast president William Lewis attempted several times to push through backroom deals which did not meet the membership’s primary demand; namely, union control of the hiring hall. When President Roosevelt sent a telegraph to Ryan and Lewis on the eve of the strike deadline urging them to cancel the strike, they complied without calling for a membership vote.

FDR then appointed a mediation board, and hearings began on March 28, 1934. After a few days of hearings, packed with hundreds of longshoremen, the board went behind closed doors and reached an agreement on April 3. Lewis and Ryan immediately accepted the decision, even though it permitted the Waterfront Employers Union to recognize “any other bona fide group” alongside the ILA, leaving the door open for company unions—and failed to guarantee a union-controlled hiring hall.43 Lewis and Ryan delayed presenting the agreement to the membership for several days while they attempted to line up support. Realizing the longshoremen strongly opposed the agreement, at a stormy April 9 meeting, Lewis attempted to pass it off as a joke by waving it in the air saying, “ Well, here’s the damn thing I sold you out for.”44 Lewis’s humor provoked angry jeers. Then, according to the Western Worker, Harry Bridges took the floor, and after exposing how the mediation board had evolved into a compulsory arbitration board, moved that the agreement be refused until the union heard from the other locals. The members cheered this suggestion, and a motion was made to print thousands of copies of the agreement and circulate them along the front.45

Each time the union members tried to push through a definite strike plan at the meeting, Lewis and the other conservative officials tried to break up the meeting by introducing contradictory and confusing motions. When these tactics failed, they tried filibustering. As Ryan, Lewis, and the other officials attempted to ram through a sellout agreement, the Albion Hall group and the CP sought to involve and inform the longshoremen about the negotiations. Both the Western Worker and the Waterfront Worker printed full analyses of the mediation agreement and proposed strategies to build toward greater rank-and-file control and a strike. Concretely, the newspapers proposed:

Support for the militants who fight for rank-and-file control against the Lewis district and local machine. 2. All members should take the floor in the union meeting and help in the fight. 3. Build gang committees on the docks, and make a fight on all grievances that arise on the docks.46

While mediation talks continued throughout April, longshoremen put the Albion Hall group’s program into action. Waterfront employers tried to buttress their position at the bargaining table by victimizing union militants on the docks, including firing seven union members in Oakland.47 The Communists and Albion Hall group’s strategy pushed for rank-and-file activity to build up union strength on the ground, instead of waiting to hear from officials and mediators. This strategy strengthened the longshoremen’s organization and confidence. Finally, at an April 29 meeting, 1,500 Local 38-79 members passed a resolution declaring a May 8 strike deadline. Despite their best efforts to maneuver out of it, Ryan and Lewis were unable to table the motion. Lewis became so angry at one point that he interrupted Bridges and shouted, “God damn you!” but he was drowned out by the membership’s support for Bridges, whom the Western Worker called, the “militant representative of the rank-and-file.”48

Discussions dragged on for another week, accomplishing nothing. On May 8, six weeks after the original March 23 deadline, national ILA President Ryan and Senator Robert F. Wagner, chairman of the National Labor Board, telegraphed other West Coast ports urging ILA members not to strike. Their efforts failed and, by 8 p.m. on May 9, 1934, 14,000 longshoremen in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, San Pedro, San Diego, Stockton, Bellingham, Aberdeen, Gray’s Harbor, Astoria, and other Pacific Coast ports struck.49

Although there were only a handful of CP members in the ILA, the ILA strike committee authorized the Western Worker to be its official paper, and six or eight members of the seventy-five-person ILA strike committee were Communists.50 Moreover, Communists from outside the longshore union frequently addressed the ILA strike committee in connection with activities in support of the strike, such as legal defense, student support, and fundraising. The ILA strike committee passed several resolutions defending the MWIU from red-baiting by ISU and ILA officials, as well as the mayor and police chief, assigning a courier between itself and the MWIU to ensure rapid communications.51 Lastly, the party worked closely with sympathetic leaders in the Albion Hall group, especially Harry Bridges who, after his election as strike committee president, continued consulting with Darcy regularly throughout the strike.

As soon as the longshore strike broke out on May 9, MWIU seamen initiated strikes on every ship where they had members. According to Darcy, on “May 12, a large conference of ship’s delegates organized by the MWIU voted to go into a sympathetic strike.” By that time dozens of ships’ crews had already struck. As the seamen’s strike gathered steam, the CP and MWIU scathingly attacked the ISU official leadership as “notorious labor fakers,” 52 and declared the ISU’s “bankruptcy.”53

The CP’s criticism of the ISU leadership was not without merit. The massive longshoremen’s strike presented an important opportunity to rebuild the seamen’s unions, but George Larsen, secretary of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific (SUP)—the ISU’s West Coast affiliate—avoided calling for strike action. Instead he advised the few SUP locals “with recognition or an understanding with the owners” not to strike. In his words, “the [SUP] unions are not demanding [strike action], that is to say it is not mandatory.”54 However, the growing response to the strike call by the MWIU forced the ISU leadership to call their members out on strike on May 16, followed closely by the Marine Cooks and Stewards and the Masters, Mates, and Pilots on May 17 and 23, respectively.55

ISU officials joined the fight reluctantly, but once they did, they took it seriously. For example, after Larsen finally endorsed the strike, he declared, “Most of the men going to sea have faith in the union; let’s show them their faith is not misplaced. We must stick and win.”56 The Communist Party’s dual union strategy now faced trouble. So long as ISU officials refused to call for strike action, the MWIU presented the only option for seamen who joined the walkout. As Browder stated,

The only organizing center they could find was the Marine Workers Industrial Union…calling the seamen to strike…recruit[ing] over 800 seamen in a brief time, tying up every ship which came into port. This intervention of the MWIU was decisive in breaking the official A.F. of L. embargo on general action in the industry.57

Yet, as soon as the ISU leaders did call a strike, ISU membership quickly surpassed that of the MWIU, leaving the CP marine leadership bewildered and increasingly isolated from the majority of striking seamen. They had not expected this problem, believing that the ISU had disintegrated beyond repair. Both the MWIU and the ISU grew rapidly during the first weeks of the strike. The Western Worker claimed “the headquarters of the MWIU is a busy bee-hive with more than 1,000 seamen signed up.”58 Membership figures for the early days of the strike are difficult to state with certainty, but one indication of the ISU’s rapidly expanding membership can be gleaned by comparing the number of meals served by the ILA strike committee to sailors represented by MWIU and ISU-affiliated sailors. At the June 13 meeting of the ILA strike committee, the relief committee reported that they had served 16,000 meals to ISU sailors and 6,295 meals to MWIU sailors since the beginning of the strike.59 Thus, although the MWIU led the initial walkout, the TUUL dual union was unable to become the legitimate trade union in the eyes of the majority of seamen. This split the seamen into competing unions, isolating the more politically radical sailors in the MWIU from the majority in the ISU. The costs of these political strategies were clear when compared to the CP’s strategy on the docks, both in terms of CP influence in the main union, and the ability of the rank and file to control their union.

ISU officials used red-baiting in order to control the strike, but this was aided by the MWIU’s actions. Throughout the strike, the MWIU turned The Foc’sle Head into a daily paper, which not only criticized the ISU leadership, but also openly proclaimed, “Workers of the World Unite!…join the MWIU, A Union Controlled by the rank-and-file!”60 This strategy created two problems. First, unlike the Communists’ criticisms of ILA national and regional leaders who built a base within the union, criticism of ISU union officials came from outside the ranks of the union itself, enabling the ISU officials to denounce the CP and MWIU’s “meddling.” Second, while the MWIU called for a “United Front Strike Committee,” it simultaneously appealed to ISU members to quit their union and join the MWIU. The Trotskyist newspaper The Militant contended,

If the maritime strike fails, the Stalinists [CP] will bear a heavy responsibility for it. By going right on with the splitting tactic of building the MWIU, they have done a perfect job for Ryan, [SUP president Andrew] Furuseth and the bosses. The existence of the MWIU has meant the isolating of splendid, fighting militants who should have been in the midst of the marine workers with the [AFL] unions.61

The ISU leadership typified the conservative breed of officials who had lost touch with the workers they claimed to represent. Andrew Furuseth, president of the SUP, boasted a militant past and could potentially pose as a genuine militant, but by 1934 he was showing his eighty-plus years and had lived in Washington, D.C., for more than fifteen years. His power in the ISU lay primarily in the seamen’s newfound “faith in the union.” The second most important ISU official was Paul Scharrenberg. His personal role in arranging the affiliation of the Blue Book, the widely hated pre-strike company union, to the San Francisco Labor Council, seriously damaged any prestige he had gained as editor of the Seamen’s Journal, the West Coast ISU paper.62 In other words, the old guard ISU leadership was just as vulnerable to the Communists’ demands for rank-and-file control and strike action as were the ILA officials.

Further evidence that the CP could have worked inside the ISU came from the radical shakeup in the leadership of the union itself during the strike. Harry Lundeberg emerged in Seattle as the seaman’s equivalent of Harry Bridges during the 1934 strike. Lundeberg, an IWW-influenced radical, and not Furuseth or Sharrenberg, symbolized the seamen’s new militancy. By 1935, the SUP had expelled Scharrenberg and one year later, Furuseth died, leaving the union in the hands of the radicals who led the 1934 strike.63 Thus, the CP’s dual union policy, rather than the impenetrability of the ISU, put the Communists outside of the AFL seamen’s union.

The longshore strike brought the internal CP conflict over trade union policy into sharp relief. Browder charged Darcy with conservatism because he abandoned the MWIU and threw the CP’s weight behind the ILA in San Francisco. He wrote,

Comrade Darcy wrongly concludes that our stronger position in the San Francisco strike was a result of our more timid (or as he would say, more skillful) criticism [of Ryan]—that our weakness in Seattle was because of our more bold criticism. But we must reject such a theory.64

Browder contended that the MWIU had lost all public presence on the docks in San Francisco because of Darcy’s “boring from within” tactics, while in Seattle, despite “weakness,” the party continued to push the MWIU as a dual union.65 Yet, it was precisely Darcy’s policy that established the party militants’ connections to the docks and the growing Communist influence in Local 38-79, the strongest union on the coast. On the other hand, as the strike grew, the ISU surpassed the MWIU, leaving the Communists isolated and unable to influence the second most important maritime union, the ISU, in what would eventually develop into a general strike.

The joint strike committee
In mid-June, one month into the maritime strike, Local 38-79 initiated the Joint Strike Committee (JSC), which included five representatives from all the striking San Francisco unions. The JSC quickly became the nerve center for the maritime strike and the movement for a general strike. Communist participation in this vital organizing body demonstrated the divergent effects of the CP’s organizing strategies. The ILA rank and file led the JSC and the CP gained considerable influence when Harry Bridges defeated an ISU official named O’Grady by a vote of twenty-five to twenty to preside as permanent chair.66

In contrast, by majority vote of the JSC delegates, the MWIU was excluded on the grounds that it was a dual union. This conflict provoked a showdown at the first JSC meeting between the AFL-affiliated marine unions and the MWIU, which the MWIU lost when the ISU and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association #97 threatened to break up the JSC unless the MWIU withdrew its delegates. Outvoted because of the number of seafaring craft unions, the MWIU voluntarily pulled out its delegates, allowing the ISU leadership to consolidate their role as the “legitimate” leadership of the seamens’ strike by virtue of their place in the JSC and their greater number of members.67 By June 20, the ISU and the ILA commanded the allegiance of a nearly equal number of representatives on the JSC executive committee,68 but the ISU’s leadership still managed to exclude the CP’s dual union when a motion to seat the MWIU delegates as nonvoting observers lost by a vote of sixteen to thirteen.69

Thus, the radical rank-and-file ILA representatives found themselves in a minority within the Joint Strike Committee that they had organized. The MWIU’s exclusion from the JSC clearly illustrates the pitfalls of the dual union strategy. However, the rejection of the MWIU delegates did not represent a shift to the right on the part of the majority of seamen. For example, conservative ISU official delegates grew so confident from their victory in the JSC that they issued a public attack on the MWIU and the Communist Party; however, at a June 17 meeting, one thousand ISU seamen criticized their own leadership for red-baiting the MWIU and demanded unity on the picket lines between workers in both sailors’ unions.70

The seamen’s actions demonstrated their rapid radicalization and growing sympathy with the MWIU’s messages of industrial militancy and solidarity across trade boundaries. At the same time, the overwhelming majority still believed that the ISU remained the most realistic union with which to affiliate. Its representation on both the JSC and the labor council provided the organizational ties to the larger labor movement that seamen sensed were necessary to win their demands. Under these conditions, the relatively large and very experienced cadre of Communist seamen could have made a dramatic impact on building the kind of rank-and-file opposition to the ISU officials as their co-thinkers had done within ILA Local 38-79. The CP’s failure to do just that allowed the ISU officials to ride out the anger in the ranks without an organized challenge. ISU officials used their secure positions to resist transforming the JSC into a general strike committee.

From Bloody Thursday to the general strike
As the strike intensified, hundreds of ships were tied up in the harbor and commerce ground to a halt. In early July, the bosses formed vigilante committees, stocked up on tear gas, and developed a plan to forcibly open the docks by smashing through the picket lines. On July 3, fighting broke out when police attempted to escort scab trucks carrying cargo off the docks. Labor historian David Selvin describes the scene:

At 1:27 P.M., the steel doors of Pier 38 rolled up. A string of police cars led the way for the five old trucks.... A thunderous shout greeted the clumsy, little parade as still more police—on horses and motorcycles and in cars—joined the escort. The crowd surged forward. Barrages of tear gas opened the way for the trucks. The police move on the crowd, nightsticks flailing. Slowly, the crowd fell back, breaking up into smaller, rock-throwing clusters, fleeing in retreat. Sounds of revolvers and riot guns echoed over the clash.

ILA members and their supporters fought police to a draw all that week, keeping the docks shut down, in what became known as the Battle of Rincon Hill. On Bloody Thursday, July 5, the fight escalated. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Royce Brier wrote, “Don’t think of it as a riot. It was a hundred riots, big and little, first here, now there. Don’t think of it as one battle, but as a dozen battles.” Selvin details the action:

By early afternoon, several thousand...strikers had gathered in Steuart Street, between Market Street and Howard, near the ILA hall. Police pushed on the massed pickets from either side, tear gun squads, rifle and shotgun men, and mounties, compressing the crowd.... Two inspectors...found themselves surrounded with threatening strikers, showered by bricks and rocks. They fired two shots from a shotgun...and several shots from their revolvers at men attempting to overturn their car.71

The police fired into the crowds with live ammunition, both shotguns and handguns, on many occasions. During one of these confrontations, police shot and killed Howard Sperry, a dockworker, and Nick Bordoise, a Communist and member of the cooks’ union, while another thirty-one workers suffered gunshot wounds. When the dust cleared, the police had proven they could outgun the strikers, but they could not force them back to work and they still could not organize a successful scabbing operation. The docks remained closed.

Sperry’s and Bordoise’s murders sparked a massive wave of working-class anger in the days that followed. On July 9, 40,000 union and nonunion workers marched in a silent funeral procession down Market Street. Strike leaders warned the police to stay off the streets during the procession and the police complied, fearing an escalation in the fighting. Paul Eliel, reporting for the bosses’ Industrial Association, concluded that, “The certainty of a general strike, which up to this time had appeared to many to be a visionary dream of a small group of the most radical workers, became for the first time a practical and realizable objective.”72 Certainly, anger over police repression catalyzed the mood for a general strike, but workers had also gained confidence from the fact that the waterfront workers had held their own for six weeks on strike, and the bosses still seemed powerless to break them. Moreover, years of patient organizing and the building of strong networks of leftists, rank-and-file workers, and left-wing officials insured that the desire for united working-class action could not easily be provoked willy-nilly, but would take shape in an organized fashion. One question remained: who would lead the general strike?

The morning after Bloody Thursday, the San Francisco Labor Council’s leadership appointed a Strategy Committee of Seven to investigate the possibility of organizing a general strike. The strategy committee had no intention of calling a general strike if there was any way to avoid it. “The Strategy Committee,” as Darcy put it, “had been appointed to kill the strike, and not to organize it.”73 None of the seven represented any of the dozens of unions that had already declared or voted for strike action, and the Communist’s designation of it as the Tragedy Committee soon became popular among the radical maritime workers.74

Although Bloody Thursday provided the impetus for a general strike, the CP and the Albion Hall group had been actively preparing for it since the mid-June repudiation of Ryan’s Saturday Agreement. “Our strategy,” explained Darcy, “was to use the Joint Maritime Strike Committee as a base. This committee had 50 members, and as fast as any other AFL local voted for the general strike they were also asked to elect two members to be added…. We hoped to transform [it] into a general strike committee.”75

On July 7, the Joint Strike Committee convened a meeting of delegates representing most unions in the city. Sentiment for an immediate general strike ran high, and party members had instructions to push for a formal strike resolution in order to transform the JSC into a leadership body for the general strike. Yet, the JSC deferred to representatives from the Strategy Committee of Seven, thus losing the chance to initiate and take organizational control over the strike. Darcy claimed that confusion surrounding the JSC’s role was so great that even the Communists at the meeting failed to argue against handing strike authority over to the seven.76

The following day, July 8, a mass meeting of Teamsters voted 1,220 to 271 to strike on July 12 regardless of the strategy committee’s recommendations.77 Teamsters president Mike Casey remarked that, “Nothing on earth could have prevented that vote. In my thirty years of leading these men, I have never seen them so worked up, so determined to walk out.”78 The Teamsters’ actions spurred sixty other locals to vote for the general strike, and by July 12 ten unions had already walked out in sympathy with the maritime strikers. At this point, the labor council realized that the strategy committee did not have the power to prevent a general strike. Therefore, late in the evening of July 13, they announced the formation of a general strike committee, consisting of five delegates from every union in San Francisco. The labor council set the first meeting for 10 a.m. the next morning, making the democratic elections of delegates impossible. According to the Waterfront Worker, the labor council officials stacked the general strike committee with paid officials and conservative workers and, in this way, succeeded in capturing control over the general strike movement.79

After the first meeting of the general strike committee, the CP realized that they had lost the initiative. Darcy estimated that out of roughly eight hundred delegates appointed to the committee, “we could really count on only 60 reliable militants.”80Western Worker immediately put out a call for rank-and-file members in all the striking AFL unions: “Insist on electing the five [general strike committee delegates] in your own local. Elect live-wires—especially militant fighters.”81 The CP also distributed a statement by Harry Bridges and a resolution by Local 38-79 calling for delegate elections to the general strike committee. This agitation may have had some effect, but the general strike remained firmly in the hands of union leaders who had done everything in their power up until July 13 to prevent it from ever taking place. “We were not outnumbered amongst the rank-and-file insofar as sympathetic sentiment went,” recalls Darcy, “but…we were hopelessly weak in organizational contact to put the strike into militant hands.” He laid the responsibility for the party’s weakness squarely on the shoulders of the TUUL dual union policy, blaming the “years of neglect of our work in the American Federation of Labor.” 82

Darcy insisted that “there would have been no maritime or general strike except for the work of our party,” and the party’s membership grew significantly during the course of the strike and immediately afterwards. 83 Radicalized workers recognized the contribution the CP made to the strike, transforming it into a major force in the San Francisco labor movement. However, the Communists’ strengths and weaknesses were not the only factors that determined the character of the general strike. Nineteen thirty-four began the transition from the terrible beating labor took in the early years of the Depression to the CIO victories in 1937. San Francisco workers overcame years of defeat in a tremendous display of solidarity, forcing the Industrial Association to eventually concede to the maritime workers’ key demands. Yet they still placed a great deal of faith in the AFL officials and continued to trust, if warily, in Roosevelt’s arbitration process.

Labor council leaders used that faith in numerous attempts to sabotage the movement for a general strike throughout May, June, and early July. Later, when workers began striking without official sanction, those same leaders aimed to derail strike momentum. The massive anger after Bloody Thursday compelled the labor council to call a general strike for July 16. In reality, the strike began days before as local union after union voted to join the striking maritime unions. Selvin describes the process:

Joining some 25,000 maritime workers on strike that morning [July 12] were San Francisco and East Bay teamsters, numbering together over 4,000. Nearly 200 wholesale butchers on both sides of the bay had quit work; they would be joined the next morning by 1,500 retail and jobbing butchers, and on Sunday morning by 2,600 laundry drivers and workers and unknown numbers of culinary workers. Twenty-five San Francisco and six East Bay unions had voted to walk out if the Strike Strategy Committee recommended joined action. Thirteen unions were in the process of voting; the Building Trades Council was collecting the votes of forty-eight building trades locals. Cleaners and dyers walked out on behalf of their own demands. Boilermakers left their jobs in sixty shops. 84

Strikers and sympathizers organized communal kitchens, made decisions about which social services would be permitted to operate, and conducted mass meetings and pickets to involve the maximum number of workers in the process of the strike. In the midst of this struggle, white workers’ longstanding racism against the small population of Black workers and the larger Chinese population faced a challenge. Sam Darcy and several leading Black Communists worked hard to convince Oakland’s Black community that, if they supported the strike, the union would take affirmative steps to recruit Black workers, and they made good on their promise.

Meanwhile, the employers, politicians, and police began a campaign of terror against Communists and other leftists. Of the nearly thousand arrests made during the strike, over half of the arrestees were reported by the police to be “communists.”85 This probably overstated the total number of party members in the area, but it demonstrates the political nature of the arrests, harassment, and violence. The governor used the general strike as an excuse to send thousands of National Guardsmen into the streets of San Francisco and further militarize the docks, but the guardsmen generally held their fire, creating a tense stalemate.

 Despite the tremendous radicalization taking place among the Bay Area working class, moderate and conservative officials maintained control over the official decision-making organs of the general strike. They used their authority to almost immediately begin undermining it, bringing it to a close after only four days on July 19, before a decisive victory had been achieved.86 Responsibility for the premature end of the strike and the ambiguity of its outcome rested squarely on the shoulders of Ryan, Scharrenberg, Furuseth, and Carey. However, if Darcy is right to credit the CP with helping organize the strike, its dual union policy among the seamen made it easier for the labor council to terminate the strike prematurely because it divided the seamen and weakened the organized influence of the party and the most radical layers of workers.

Although these divisions crippled the general strike, the maritime and dock workers’ unions themselves remained on strike until the end of July. The employers simply could not break their resolve, and worried that another escalation of force might reignite the general strike. In the weeks after the general strike, the Waterfront Employers’ Union agreed to grant effective union control of the hiring hall as well as significant wage and work condition improvements, transforming the ILA into the most powerful union on the West Coast. The CP’s role in the strike earned them leadership in the union for many decades to come. Meanwhile, the MWIU dissolved itself into the ISU almost immediately after the strike. Partly this was because the ISU’s success during the strike destroyed any illusions in the dual union’s viability. More importantly, in 1935 Stalin declared the Popular Front and the desirability of forming alliances with the remaining Western democracies in order to defend the USSR from Hitler. Following in the wake of Russian foreign policy, the TUUL unions were quickly dissolved. Yesterday’s “social fascist” trade union leaders and politicians suddenly became today’s “democratic allies.”

Hundreds of CP or sympathizing sailors then joined the ISU; however, they were perceived as newcomers who had missed the defining experience of the newly resurgent union. The absence of a strong rank-and-file left wing allowed Furuseth to control the union in the post-strike months, insisting on a passive, wait-and-see policy during the arbitration hearings, which dragged on for more than six months. This delay contrasted sharply with the ILA strategy of frequent workplace actions to enforce contract rights and establish union power on the docks. As a result, the ILA obtained better contract terms in the arbitration decision much sooner than the ISU.

Ultimately, the Communists’ trade union policy during the 1934 strike offers a clear confirmation that strategy and tactics matter. The national CP leadership’s belief that the strike, even the general strike, signaled the beginning of revolutionary class struggle, flew in the face of Darcy and the Albion Hall group’s more realistic assessment of the strike as one aiming for union recognition and improvements in wages and conditions. The strike illuminated the important contrast between the diversion of dual unionism and the efficacy of an approach aimed at revitalizing the organizations that wide layers of workers looked to defend their interests.

The Communists and their radical allies in the Albion Hall group demonstrated that even a small group of revolutionaries can sometimes play a decisive role in translating diffuse anger into organized action. They prepared the ground through years of patient and often frustratingly slow work and seized the initiative when the objective situation propelled large groups of workers into struggle in defense of their interests as a class. And the Communists in San Francisco, even if only for a short time, demonstrated how it was possible to combine the immediate fight for reforms and unionization with the long-term necessity of building a political party dedicated to a revolutionary challenge to the system.

Further reading:

Howard Kimeldorf, Reds or Rackets? The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988).

Bruce Nelson, Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990).

Mike Quin, The Big Strike (New York: International Publishers, 1979).

David F. Selvin, A Terrible Anger: The 1934 Waterfront and General Strikes in San Francisco (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996).

This article was adapted from an article originally printed in Ex Post Facto: Journal of History Students at San Francisco State University in 1997.

  1. Walter Galenson, The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement 1935–1941 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 602.
  2. Art Preis, Labor’s Giant Step: Twenty Years of the CIO  (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972), 33.
  3. Members of the Trotskyist Communist League of America, such as Ray Dunne, Karl Skoglund, and Farrell Dobbs, played leading roles in the Minneapolis Teamsters strike. The League was formed by former CP dissidents like James P. Cannon, who was expelled from the party in 1928 for supporting Leon Trotsky, the leading left-wing opposition to Stalin in the international communist movement.
  4. A.J. Muste, a well-known pacifist, was chairman of the Brookwood Labor College in New York between 1921 and 1933, when he became the nominal head of the American Workers Party (AWP), formed in 1933 under the auspices of the League for Independent Political Action, an organization of liberals and socialists who sought the creation of a labor-based third party. Members of AWP played a key role in leading the local Lucas County Unemployed League to organize mass pickets of the unemployed that helped the Auto Lite strike win a victory.
  5. Figures compiled from Irving Bernstein, Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933–1941 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011), 291; and Galenson, 432.
  6. Sam Darcy, “The Great West Coast Maritime Strike,” The Communist 7 (July 1934): 667–68.
  7. Howard Kimeldorf, Reds or Rackets? The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 80–98.
  8. Western Worker, April 24 1934. Western Worker gave detailed figures on party growth as follows: 1931 (first half) 8,339; 1931 (second half) 9,219; 1932 (first half) 12,936; 1932 (second half) 14,474; 1933 (first half) 16,814; 1933 (second half) 19,165; 1934 (first three months) 24,500.
  9. James Cannon quoted in Michael Goldfield, “Recent Historiography of the Communist Party U.S.A.,” in The Year Left: An American Socialist Yearbook (London: Verso, 1985), eds. Mike Davis, Fred Pfeil, and Michael Sprinker, 324.
  10. Fraser M. Ottanelli, The Communist Party of the United States: From the Depression to World War II (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 22–28.
  11. Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 16.
  12. Earl Browder, “The Struggle for the United Front,” The Communist 10 (October 1934), 936.
  13. Browder, 935.
  14. The Communist 10 (October 1934), 968.
  15. Browder, 942.
  16. James Cannon quoted in Farrell Dobbs, Teamster Rebellion (New York: Monad Press, 1973), 98–100.
  17. V. I. Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, in Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 31 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), 52–53.
  18. Klehr, 38.
  19. Western Worker, April 6, 1934.
  20. Ibid.    
  21. Western Worker, April 2, 1934.
  22. Darcy, 665.
  23. Mike Quin, The Big Strike (Olema, CA: Olema Publishing Co., 1949), 38.
  24. Nelson, 90.
  25. Quin, 39.
  26. Kimeldorf, 86–87; and Darcy, 666.
  27. Darcy, 666.           
  28. Western Worker, March 12, 1934.
  29. Nelson, 78–79.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Lenin, 55.
  32. Roy Hudson quoted in Nelson, 88.
  33. Galenson, 427.
  34. The Foc’sle Head, June 25, 1934.
  35. Hudson, “The Work of the Marine Union,” Party Organizer 7 (May–June 1934), 29, quoted in Bruce Nelson, Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Lonshoremen and Unionism in the 1930s (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 298n.
  36. Darcy, 665.
  37. Browder, 954.
  38. Western Worker, March 12, 1934.
  39. Kimeldorf, 90.
  40. Roy Hudson quoted in Nelson, 88.
  41. Galenson, 428.
  42. Nelson, 85.
  43. Quin, 239.
  44. Western Worker, April 14, 1934.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Western Worker, May 7, 1934.
  49. Quin, 41–46.
  50. Nelson, 144.
  51. International Longshoremen’s Association Strike Committee Local 38-79 minutes, May 9 and June 20, 1934.
  52. Darcy, 670.
  53. Western Worker, May 14, 1934.
  54. Nelson, 135.
  55. Darcy, 671.
  56. Nelson, 136.
  57. Browder, 947–48.
  58. Western Worker, May 28, 1934.
  59. International Longshoreman’s Association Strike Committee minutes, June 13, 1934.
  60. The Foc’sle Head, May 30, 1934.
  61. The Militant, July 21, 1934.
  62. Nelson, 105.
  63. Galenson, 430–31.
  64. Browder, 954.
  65. Ronald E. Magden, A History of Seattle Waterfront Workers (Seattle: ILWU, Local 19, 1991), 193.
  66. Joint Strike Committee minutes, June 18, 1934.
  67. Joint Strike Committee minutes, June 14, 1934.
  68. Joint Strike Committee minutes, June 20, 1934.
  69. Joint Strike Committee minutes, June 18, 1934.
  70. Nelson, 146.
  71. David F. Selvin, A Terrible Anger: The 1934 Waterfront and General Strikes in San Francisco (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996), 141–50.
  72. David Milton, The Politics of U.S. Labor: From the Great Depression to the New Deal (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1982), 48.
  73. Darcy, 991.
  74. Darcy, 993.
  75. Darcy, 990–91.
  76. Darcy, 991.
  77. Quin, 123.
  78. Nelson, 149.
  79. Western Worker, September 14, 1934.
  80. Darcy, 993.
  81. Western Worker, July 23, 1934.
  82. Darcy, 994.
  83. Darcy, 985.
  84. Selvin, 166.
  85. Ibid., 233.
  86. Darcy, 993–94.

Issue #63

January 2009

Politics and struggle in a new era

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Critical Thinking