Revolution in San Francisco; July 6. 1934...Blood ran red in the streets of San Francisco yesterday. In the darkest day this city has known since April 18, 1906, one thousand embattled police held at bay five thousand longshoremen and their sympathizers in a sweeping front from south of Market Street and east of Second Street. The furies of street warfare raged for hour piled on hour. Events Leading to the Big Strike
One was dead, one was dying. 32 others shot and more than three score sent to hospitals. - San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 1934
The Place: The Embarcadero, directly in front of the San Francisco YMCA Embarcadero Hotel for Soldiers & Sailors - six years later, transformed as the Harbor Court Hotel. The Call-Bulletin photographer took this view from where you are standing.
The Date: Thursday, July 5, 1934.
The Event: San Francisco's Maritime Strike had shut down the West Coast from Seattle-Tacoma to San Diego-San Pedro. Police escorted scab labor onto ships lying at the docks: the International Longshoremens Association and the Sailors Union of the Pacific organized picket lines to prevent anyone from boarding vessels. "The State of California said it would operate its waterfront railroad. The strikers defied the State of California. The police had to keep them off. They did."
The Battle of Rincon Hill, July 5: "They drove us up the hill twice - and we took it back again. We threw bricks and bottle and whatever at them. A tear gas shell hit me in the leg." — Gerry Buicke, as quoted in The Big Strike.
"Policemen patrolled in gas masks, box cars on the Belt Line track were set on fire. Police began firing gas grenades and swinging long brutal night sticks. Fighting continued through fumes of gas. Strikers evading policemen's clubs ran up First Street onto Rincon Hill. Clouds of gas force the strikers to climb higher. Combat raged until noon, when a sudden quite fell." — Felix Reinenberg, Brotherhood of the Sea, S.U.P.
Why Strike? "All I wanted to do is get a decent wage, get the cockroaches out of my food, and the bedbugs out of my bunk. And I can't make a living and I want to work. There was massive unemployment in 1934 - a lot of people out of work. A lot of people starving. A lot of people destitute. A lot of people desperate for any kind of job to support their families. They put out the word in Arkansas and Kansas: 'Seamen on Strike - Jobs on the Pacific Coast.' They came out here, were given police escort, and they took our jobs. We formed a peaceful picket line. The Mayor ordered them to stop us at all costs." — Captain David Saunders, 3rd Mate in 1934.
And Then... "A policeman in gold braids stands in the middle of the street, all alone. He blows his whistle, up come the rifer men, gas men, and shot gun me. Crack and boom! Back scrambles the mob and two men lay on the sidewalk. Their blood trickles in crimson streams away from their bodies." — Royce Brier, January (sic) 6, 1934, San Francisco Chronicle
On Mission at Steuart, longshoreman Howard Sperry was killed, as was the man around the corner, a Greek Communist cook named Nick Counderakais, who called himself Bordoise, and had been working in the International Longshoremens Association's relief kitchen.
Longshoremen - As Far as the Eye Can See on Labor Day, September 6, 1936... The longshoremen had gotten what they wanted most - no more "boss-run shapeups" on the waterfront - they had the right to run their own hiring hall. The success of the 1934 waterfront strike had increased their membership eightfold.
(left side of the pylon)
President Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Recovery Act: section 7a recognized the right of employees "to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing."
The International Longshoremens Association convention put up the following demands to West Coast port employers: the creation of a six hour day and a 30-hour week; minimum of $1 an hour and $1.50 and hour overtime; the closed shop; and elimination of shape-up system of hiring, delegating to the I.L.A. itself the right to assign men to available work.
Harlan Soetan, arrived in San Francisco in 1932, age 16, hoping to ship out
The Shape Up: "They would have shape-ups at China Basin early in the morning, if a ship was due on the pier. There would be crowds of longshoremen waiting, hoping for work. The star-gangs were paid by the company and they got the first chance of being hired. It they needed more men the walking-boss hired the extra men. He'd say, 'That's all.' And the men would drift off, looking for work somewhere else. If a banana boat was due in at !0 a.m. and got held up by fog until noon, nobody got paid until noon. There was a lot of standing around and waiting. To have a chance at even one of the 3,000 jobs controlled by Terry Lecrouix, the Dollar Line shipping master, I had to get a shipping card at the Fink Hall run by the Waterfront Employer's Association stamped with a discharge from another ship. I had to sign on as 'work-away' for one dollar per trip to get that: it was a pool of free labor that kept a lot of men out of work."
May 9, 1934
By 1933 paybacks, graft, bribery and plummeting pay - the average weekly wage earned by star-gang longshoremen dropped to $10.46 - all combined to lead to labor action. The strike was set for March 7 and moved forward to May 7. On May 9, the Big Strike began; 12,000 to 15,000 men refused to show up for work in Seattle, Tacoma, Aberdeen Astoria, San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, San Pedro and San Diego.
Captain Dave Saunders recalled himself at age 22, he had just gotten his 3rd Mate's paper,
"The old man said, 'Saunders, someday you are going to be a captain. You stay away from those bloody Bolsheviks and you can stay on the ship, you've got a job.' I walked the 400 foot length of that ship to where the gang was. I thought about the broken bodies. I thought about the lousy food I'd had for years. I thought about how we'd been regularly gypped on the payroll. And I said to the deck gang, 'I've been offered a sellout job as 3rd mate if I can keep you all on the ship here, but I'm going ashore and join the strike.' It was a spontaneous thing, we had arrived at a point in our lives when there was no future for us. There we were at the mercy of the crimps, the shipping clerks, and the police. I was the one that took them off the ship; we marched down, the full 23 of us, and joined the strike.
(right side of the pylon)
The Big Strike Is On
Graffiti makes it impossible to transcribe this text.
(around the base)
Stop in your tracks, you passer-by. Uncover your doubting head. The working men are on their way. To bury their murdered dead.