Investigating US History

The Big Strike:
Labor Unrest in the Great Depression

Additional Resources

Union Videos

With its archives, booklets, videos, murals, and National Endowment for the Humanities-funded oral history project, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has pioneered the practice of working people recording their own history.   These works tend to be celebratory in tone and unapologetically pro-union, but are produced in collaboration with scholars and provide a wealth of historical detail.   They also document a "movement culture" that still emanates from the waterfront.  

An appealing introduction to the 1934 strike and the origins and ideals of the union can be found in We Are the ILWU , a 30-minute union-produced color video.   It features historical photos, film clips, interviews with active and retired members, and an original musical score. It is available for five dollars at:

Also recommended is Harry Bridges: A Man and His Union , an award-winning video documentary produced by Barry Minott and John Knoop, 1992 (58 mins.), available in VHS for purchase ($295) or rental ($95) from The Cinema Guild:

A new feature film, “From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks,” produced by Ian Ruskin and Suzanne Thompson and directed by Haskell Wexler, is now available on DVD.   A trailer can be viewed at The Harry Bridges Project,   To obtain a copy contact The Harry Bridges Project, P.O. Box 662018, Los Angeles, CA 90066, or .

Waterfront Writings

The World Wide Web is a vast repository, yet it has not rendered that ancient technology, the book, obsolete. Indeed, the Web's bounty in many areas, including the 1934 Pacific Coast waterfront strike, devolves from printed sources.  Below is an annotated bibliography of published works on the strike and the history of International Longshore and Warehouse Union, compiled by historian Harvey Schwartz.

Beechert, Edward D. Working in Hawaii: A Labor History.   Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.   A comprehensive history of Hawaiian labor with lengthy sections on the origins of the ILWU in the islands.

Bernstein, Irving.   Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941.   Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.   A classic account of labor in the 1930s with insightful sections of Bridges and the 1934 strike.

Buchanan, Roger B.   Dock Strike: History of the 1934 Waterfront Strike in Portland, Oregon.   Everett, Washington: The Working Press, 1975.   A description of the 1934 strike in the Columbia River region.

Carson, Robert, ed.   The Waterfront Writers: The Literature of Work .   San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979.   Stories and poetry by ILWU longshoremen inspired by echoes of 1934.

Eliel, Paul.   The Waterfront and General Strikes, San Francisco, 1934: A Brief History.   San Francisco: Hooper Printing, 1934.   A history of 1934 done by an employer representative shortly after the strike.

Fairley, Lincoln.   Facing Mechanization: The West Coast Longshore Plan.   Monograph Series, 23.   Los Angeles: Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, Los Angeles, 1979.   An evaluation by a former ILWU Research Director of the union's acceptance of mechanization in the late 1950s and the resultant agreements of 1960-1971.

Findlay, William.   Work on the Waterfront: Worker Power and Technological Change in a West Coast Port.   Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.   An analysis of the impact of mechanization on union morale in the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Area.

Fox, Joan, ed.   A History of Federated Auxiliaries of the ILWU, 1934-1984.   Seattle: ILWU Federated Auxiliaries, 1993.   A compilation of histories of the ILWU's local women's auxiliaries going back to 1934.

Hinkle, Warren.   The Big Strike: A Pictorial History of the 1924 San Francisco General Strike.   Virginia City: Nevada: Silver Dollar Books, 1985.   A collection of some of the most famous photos from 1934.

Holmes, Michael T.   The Specter of Communism in Hawaii.   Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.   An account of the attacks on ILWU leaders and others in the islands during the early Cold War years.

ILWU.   The ILWU Story: Six Decades of Militant Unionism.   San Francisco: ILWU, 1997.   An official overview of the union's entire history with text, photos, and oral history testimony.

ILWU.   Men and Machines. A Story about Longshoring on the West Coast Waterfront.   San Francisco: ILWU, 1963.   A pictorial essay showcasing photos by Otto Hagel taken on the eve of mechanization and featuring text by ILWU Secretary-Treasurer Louis Goldblatt.

ILWU Local 500.   Man Along the Shore!   The Story of the Vancouver Waterfront.   Vancouver, British Colombia: ILWU Local 500 Pensioners, 1975.   A history of the Canadian longshoremen told through interviews.

Kimeldorf, Howard.   Reds or Rackets: The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. A pioneering work of historical sociology that compares the ILWU and the East Coast's International Longshoremen's Association.

Larrowe, Charles P.   Harry Bridges: The Rise and Fall of Radical Labor in the United States. 2nd ed.   New York: Lawrence Hill, 1977.   The most complete biography of Bridges available pending the appearance of Robert W. Cherney's work in progress.

Magden, Ronald E.   A History of Seattle Waterfront Workers, 1884-1934.   Seattle: ILWU Local 19 and the Washington Commission for the Humanities, 1991.   A history of longshore unionization in the Puget Sound Region.

Magden, Ronald E., and A.D. Martinson.   The Working Waterfront: The Story of Tacoma's Ships and Men.   Tacoma, Washington: ILWU Local 23 and the Washington Commission for the Humanities, 1982.   An account of the Port of Tacoma and its unions.

Markholt, Ottilie.   Maritime Solidarity: Pacific Coast Unionism, 1929-1938. Tacoma, Washington: Pacific Coast Maritime History Committee, 1998. A useful port-by-port description of developments in the 1930s that is rich in detail but short on sympathy for Bridges and his supporters.

Nelson, Bruce.   Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s. Urbana, Illinois University of Illinois Press, 1988.   A prize-winning historical analysis of the Pacific Coast maritime union movement and its ideological origins.

Pilcher, William W.   The Portland Longshoremen: A Dispersed Urban Community. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.   A sociological study of one local's membership.

Quin, Mike.   The Big Strike. Olema, California: Olema Publishing, 1949. Reprint New York: International Publishers, 1979.   A classic left history of the 1934 maritime confrontation and the San Francisco general strike.

Raineri, Vivian McGuckin.   The Red Angel. New York: International Publishers, 1991.   A biography of Elaine Black Yoneda, a maritime union supporter during the 1934 strike and a life-long ILWU activist.

Rosswurm, Steve, ed.   The CIO's Left-Led Unions. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.   A collection featuring historical essays by Bruce Nelson and Nancy Quam-Wickham on organizing, race, and job control in the ILWU longshore division.

Selvin, David F.   A Terrible Anger: The 1934 Waterfront and General Strikes in San Francisco. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996.   A journalist/historian's careful account of 1934.

Schwartz, Harvey.   The March Inland: Origins of the ILWU Warehouse Division, 1934-1938. Monograph Series, 19. Los Angeles: Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, Los Angeles, 1978. Reprint San Francisco: International Longshore and Warehouse Union, 2000.   The only comprehensive study of the ILWU's organizing campaign in warehouse and distribution.

Ward, Estolv E.   Harry Bridges on Trial. New York: Modern Age Books, 1940.   A profile of Bridges at a famous deportation hearing held in 1939.

Wellman, David.   The Union Makes Us Strong: Radical Unionism on the San Francisco Waterfront. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995.   A sociological appraisal of how the ILWU longshore contract works in practice.

Winslow, Calvin, ed. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1998.   A collection containing an essay by Bruce Nelson on race relations in the ILWU longshore division.

Zalburg, Sanford.   A Spark is Struck! Jack Hall and the ILWU in Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1979.   A journalist's description of how the ILWU brought sweeping social, economic, and political change to Hawaii.