Our Labor History: War on the Waterfront; Save the Post Office National Day of Action; Newport News Shipyard Strike

July 24, 2023

Share this article

War on the Waterfront 

July 5, 1934 – Striking dock workers in San Francisco, CA faced off with strike breakers and police at the Battle of Rincon Hill on “Bloody Thursday.” After two-months of strikes and minor skirmishes, the Battle of Rincon Hill marked the culmination of months-long hostilities between dock workers, bosses, and the police, dubbed the War on the Waterfront.

The strikes, led by Harry Bridges, began on May 9, 1934 and protested the rampant corruption among bosses taking kickbacks and bribes, while workers endured unsafe conditions for brutally long hours and low pay.

Bridges joined the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) a year prior and quickly rose to a leadership position. Bridges was the chairman of the ILA’s San Francisco strike committee, and made an agreement with leaders of other dock unions that none of them would take unilateral action to end the strike.

By May 9, ports along the West Coast had shut down with more than 16,000 longshoremen on strike. Picketers in the Embarcadero neighborhood were tear gassed and beaten by police due to anti-picketing laws. On May 30, hundreds of police attacked protestors during National War on the Waterfront Youth Day actions and injured 65 young boys and girls, while hospitalizing 19 more.

Strikebreakers arrived on the piers on July 3. By July 5, they began unloading ships on Pier 38. As strikers attempted to stop work, police attacked the strikers, armed with teargas, riot guns, and revolvers. The 2,000 strikers retreated to the ILA headquarters under fire.

By 1 p.m. thousands of police stormed the ILA headquarters and two strikers were shot dead in the back. California Governor Frank Merriam ordered National Guardsman into the city, attempting to break the strike.

Workers held a funeral procession two days later for the men killed by police. The publicity galvanized support for dockworkers, and 63 unions voted in favor of a citywide general strike, which began a week later on July 16. After three days, the city’s General Strike Committee voted in favor of sending the dispute to arbitration.

In arbitration, workers covered by a west coast contract, won a six-hour day, pay raises, and a hiring hall run by the union. Securing the demands shifted power away from the corrupt bosses back into the hands of the workers.


Save The Post Office Day of Action

August 25, 2020 – The APWU, labor allies, and community organizations, held a National Day of Action to Save the Post Office, stop harmful service cuts and mail delays, and demand that congress provide covidrelated emergency funding for the USPS.

Tens of thousands of members, allies, and the public rallied outside postal facilities, wore union gear, signed petitions, and made calls to Congress in support of the campaign and the much-needed emergency funding in the face of a once-ina- lifetime pandemic. Actor and social justice activist Danny Glover released a radio public service announcement in support of the campaign.

Throughout the pandemic and the 2020 election, postal workers played a vital role the country’s economic and public health, meeting the surge in demand for package deliveries and mail-in votes. However, while many corporations received billions of dollars in funding, the Postal Service got nothing in the opening months of the pandemic.

The Save the Post Office campaign demanded much-needed support for the Postal Service and overdue reforms. By mobilizing postal workers and the public at an unprecedented level, it kept the fight to protect the USPS in the national headlines for months.

Although success was not immediate, the campaign eventually proved to be one of the most effective labor and community campaigns of its time, securing a labor-management committee to ensure speedy and efficient delivery of election mail; a $10 billion emergency loan to the Postal Service, that was later converted into a grant, and, eventually, passage of the U.S. Postal Service Reform Act, which freed the USPS from the Congressionally-imposed prefunding mandate, which had strangled postal finances.

Newport News Shipyard Strike

August 2, 1999 – Striking shipbuilders from the United Steelworkers of America (USW) returned to work after a 17-week strike in Newport News, VA.

USW members, who made up half of the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company’s 18,000 employees, began their strike on April 5, in demand of higher pay, improved pension benefits, and equality for its workers.

The company’s bottom line had rebounded after months of declining orders and workers sought their share of the company’s prosperity through improvements to their pay and benefits. After 17-weeks of strike actions, the workers secured a 58-month contract with guaranteed promotions, 23 percent pay raises, and a 78 percent increase in pension benefits.

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.