Labor Day and the 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike

Police use teargas against strikers on the Embarcadero, July 1934.

It’s Labor Day and time to reflect on San Francisco’s place in the country’s early and ongoing labor movement, which all of us today benefit from. In 1860, workers struck for a 10-hour workday, which eventually led to California’s eight-hour law passing in 1888. A 1901 bloody strike between the Teamsters Union and Drayman’s Association ended with the formation of the Union Labor Party, which operated through 1911.

But the most important event for the modern labor movement was the 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike by sailors and dock workers, which led to the four-day San Francisco General Strike. Two strikers were killed and more were wounded by police on “Bloody Thursday,” July, 5. And three days later tens of thousands of workers marched through the city, turning the tide of public opinion in their favor. It was a watershed moment for labor, which gained more leverage to ease workers unbearably heavy workloads (literally). Today, the Longshoreman’s Union (ILWU) still recognizes Bloody Thursday by shutting down all West Coast ports on July 5.

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