Socialists remained a minority within California labor activism, even during their peak period of influence from the 1880s through the First World War, yet they were an important minority. Socialists actively supported and collaborated with unions, participated in numerous unions and trade councils, and held a broad array of labor leadership positions. Just as the success of labor struggles diverged in the northern and southern portions of the state, however, so too did the influence of socialists and socialism.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, many of the early labor leaders were socialists. Frank Roney was one of the San Francisco labor movement's most dynamic organizers in the 1880s. During his tenure as president of the San Francisco Trades' Assembly, the number of members and affiliated unions skyrocketed. Similarly, as president of the Federated Trades Council in 1886, the council expanded and local workers created more than twenty new unions. Burnette Haskell founded the International Workingmen's Association (IWA) in 1882, which scholar Ralph Shaffer refers to as the first significant radical organization in the state. Thomas Poyser, who served as an officer for the IWA, was president of the Building Trades Assembly in 1883 and helped to found the California Knights of Labor.
By the late 1890s, however, socialists increasingly found themselves pitted against more politically successful labor organizers who adhered to the "business" or "craft" unionist model of the Building Trades Council (BTC). Where socialists pressed for class-based reforms, business unionists organized by craft and excluded unskilled workers. The different perspectives did not preclude overlap or collaboration, but nor were alliances certain. P.H. McCarthy, leader of the local and later statewide BTC, mayor of San Francisco from 1910 to 1912, and a central force in California labor organizing, accepted socialists, but usually when it was politically convenient. Some socialist leaders such as Berkeley mayor J. Stitt Wilson gained a broader following, but in part because of internal party divisions, socialists remained peripheral to the core of the Northern California labor movement.
In Southern California, by contrast, socialist influence on labor was on the rise at the turn of the century. Perhaps because unionists faced such immense obstacles, particularly in Los Angeles, socialism held greater sway than in the San Francisco Bay Area. As Los Angeles Times editor Harrison Gray Otis organized merchants against labor, opposition to a common enemy periodically fostered a merging of interests, yet both socialists and unionists faced pressure, locally and nationally, to go their own way.
In 1895, Job Harriman arrived in Los Angeles, revitalizing socialist political activism within the state. By definition, socialists advocated greater government involvement among the economy, but perceptions of what this meant and how it should be achieved varied from person to person. To "Harrimanites", socialists and unionists had a natural overlap of interests and should work together. Harriman faced a great deal of opposition both within the socialist party and outside. For example, in 1902, Los Angeles activists formed a Union Labor Party with a fusion ballot of labor and socialists. After intense campaigning, the ticket lost. Even ardent supporters had feared Republican victory, with the party's Times connections, more than they placed confidence in fusion victory. But the loss crushed support for labor/socialist collaboration.
Several events turned the tide once more. Many socialists and unionists united in support of Mexican revolutionaries. In 1908, when the Good Government League pressed for the recall of Los Angeles mayor Arthur Harper, labor leader and socialist Fred Wheeler found broad support. He lost the 1909 election by a slim 1700 out of 26,000 votes cast. Finally, unionists around the state rallied around Los Angeles labor to break the "open shop" (that is, closed to unions) policy of local businesses in 1910. To combat the organizing drives, the city council passed an "Anti-Picketing Ordinance" in July, making it illegal to picket, loiter, or display signs. Socialists, with their experience in free speech organizing, teamed with labor to fight the ordinance.
On October 1, 1910, the bombing of the L.A. Times building rocked the path of both socialism and labor in California and the nation. The explosion killed twenty men and quickly became a battleground in the fight between capital and labor. The Times issued a late edition that day, headlining: "Unionist Bombs Wreck the Times." But unionists suspected an inside job. When brothers John and James McNamara were arrested in 1911 for the planting dynamite at the Times as well as at the Lewellyn Iron Works, labor and radical activists from Samuel Gompers to Eugene Debs staked their own credibility on the brothers' innocence. Workers around the country sent money for the legal defense team.
Job Harriman ran for mayor on a ticket that brought labor and socialists together, riding on the momentum of tension. In the primary, Harriman polled 20,157, with the incumbent trailing over 3,000 votes. Suddenly, it became very clear in the city, the state, and the country, that Harriman could win. Women, having won suffrage in 1911, figured prominently in the campaign. Socialist women largely organized separately from their male counterparts, partially because it allowed them greater participation, partially because it allowed them to bring women's issues to the forefront. But many of them had been active in the campaign for suffrage, and now they took nothing for granted, working hard to register women and get out the vote. It is widely believed that one thing kept Harriman from victory. Lincoln Steffens, a Christian socialist hoping to calm the hostility between capital and labor, convinced the McNamaras to confess their guilt just days before the election. The resulting blow crippled not only labor's hopes for the election, but also both socialist and labor activism around the country.
Yet, this was only one factor that contributed to the decline of influence of socialism in the California labor movement. Both the bombing of the L.A. Times building and the Preparedness Day bombing shook support for radical groups, even if the members were pacifists. Outspoken opposition to the First World War by a sizeable number of socialists added controversy. Most significantly, however, the growing fear of socialism and communism that would later be known as the Red Scare made it difficult to freely express socialistic ideas. -- Rachel T. Van
Employer (Anti-Union) Organizations
As California workers organized themselves into unions, employer groups met union organization with organization of their own. Most employer groups claimed that they were not opposed to unions per se but that unions should not have the right to dictate the terms of their employment or to coerce employers into maintaining the closed shop. Employers supported each other morally and financially during strikes and boycotts, and they sometimes implemented boycotts of firms who conceded to union demands. Their tactics included open-shop declarations, lockouts, blacklists, discharges of union members, importing of non-union workers from other cities, legislative lobbying, and the use of private detectives.
San Francisco 1890s - 1901
The Manufacturers' and Employers' Association was founded in San Francisco in 1891. This group's commitment to the open shop, combined with an economic depression, reversed many gains labor had made in the 1880s. Indeed, in 1894 the group's president boasted that there was only one union left in San Francisco able to enforce its rules on employers. However, between 1894 and 1901 San Francisco labor organizations made significant gains. In particular, the Building Trades Council (BTC) united local unions of carpenters, painters, and others in the building trades to obtain good wages, an eight-hour day, and significant influence in political and economic affairs of the city. During this time, employer groups did best when they aligned their own interests with those of labor.
The Planing Mills Owners Association (PMOA) is a leading of an employer group that gained by aligning its interests with those of labor. In 1900, mill workers, under the auspices of the San Francisco Building Trade Council (BTC), demanded an eight-hour day. The PMOA argued that it could not afford to grant the union request, as its members would be unable to compete with non-union mills outside the city (which required 9 or 10 hour days). When the PMOA locked out its workers, BTC carpenters refused to handle materials from non-union mills; further, the BTC met the supply gap by opening a cooperative mill under the eight-hour plan. In early 1901, the PMOA conceded the eight-hour day, and the BTC agreed to continue its boycott of non-eight-hour mills. Effectively, this agreement meant that lumber planed outside of San Francisco would not be used within the city--an answer to PMOA concerns about competing with rural mills. In this instance, both the BTC and the PMOA gained from their agreement.
San Francisco in the Progressive Era
During 1901-1916, San Francisco employer associations were mostly informal and short-lived. However, two groups in particular are worth note: the Employers' Association and the Citizens' Alliance.
In April of 1901, the Employers' Association, which kept its membership secret in order to avoid boycotts, formed to combat unions and to keep San Francisco from becoming a closed-shop city. (Emboldened by the successes of the BTC, many small unions around the city had begun to demand the eight-hour day and the closed shop.) When California Governor Henry T. Gage mediated an end to the strike of 1901 without inviting the Employers' Association to the table, the organization lost power. The Employers' Association dissolved within a year, many businesses went closed shop, and organized labor gained a hold over city politics that would last for twenty years.
In winter 1903-1904, a national organization called the Citizens' Alliance formed a San Francisco chapter. The organization developed an open-shop label for its members to use, urged members to boycott union-label products, picketed union shops, and hired guards to protect non-union workers. The Citizens' Alliance had a few victories (in stables, leather trades, meat markets, and many restaurants) but was not able to roll back the power labor had gained after 1901. In 1905, the president of the Citizens' Alliance ran for San Francisco mayor but was easily defeated by incumbent Eugene Schmitz of the Union Labor Party. In the rebuilding frenzy that followed San Francisco's 1906 earthquake, wage and union membership rose and the Citizens' Alliance fell from prominence.
The Law and Order Committee (1916-1917)
In 1914, a San Francisco group called the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Association absorbed the remnants of the Citizens Alliance. One of its key members, Frederick Koster, became president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce in 1916. At this same time, the Chamber of Commerce launched an anti-union drive in response to the 1916 longshoremen's strike. Koster and the Chamber of Commerce were instrumental in founding the Law and Order Committee, which dominated San Francisco labor relations from July 1916 to April 1917.
The Law and Order Committee made public accusations against radical unions after a bombing at the city's Preparedness Day parade in July 1916. They also assisted the Restaurant Men's Association in breaking a strike by the culinary workers' unions, and they established the open shop in retail lumberyards. Further, they secured the passage of an anti-picketing initiative in November of 1916, which took away strikers' major means of appealing to public opinion.
The Industrial Association of San Francisco (1921-1934)
In California and elsewhere, the 1920s are remarkable as a time of prosperity that did not yield union gains. In 1921, a San Francisco group called the Builders Exchange defeated the BTC in a lockout, winning wage reductions and the open shop. Inspired by this anti-union success, the Chamber of Commerce and affiliated groups created the Industrial Association of San Francisco in order to further promote the open shop.
The Industrial Association promoted increased productivity through the new "scientific management" techniques. These tended to abolish trade jurisdictions, as managers reassigned employees among jobs. Under the apprentice system, unions had minutely controlled the labor supply by determining the identities and numbers of new workers entering a field; the Industrial Association set up vocational schools, putting the training of new workers under the control of employer interests. The Industrial Association set up an impartial wage board to determine worker compensation--under this system, wages did not fall, but they did not keep pace with wages in other cities. The Industrial Association also ran an employment agency; although they boasted that the agency was equally willing to find jobs for union and non-union workers, no job site ever rose to more than fifty percent union during the agency's tenure. The Industrial Association referred to its program as the American Plan.
Although many unions carried on, the Industrial Association's successes were significant. They unseated the closed shop in construction, the metal trades, and the San Francisco waterfront. It was not until the San Francisco General Strike of 1934 and the Wagner Act of 1935 that the Industrial Association lost its hold on San Francisco.
The Merchants and Manufacturers' Association (Los Angeles)
Los Angeles labor history is marked by one employer organization in particular, the Merchants and Manufacturers' Association (M and M). Although Los Angeles employers in individual trades joined together in smaller groups, the M and M frequently acted as an umbrella organization, coordinating efforts across industries.
The M and M was founded in the 1890s to promote commercial and industrial enterprise. Initially, it was not an antiunion organization, and it had stayed neutral in a prolonged and much publicized labor dispute between the Los Angeles Times and the typographical union. The M and M's antiunion career began in response to an 1897-1898 attempt to organize a brewery workers' union. Displeased by this attempt to form a union among previously unorganized workers, the M and M pledged moral support to those who had resisted the union organizers.
But the real turning point occurred in 1903. By this time, the typographical union had implemented a boycott of all Times advertisers. Calling this secondary boycott unfair, the M and M passed a resolution condemning the boycott and promising moral and financial support to any of its members falling victim to the boycott. This move not only reassured employers, it put unions on guard.
The M and M provided financial backing to defeat many subsequent strikes. Notably, in 1907 it engineered the defeat of the teamsters, hitherto the strongest union in Los Angeles. This defeat was a crippling blow for all labor unions. When the American Federation of Labor (AFL) conducted a national assessment of its unions in order to provide financial support to the Los Angeles labor movement, the M and M responded with a fund drive of its own, amassing a "war chest" with which to fight strikes. In 1910-1911, the M and M helped to finance employers affected by a major strike in the metal trades; the M and M also helped to author a 1910 city anti-picketing ordinance. The M and M was not undefeatable--a strike from May 1910 through April 1911 resulted in closed shop in the brewing trades, despite the M and M's efforts.
With World War I, Los Angeles labor made some gains. However, the M and M and other groups decimated these gains in the 1920s. Employer commitment in the 1920s to the open shop and the American Plan was particularly pronounced in Los Angeles; the M and M doubled its membership between 1920 and 1923. In 1921, the M and M created an industrial relations department and an employment placement bureau, thus providing increased strikebreaking-services to its members.
Under the New Deal's National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) and Wagner Act (1935), workers were guaranteed the right to be represented by a union if they chose, and employers were required to recognize unions. This legislation gave unions in Los Angeles and around the country new muscle. In June and July of 1936, the M and M reorganized its administrative body and launched an aggressive antiunion campaign in an effort to maintain the open shop under the realities of the Wagner Act. (Indeed, in 1936 the M and M's employment bureau operated more for placing strikebreakers than for placing regular workers.) The M and M's strategy was to give workers wages equal to those demanded by unions, to encourage collective bargaining within the company rather than through outside union affiliation, to appeal to law enforcement to cooperate in maintaining industrial peace and the open shop, to pressure closed-shop employers to go open shop, and to provide guards to protect employers and strikebreakers against strikers. This strategy, focused more on maintaining the open shop than on hard-line opposition to union membership, was largely successful. In 1940, the M and M merged with Southern Californians, Incorporated, to become the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Association of Southern California. Los Angeles remained chiefly an open-shop city until World War II.
In 1939, the Senate Civil Liberties Committee (the La Follette Committee) began hearings into tactics of eighteen employer groups, including the Industrial Association of San Francisco and the M and M. The committee found that the groups used unfair techniques, intimidation, spies, and otherwise violated the civil liberties of employees. During World War II, labor unions around the country made gains in the booming wartime economy. Increased opportunities for employment meant rising wages, rising union membership, and increased union bargaining power. -- Brenda D. Frink
Shortly after ten o'clock on the night of July 17, 1944, two explosions with a combined explosive force equivalent to five kilotons of TNT rocked the Port Chicago naval ammunition base, located on the southern side of the Suisun Bay‹about sixty miles northeast of San Francisco. Most of the enlisted men resting in the barracks shared the reaction of Cyril Sheppard, an ammunition loader in the Fourth Division, who initially thought, "Jesus Christ, the Japs have hit!" Of course, the Japanese had not attacked Port Chicago. Instead, something had caused approximately 430 tons of ammunition waiting to be loaded on to the Quinalt Victory to ignite, blowing up the Navy vessel along with the Port Chicago pier. That explosion triggered a second, more powerful explosion on the E. A. Bryan, which was tied to the pier after having previously been loaded with some 4,600 tons of ammunition and high explosives. All 320 men on the pier and aboard the two ships were killed instantly, and another 390 military personnel and civilians were injured. In the small town of Port Chicago, located about a mile and a half from the pier, most of the homes and businesses were damaged.
Port Chicago was a segregated base in which all of the ammunition loaders were black and all of the commissioned officers were white. Of the 320 men killed in the blasts, 202 were black ammunition loaders. Ammunition loading at Port Chicago was physically demanding and highly dangerous. Officers and enlisted men lacked training in ammunition handling, and officers often promoted competition between work divisions, causing work to proceed at a dangerously rapid pace. The potential for disaster worried enlisted men as well as civilians, including officials of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, who had offered to send some of their men to train the Port Chicago recruits in the safe handling of ammunition. Yet, despite the dangerous conditions that existed at Port Chicago, a special Navy Court of Inquiry concluded that the July 17th explosion was most likely caused by the inferiority and incompetence of black ammunition loaders.
On August 9, 1944, surviving members of the Second, Fourth, and Eighth Port Chicago Divisions learned that they would be ordered back to work loading ammunition at nearby Mare Island Ammunition Depot. Since the Court of Inquiry found no connection between the explosions and the work environment at Port Chicago, the enlisted men expected to labor under the same conditions and under the supervision of the same officers as they had before the disaster. Fearing for their own safety, 258 of the 328 men in these divisions informed their officers that they were unwilling to load ammunition. The enlisted men anticipated that they would be subjected to some sort of disciplinary action, but they were surprised on August 11th when they learned that the Navy interpreted the work stoppage as an act of mutiny, which was punishable by death in time of war. Facing this threat and further intimidation from their officers, 208 men eventually acquiesced and returned to work. The remaining fifty were then put on trial for mutiny.
The Port Chicago mutiny trial began on September 14, 1944, and lasted six weeks. The prosecution was headed by Lieutenant Commander James F. Coakley, who would gain notoriety in the 1960s as District Attorney of Alameda County for prosecutions of anti-war activists and the Black Panthers. Coakley argued that the men had conspired to disobey the direct orders of their officers and therefore were guilty of mutiny. Counsel for the accused "mutineers" argued that their unwillingness to load ammunition was a direct result of the trauma fears for personal safety that the men experienced after the explosion. The defense repeatedly pointed out, moreover, that the accused were willing to obey any other order and perform any duty other than ammunition loading.
The trial was highly publicized by the Navy and covered widely in the major San Francisco Bay area papers and major black newspapers across the country. It also attracted the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). On October 9, NAACP chief counsel Thurgood Marshall arrived in the bay area to interview the accused and attend the hearings. In press conferences and public statements, Marshall defended the "mutineers" and derided the Navy's discriminatory racial policies. "This is not fifty men on trial for mutiny," he declared on October 16. "This is the Navy on trial for its whole vicious policy toward Negroes."
On October 24, 1944, the jury returned a guilty verdict for all fifty accused. The men were each sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment with a dishonorable discharge awaiting them at the end of their term. The verdict ignited outrage in black newspapers across the country and an appeal was immediately undertaken by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The convictions were upheld, but the Navy gradually reduced the sentences of several of the "mutineers." In January of 1946 forty-seven of the men were released, and all were eventually discharged under "honorable conditions."
As recently as 1994, the Navy reviewed and upheld the convictions of the Port Chicago "mutineers." Only one of the fifty men sought a presidential pardon, which was granted by President Bill Clinton in 1999. But the Port Chicago Mutiny has proved to be a significant episode in the history of United States military and race relations. In the aftermath of the explosion, the Navy developed new training and safety procedures for ammunition holding. More importantly, the Port Chicago work stoppage highlighted the problems of racial segregation in the Navy and became an important contributing factor to the change in Navy policy, beginning in 1946, to dismantle racial barriers and end segregation in its training and shore facilities. -- John J. Rosen
From 1896 to 1921, the San Francisco Building Trades Council (BTC) was a powerful political, economic, and social force in San Francisco. In fact, the BTC may have been the most powerful local unit of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) during the Progressive Era. The BTC managed to maintain a closed shop in San Francisco's construction industry for roughly two decades, which enabled the organization to control the wages, hours, and work rules for the city's building trades workers. The BTC was also active in municipal politics, and at the height of its strength, its president was elected mayor of San Francisco. According to historian Michael Kazin, the experience of the San Francisco BTC during this period challenges the prevailing assumptions shared by a generation of labor historians that local unions affiliated with the AFL were conservative and apolitical.
Building trades workers in San Francisco had unsuccessfully attempted to establish a permanent, industry-wide organization on five separate occasions between 1883 and 1891. The late 1890s provided another opportunity to launch a trade federation for construction unions as San Francisco, and the nation at large, experienced a gradual return of economic prosperity following the crippling depression of 1893-1896. In addition, the business community in San Francisco was divided along conservative and progressive lines. A large portion of the business class recognized the legitimacy of trade unions, and consequently anti-union businessmen were unable to mount a united front against union activity. With these favorable economic and social conditions, the San Francisco Carpenters Local 22, the largest trade union in the city, spearheaded the formation of a permanent Building Trades Council in 1896.
The council brought together unions from every local building craft (approximately fifty) affiliated with different national unions. Members ranged from highly skilled craftsmen such as electricians and bricklayers to unskilled day laborers, and included teamsters who transported materials to job sites and factory workers who made wooden and metal fixtures. BTC unionists shared the California labor movement's white racial identity and hostility towards Asians. Contrary to the notion that building craftsmen were strictly conservative business unionists, individual members adhered to a wide range of ideological beliefs, ranging from "pure and simple" conservatives to radicals and socialists. The BTC's president, Patrick Henry McCarthy, for example, was a pragmatic trade unionist who often exhibited middle-class pretensions. His second-in-command, Olaf Tvietmoe, on the other hand, embraced a radical ideology that appealed to syndicalists and socialists. Yet, despite differences in personal philosophies and the disparities in job skills, the local unions and their members were willing to sacrifice a degree of autonomy in exchange for the power that the united council provided. By 1901, amid increasing union activity throughout San Francisco, the BTC had established itself as the sole representative body of the construction trades and had secured a closed shop in the city's construction industry. Their official newspaper, Organized Labor, supplied unionists with labor and political news and editorials, and after 1908, unionists could socialize and conduct business at the Building Trades Temple in they city¹s working-class Mission District.
Once their closed-shop empire was firmly established, the BTC could exert far-reaching control on job sites. The "working card system" quickly became their prime tool for enforcing the closed shop. The BTC required all building trades workers to carry a quarterly working card, which they paid for with their union dues. In addition to the working card, the BTC imposed their own set of "laws" on job sites. These laws determined the wages, hours, and rules for building trades workers and their employers. BTC business agents policed job sites to ensure that each worker possessed a working card and that union rules were being followed. Local unions who failed to abide by the rules were subject to suspension or expulsion, and recalcitrant employers were summoned before the BTC Executive Board and typically fined a nominal sum and placed on probation. This system, which functioned as a substitute for conventional collective bargaining, reflected the power and influence of the BTC. It was generally in the interests of contractors and BTC leaders to work out their differences without resorting to strikes or lockouts, and as a result only two building trades walkouts between 1901 and 1921 lasted more than a week. Building trades workers benefited by receiving high wages and eight-hour workdays. Indeed, building trades workers in San Francisco during the Progressive Era were better off than their counterparts in other major American cities.
From 1898 until 1922, the BTC was dominated by its president, Patrick Henry McCarthy, and his coterie of BTC officials. McCarthy's booming self-confidence and ambition propelled him to prominence in the San Francisco labor movement. According to his memoirs, McCarthy aspired to be a carpenter and a builder while growing up in Ireland. After apprenticing for a mechanic in Ireland, he immigrated to the United States in 1880. He arrived in San Francisco in 1886 as an experienced carpenter and unionist, where he quickly achieved success working as a craftsman and was elected president of Carpenters Local 22 before assuming the BTC¹s top office.
McCarthy and his men stood atop a highly organized bureaucratic structure. According to historian Michael Kazin, the rigid hierarchy of the BTC government and the tight-fisted manner in which its leaders exerted their power was akin to an aggressive and often tyrannical city-state. Local unions chose delegates to the BTC (representation was proportional) and to the Executive Board (one member per local). Internal democracy was only permitted as long as members acquiesced to the leadership of McCarthy and his supporters, and opponents of the president were unable to unseat him.
BTC leaders vigilantly worked to preserve, and sometimes extend, their power and influence. For BTC leaders this often meant working with progressive business leaders and extolling the virtues of class harmony‹behavior that sometimes alienated rank-and-file unionists. They refused to participate in the City Front Federation strike of 1901, fearing that disorder and labor violence threatened their newly won power. When the Union Labor Party (ULP) formed in 1901, the BTC leaders opposed their slate. McCarthy and his men twice attempted to extend their closed-shop empire throughout California, once in 1901 by helping to establish and administer serving the California State Building Trades Council, and again between 1909 and 1911 by allying with the Socialists who dominated the Los Angeles labor movement in their battle against the powerful open-shop forces in that city.
In 1905, the leaders of the BTC reversed their earlier opposition to the ULP and spearheaded the party¹s successful campaign drive. In 1907, McCarthy was the party's mayoral candidate but was unable to shed the stigma attached to the ULP in the wake of the San Francisco graft prosecution. McCarthy headed the party's ticket again in 1909. His campaign mixed appeals for working-class solidarity with assurances that his administration would be committed to maintaining labor peace and building upon economic prosperity. McCarthy was elected by a coalition of working-class voters and businessmen who had grown weary of the graft prosecutions, becoming the first labor leader elected mayor of a major American city.
The BTC's experience governing San Francisco was brief, and McCarthy struggled to act like a true union mayor while convincing businessmen that he could efficiently administer the city. Under his administration, BTC officials were appointed to the city's top posts, a working card became required for municipal workers, the minimum wage for city employees was raised from $2 to $3 per day, and all city employees were required to be U.S. citizens. But despite these measures, his administration failed to put forth a legislative program to aid working people. McCarthy's administration was also marred by its bungled attempts to bring Hetch-Hetchy water to San Francisco, purchase the Spring Valley Water Company, and complete construction of the Geary Street Railroad. Reform-minded businessmen were also disappointed with McCarthy's reluctance to reform the city's vice district, a pocket of his strength in 1909. When McCarthy ran for reelection in 1911, he was soundly defeated by a James Rolph, Jr., a charismatic candidate hand-picked by progressive businessmen and professionals. Progressives were on the rise throughout California, and their reform programs pleased businessmen and held some appeal for working-class voters.
Rolph's victory signaled both the end of the ULP (a 1910 charter amendment established nonpartisan municipal elections) and the beginning of the decline in BTC power. Between 1912 and 1915, as San Francisco prepared for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, BTC leaders were compelled to compromise with progressive politicians and businessmen. Their loss of electoral power and periodic economic slumps of the 1910s severely curtailed the BTC's bargaining power. At the same time, employers overcame old divisions and renewed their efforts to push for the open shop throughout San Francisco industries. By 1919, the open shop drive was gaining momentum, and in 1921, the BTC's power and control of job sites was finally eclipsed by the newly formed Industrial Association. -- John J. Rosen
Authors and artists such as John Steinbeck and Dorothea Lange have forged some of the most lasting images of California history with their sympathetic and graphic depictions of the plight of Okie refugees to California from regions affected by the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Ironically, Steinbeck, Lange, and many others have underestimated the impact of this migration and provided an incomplete, sometimes misleading, picture of it.
The term "Okie" has always lacked precision but, according to historian James Gregory, it most accurately describes people whose native state was Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri. The so-called "Okie" migration to California began on a large scale during the 1920s and continued through the 1950s. Almost twice as many Okies migrated to California in the 1940s (621,786) as in the 1930s; also, Okie migration in the 1950s was greater than in the 1930s.
Since the Dust Bowl (1935-38) affected a relatively small area of Oklahoma, and since the era of major Okie migration to California spanned the period from at least 1920 to 1960, it is evident that other factors were more important in propelling this mass migration to California. The most important of these was the decline of agriculture in this sub-region of the Southwest. The fall of agricultural commodity prices in the first half of the twentieth century devastated the economies of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, so that by 1950, twenty-three percent of all people born in these states lived outside the region.
Soil erosion, drought, mechanization, and New Deal farm policies, which paid farmers not to cultivate land, were other factors that pushed people to migrate from these states. In addition, pull factors drew Okies to California. The rapid growth of California's population and economy, and in particular the spectacular growth of Los Angeles, created higher paying job opportunities than existed in the Southwest. California's boom wartime and post-world War II economy especially lured many Okies to the Golden State.
In the realm of politics, many Okies brought with them a late nineteenth century populist ideology, albeit laced with early twentieth century religious fundamentalism. For the most part Democrats by longstanding party affiliation, this made them quite receptive to some of California's progressive political causes in the 1930s. It is hard to gauge precisely how many Okies may have supported Democrat Upton Sinclair in his campaign for governor in 1934, but evidence suggests that he received majority support in places like Arvin (which was heavily populated with Okie migrants). Certainly, at the time, Republicans feared that he had the Okie vote. The Okie vote may also have contributed to the fact that in 1936 the Democrats gained control of the state assembly for the first time in three decades and won a majority of California's congressional seats.
In 1938, Democrat Culbert Olson, an unabashed New Dealer and former supporter of Sinclair, won seventy-one percent of the vote for Governor in the southern San Joaquin Valley in precincts where Okie migrants were concentrated. In 1939, the "Ham 'n' Eggs" initiative, that would have provided every Californian over 50 with special scrip every Thursday to bolster their income, went down to defeat by a two to one vote, but it won a majority vote in several small towns with high concentrations of Okie migrants.
At the same time, evidence suggests that Okies were reluctant to support unions, at least in the 1930s and early 1940s. They proved indifferent to the Workers Alliance, a left wing group that tried to organize migrants, relief recipients, and other workers. In addition, the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) had limited success in recruiting Okies.
A strong tradition of individualism and a deep suspicion of movements or unions associated with left wing groups accounted for the reluctance of many Okies to join unions. Their attitude toward unions may have changed during the 1940s and 1950s, but further research is needed to ascertain this. However, James Gregory, referring to the populist tradition of the Okies, states: "The insurgent potential had been steadily draining away. Even as many Southwesterners continued to use a class-based terminology of the plain versus the powerful, more persuasive commitments to patriotism, racism, toughness, and independence were pointing towards the kind of conservative populism that George Wallace would articulate three decades later." -- Daniel A. Cornford
There is a debate among historians as to whether the impact of World War II constituted a second California gold rush, or whether wartime developments represented primarily an acceleration of trends that had been immanent for several decades. Nonetheless, historians are generally agreed that World War II had a significant, even major, social and economic effect on California, coming as it did in the wake of a depression that had deeply hurt both the state and national economies during the 1930s.
Between July 1940 and July 1945, the state's civilian population increased from 6.9 million to 8.5 million residents. Net migration accounted for over three quarters of the growth, and natural increase for the rest of it. This was a very high rate of population growth. From 1941 to 1942, the population of California grew by 6.9 percent, and between 1942 and 1943, California's population grew by ten percent, a figure that dwarfed the annual percentage increase of population in any year in the period from 1900 to 1950. Most of the population growth was concentrated in California's major metropolitan regions. The population of the city of Los Angeles increased by 400,000 people between 1940 and 1943. The population of Los Angeles County grew by 1.4 million residents between 1940 and 1950. From 1941 to 1945, the population of San Francisco increased from 634,000 to almost 750,000. Population growth in several East Bay cities was more dramatic, with Oakland's population increasing from half a million people in 1941 to 700,000 in 1945. Vallejo's population jumped from 20,000 to 100,000 during the war years, while Richmond's leaped from 24,000 to 150,000. San Diego's population almost doubled during the war, from 202,000 residents in 1940 to an estimated 380,000 by war's end.
There were marked shifts in the racial composition of California population that were directly attributable to the war. Most notable was the rapid growth of the African American population. Unlike some major Midwest cities, such as Chicago, California had not been greatly impacted by the first great migration out of the South in the period 1917-1930. In 1940, there were 124,000 African Americans in California, making up less than two percent of the population. During the war years, an estimated 350,000 African Americans migrated to California. The majority went to Los Angeles, but 125,000 migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Oakland's black population increased from 8,600 in 1940 to 22,000 in 1944, while Richmond's black population grew from under 200 in 1941 to over 10,000 by 1944.
The major factor accounting for this black migration to California was the lure of jobs, mainly in wartime-related industries. In addition, dislocations in southern agriculture created by declining commodity prices, the mechanization of agriculture, and the legacy of New Deal farm policies, impelled black migration out of the South to California and to the Midwest and Northeast.
Between July 1940 and July 1945, approximately $26 billion was invested in California manufacturing facilities. The federal government was responsible for investing $17 billion of this amount, over half on the armed forces and the rest in a range of industries including aircraft, shipbuilding, rubber, and the machine tools and metal industry. To put this figure in perspective, in 1930 the federal government spent only $131 million in California. In 1945 alone, it spent $8.5 billion. It is small wonder that between 1940 and mid-1943, half a million jobs were created in California, and that unemployment, which was 12 percent in 1940, fell to less than one percent during the war years.
Two examples indicate the impact that wartime expenditures had on industry. The number of workers employed in shipbuilding in California increased from 4,000 in 1939 to at least 250,000 by 1944. The impact was greatest in the Bay Area, where by 1943 shipyards employed 80 percent of all those working in heavy industry in the region. At the height of the war, East Bay shipyards employed 150,000 workers.
After the war, the shipbuilding industry declined dramatically. This was not the case, however, with the aircraft industry. Between 1939 and 1944, the number of aircraft workers in California increased from 17,000 to 190,000, and California accounted for about 50 percent of the nation's output of aircraft. Even after layoffs at the end of the war, the California aircraft industry still had 400 percent more workers than in 1939.
While California had made significant strides toward becoming a major manufacturing state in the two decades before the war, there can be little doubt that the war played a vital role in further transforming California from an economy based primarily on natural resource production to one more centered on manufacturing. Many of these industries were significantly dependent on defense contracts.
The Korean War, and more importantly the Cold War, resulted in large and permanent increases in federal government defense expenditures that contributed further to this transformation. By 1960, 25 percent of the nation's defense expenditures and 42 percent of all defense contracts went to California firms. During the 1960s, California received 50 percent of NASA funding, 30 percent of which was for military purposes. In 1965, nearly half a million Californians were working in various branches of the defense and aerospace industries, including the production of aircraft, missiles, and electronic equipment. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The first Japanese emigration to California (and indeed to the United States mainland) occurred in 1869, when a merchant brought a group of Japanese to El Dorado County to establish the Wakamastu Tea Colony. The venture, however, was short-lived, and until 1890, Japanese emigration to the United States was very limited. A majority of Japanese people entering the country were students or merchants who did not intend to stay permanently.
During the 1890s, the pace of Japanese emigration, both directly from Japan and via Hawaii, picked up, and the number of Japanese people in the United States increased from just over 2,000 to over 24,000 in 1900. Of this number, 42 percent lived in California. Approximately 50,000 more people of Japanese descent emigrated in the first decade of the twentieth century; over half lived in California by 1910. By 1920, 111,000 people of Japanese descent lived in the United States, 65 percent of them in California. Although the 1924 Immigration Act, in particular, reduced the Japanese rate of emigration, there were almost 139,000 Japanese people in the United States in 1930, over 70 percent of whom lived in California.
From the 1890s until the 1930s, the majority of California's Japanese population worked in agriculture. In 1917, according to one estimate, three-quarters of them earned their living from this pursuit. The role of Japanese immigrants in California's agricultural economy was crucial. Although the Chinese had made a vital contribution to the Golden State's agricultural economy, due to the predominantly male nature of the Chinese population and the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, their numbers were beginning to dwindle by the 1890s. This occurred at a time when the need for an agricultural workforce was growing greatly with the spread of irrigation, the recent development of the refrigerated railroad boxcar, and a general expansion in national and international markets for California agricultural goods.
Many Japanese immigrants had been farmers in their homelands who cultivated small plots. They were thus well suited for employment in California's increasingly labor-intensive agricultural economy. They tended to settle in areas that had been vacated by the Chinese, and soon played a vital role in the agricultural economies of certain regions of the Central Valley, and the coastal counties from San Francisco to San Diego. By 1917, Japanese immigrant farmers were producing over 80 percent of the celery, berries, asparagus, cantaloupes, onions, and tomatoes grown in California; 70 percent of florists' products; 50 percent of seeds; over 40 percent of vegetables and sugar beets, and a third of all grapes.
While Japanese people employed in California agriculture worked as contract laborers, sharecroppers, and lease farmers, as the twentieth century progressed, significant numbers began to acquire their own land. Carey McWilliams estimates that Japanese land ownership in California increased from 2,400 acres in 1904 to 16,500 acres in 1909. Resentment at the success of the Japanese in farming rose. In 1913, the state legislature passed the Alien Law. It stated that aliens ineligible for American citizenship could not own land in the state or lease it for more than three years. Since, by federal law, Asians were ineligible for citizenship, the law was aimed primarily at the Japanese. Despite the law, by 1919 Japanese immigrants owned 75,000 acres of the total of 458,000 acres that they farmed in California. In 1920, the state's voters approved by a three-to-one margin a more sweeping Alien Land Law, designed to plug the loopholes of the 1913 law.
Japanese people also worked in a range of other occupations, and their employment in agriculture began to decline during the 1920s. By 1909, the Immigration Commission estimated that there were 3,000 to 3,500 Japanese-owned businesses in the western states, most of them in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Seattle. A significant number of Japanese people were employed in domestic service, with this being a major source of livelihood for Japanese women from 1910 until the 1940s. In addition, Japanese people engaged in a host of other occupations, from working on railroads to working in the food service and occasionally in the vice industries.
Anti-Japanese sentiment antedated the Alien Land laws by many years, as Californians transferred their longstanding prejudices against the Chinese to the Japanese. The first recorded act of violence against Japanese people occurred in 1890, when Japanese shoemakers in San Francisco were attacked. Similar incidents occurred in California throughout the 1890s. The growing number of Japanese immigrants helped to ensure that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was renewed again in 1902 and made permanent law.
As with anti-Chinese sentiment, prejudices knew no class boundaries. In the early years of the twentieth century, Mayor James Phelan of San Francisco and California Governor Henry Gage were outspoken in their statements about the Japanese "menace," supported by Stanford University professor E.A. Ross. The California labor movement also played a major role in rallying anti-Japanese sentiment, with the first large anti-Japanese meeting organized by the San Francisco labor movement in May 1900. Not long afterwards, both the San Francisco Labor Council and the Building Trades Council passed resolutions calling for the total exclusion of all Asian immigrants. In May 1905, over one hundred local unions and a variety of other groups formed the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League, which was renamed the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1907.
Not surprisingly, the California labor movement did little to try to organize Japanese workers in the period 1890-1930. The Industrial Workers of the World, in its efforts to unionize all workers regardless of color, skill, or national origin, may have organized some Japanese workers. The most illustrative story of this period is the Oxnard Sugar beet strike of 1903. In that year, Mexican and Japanese workers went on strike to protest attempts by the American Sugar Beet Company to eliminate ethnic labor contractors and to resist wage cuts. In order to do so they founded the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA).
After a strike victory, the union attempted to consolidate its position by reaching out to the state and national labor movements. The Los Angeles Labor Council was supportive of the JMLA, though it reiterated its opposition to Asian immigration. The California State Federation of Labor, however, shunned the JMLA. When the JMLA petitioned the national AFL for a charter, president Samuel Gompers granted one with the stipulation that Asians be excluded--a condition with which the Mexican workers refused to comply. Not until the resurgence of the labor movement during the 1930s did the mainstream movement make any real effort to organize Japanese workers. However, the initiatives were limited and confined almost entirely to a few unions in which communists and progressives had a major influence. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In December 1946, the city of Oakland was paralyzed for three days as over 100,000 workers joined in a sympathy walkout with striking downtown retail clerk workers. This virtual general strike rivaled in size the one that occurred during the West Coast longshore strike in San Francisco in 1934, when many workers engaged in a massive strike following the killing of two workers.
The year 1946 witnessed one of the largest strike waves in American history. During the war, workers and their unions had agreed to a no-strike pledge. Wages had been controlled by the War Labor Board with the result that workers' wages usually fell behind the rate of inflation. After the war, many unions were determined to make up for the loss that had occurred in real wages, and to consolidate their position in a political climate that was no longer as hospitable to unions as it had been during the height of the New Deal. There were several major strikes in mass production industries, and virtual city-wide general strikes occurred in several cities: Hartford and Stamford, Connecticut; Camden, New Jersey; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Rochester, New York.
During the New Deal, and to an extent during World War II, unions had made important, even dramatic, gains in many sectors of the economy. In general, however, these gains had been much more limited in the service sector of the economy than they had been in manufacturing. After the war, several large department store chains in California continued to vehemently oppose unionism. They belonged to the powerful Retail Merchants Association (RMA).
In downtown Oakland, two large department stores, Kahn and Hastings, were members of the RMA. Anxious to improve wages and working conditions, the predominantly women workers at the Kahn and Hastings department stores (located across the street from one another) began to press for union recognition in the summer of 1946. Despite the fact that a large majority of them signed union cards to become members of Retail Clerks Local 1265, management refused to negotiate with them. Management insisted that before there could be any negotiations, all twenty-eight RMA member stores in Oakland would have to be organized. Following the dismissal of a woman who had signed a union card, workers at Hastings voted to strike on October 23.
With the endorsement of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, and the crucial Teamster's Union, picket lines were established outside both the Kahn and Hastings stores, and 80 percent of the workers struck or honored the picket line. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also strongly supported the strike.
Oakland politics at this time was dominated by United States senator Joseph Knowland. The virulently anti-union Knowland owned the powerful Oakland Tribune, and Knowland supporters dominated the nine-member Oakland City Council. As historian Fred Glass puts it, Knowland "treated Oakland as his personal kingdom, in much the same way that Harrison Gray Otis, owner of the Los Angeles Times, had done in that city in the early 1900s."
Faced with a highly successful strike, Knowland met with employers and several key city officials and decided to use strikebreakers. On December 1, 250 Oakland policemen brutally attacked peaceful union picket lines. Then strikebreakers drove twelve truckloads of merchandise through the entrances to Kahn and Hastings department stores.
The following day outraged unions and their members throughout Oakland met to protest the police's conduct. In the evening, the Central Labor Council, representing 142 unions in Alameda County, voted to call a "work holiday" the next day. On December 3, the city of Oakland came to a standstill. The "holiday" lasted for three days and involved from 100,000 to 130,000 workers.
The strong stand of the Alameda Central Labor Council was, however, breached when the Teamster's Union, owing to severe pressure from the national leadership, ordered drivers back to work. The strike was settled on December 5 after the Oakland city manager issued a verbal assurance that in future Oakland police would remain impartial in labor disputes and would not escort strikebreakers.
Despite the agreement, police continued to accompany strikebreakers through picket lines at Kahn and Hastings. However, the strike did have more long-term positive consequences. Though engaged in bitter jurisdictional battles, AFL and CIO unions, determined to break Knowland's stranglehold on Oakland politics, united in 1947 to found the Oakland Voters League (OVL) for the purpose of contesting the May 1947 city council elections. Other community groups, representing minority and other citizens, joined the coalition.
The OVL chose five labor candidates for the open council seats. A platform was adopted that included proposals for major public works programs, rent control, a fairer tax structure, better public schools, and improved public health services. At the election, the OVL elected four of its five candidates and narrowly failed to elect the fifth, which would have given them a majority on the Oakland City Council.
A week after the election, the RMA and the Retail Clerks Local 1265 announced that the RMA had agreed to recognize the union as the exclusive bargaining agent in all stores in Oakland represented by the RMA. The victory spurred other union organizing efforts in the city, and undermined the power of the Knowland machine. However, continuing bitter factionalism between the AFL and the CIO, combined with racism and red baiting, led to the demise of the OVL after a disappointing campaign in 1949. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Socialist Party of America (formed by a merger of several groups in 1901) became an important social and political force in America. By 1912, it had 118,000 members; had elected some 1,200 public officials (mostly at the local level) in the United States; and was publishing over 300 periodicals of all kinds.
The socialists emerged as a force just as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was growing and consolidating its position as the dominant national, state, and local labor organization. The socialists had considerable influence in a significant number of unions and most elements in the party recognized the importance of establishing a strong following and presence in the labor movement. Indeed a significant number of unionists, albeit a minority, supported the platform of the Socialist party and eagerly joined it. As late as 1895, socialists within the AFL were strong enough to play a decisive role in electing miner John McBride president of the AFL--the only occasion that Samuel Gompers was not elected between 1886 and his death in 1924.
However, the relationship between the AFL and the socialists was by no means harmonious. By the early twentieth century, under Gompers' leadership, the national AFL had rejected alignment with any political party in favor of a strategy that stressed that workers could best obtain their objectives through unionism. Political activity, the AFL leadership argued, should be relatively limited and confined to lobbying on key issues affecting labor, while "rewarding friends and punishing enemies" on election day without regard to party affiliation. At the same time, a large number of socialists were highly critical of the increasingly conservative AFL, which showed little interest in organizing unskilled, women, and minority workers.
In different unions and places, the relationship between the AFL and the socialists played itself out in different ways. In Los Angeles, where the union movement first emerged as a significant force in the early years of the twentieth century, there was significant cooperation, and indeed overlap, between the socialist and union movements. For example, from its founding in November 1901, the Los Angeles Socialist espoused cooperation with the city's unions and strongly supported their strikes and boycotts.
When the Socialist Party of America was founded (in January 1902 in California), two of its leaders in Los Angeles, Fred Wheeler and Lemuel Biddle, were already prominent figures in the city's labor movement. Another, Job Harriman, was a prominent socialist nationally, having been Eugene Debs's running mate on the national ticket of the Social Democratic party in 1900. Harriman was also a long-term advocate of a close relationship between the socialists and the labor movement.
In June 1902, the Socialist Party of California nominated several prominent Los Angeles union men for state and local office. In the fall of that year, heavily influenced by the success of the San Francisco Union Labor Party the previous year, the Los Angeles union movement decided to launch its own party. Los Angeles socialists decided to back the Union Labor party (ULP) and not run a competing ticket. This made it the only major city in the country where socialists actively campaigned for a union labor ticket.
Deficient in strength by comparison with its northern counterpart; lacking the catalytic issue that had launched the San Francisco Union Labor party; and short of money and organization, the Los Angeles Union Labor party performed only modestly in the 1902 election. Their mayoral candidate received 17 percent of the vote. Even in heavily working class wards, the ULP received half as many votes as the winners.
The disappointing performance of the ULP in 1902 cooled formal relationships between the union movement and the Los Angeles socialists, though Harriman continued to advocate close cooperation between the two. As historian Grace Stimson has written, in spite of some friction "this did not mean total denial of interdependence at every level, for socialists and unionists often joined in common enterprises," and indeed advocated a very similar political agenda.
This was evidenced in 1906 when Los Angeles labor movement decided to field another ULP ticket. Their platform advocated municipal of ownership of public utilities; support for political reforms such as the initiative and referendum process; free schoolbooks; increased educational facilities; and the eight-hour day and fair wages on all public works. The ULP, however, performed little better in this election than it had in 1902.
Socialists maintained labor support by strongly supporting free speech rights in the city of Los Angeles that were threatened by city ordinances greatly restricting the places of public meetings. Socialist and unionists also worked closely together when, in 1907, three Mexican revolutionaries were imprisoned in Los Angeles and threatened with extradition to Mexico.
In 1909, in order to revive its political involvement, the Los Angeles Central Labor Council launched a Union Labor Political Club comprised of delegates from all interested unions. Labor was not well organized enough that year to field a labor ticket and instead it endorsed the Republican candidates for city office in preference to the slate of the Good Government League, which it suspected did not have labor's interest at heart.
Labor's suspicions proved well founded. Less than year later the victorious Good Government League was using its control of the Los Angeles Council to pass an anti-picketing ordinance, as well as making frequent use of police to protect employers during a major strike by the metal trades. In July 1910, the Union Labor Political Club passed a resolution attacking the Good Government League, and the Republican and Democratic parties, for being hostile to unionism. A platform was adopted that embraced the 1906 platform and also called for: municipal housing; enforcement of child labor laws; a workmen's compensation law; statutory recognition of the right to strike and boycott; prohibitions against the use of injunction in labor disputes; and the nationalization of communication systems and the railroad.
In the meantime, the Socialist party gave strong moral and financial support to striking metal workers, and reiterated its support for labor boycotts. It also continued to echo labor's political goals. Indeed, in July 1910, the Socialist party moved its headquarters to the Labor Temple. All this occurred at a time when the Los Angeles labor movement had increased its membership by 50 percent between 1909 and 1910, and when the national and California labor movements were making the strengthening of the city's labor movement a top priority.
On October 1, 1910, a bomb destroyed the Los Angeles Times building. Anti-union forces charged that this was the work of union elements bent on destroying the archenemy of the city's labor movement for twenty years. The Los Angeles labor movement vehemently denied the accusation and pointed to similar instances where labor had been exonerated, or even framed, on such charges. Little more than a month later, the Socialist party obtained over 11,000 votes in Los Angeles County in statewide elections. Shortly afterwards the socialists and the Union Labor Political Club decided to form a permanent organization and to contest the next municipal elections.
In 1911, labor conflict in Los Angeles reached almost unprecedented levels, while the labor movement continued to grow at a rapid pace. Between June 1910 and June 1911, twenty-five new unions were founded, and almost 7,000 new members joined the city's labor movement. As early as April 1911, the socialist and the union movements began selecting their ticket. Job Harriman was chosen as the mayoral candidate, and a mix of socialists and union members (some socialist, some not) were nominated for other offices.
At the primary election on October 31, 1911, Harriman did not secure a majority, but in obtaining 20,000 votes of 45,000 cast, he obtained more votes than his rivals; over 3,000 more than his most serious one, George Alexander, the incumbent mayor from the Good Government League. The prospects for Harriman's victory in the run-off election five weeks later looked good. However, on December 1, four days before the election, both the city and the nation were stunned to hear that two union men, brothers John and James McNamara, had pleaded guilty to bombing the Los Angeles Times building.
The guilty plea of the McNamara brothers brought immediate discredit to the labor movement. George Alexander was elected mayor over Job Harriman by a vote of 85,000 to 51,000 votes. While Fred Wheeler was elected twice (in 1913 and 1915) to the Los Angeles City Council during the 1910s, the debacle caused by the revelation of the McNamara bombing extinguished any prospect that labor or the socialists could again launch an effective political challenge. In addition, it helped to ensure that the Los Angeles would remain an open shop city until the late 1930s.
After 1911, the socialist and union movement continued to work together for a few years. However, in 1914, a major split occurred when the Los Angeles socialists refused to adopt a Central Labor Council resolution that every nominee of the party must be a union member in good standing or, if an employer, must be fair to organized labor. The breach further widened later that year when the socialists declared their categorical opposition to American involvement in the First World War. -- Daniel A. Cornford
On October 1, 1910, the Los Angeles Times building was destroyed by an explosion and the fire that followed. Twenty people were killed and many injured. The newspaper's editor, Harrison Gray Otis, immediately charged that unionists had resorted to the use of dynamite to resolve a bitter dispute between the Los Angeles Times and organized labor that had raged for twenty years.
Local trade unionists adamantly denied the charge and refuted the suggestion that organized labor condoned violence anywhere in the United States. Some suggested that the incident was part of a frame-up to discredit the Los Angeles labor movement. Fourteen months later brothers James and John McNamara, members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers (BSIW), confessed to blowing up the building. Their actions had disastrous consequences for the Los Angeles labor movement.
In the early twentieth century, the Los Angeles labor movement was still struggling to establish itself. Ever since its emergence twenty year earlier, its fortunes had been highly cyclical. In 1890, a bitter conflict between the printers' union and the Los Angeles Times led the paper and its editor to spearhead a strong anti-labor movement, backed by many powerful employers. As a result, the Los Angeles labor movement exerted much less influence than its counterpart in San Francisco in the first decade of the new century, and wage rates in most occupations were significantly lower.
By 1909, both the San Francisco labor movement and the national AFL, increasingly aware of the importance of the struggle being waged, provided Los Angeles labor with substantial assistance. Due to this external assistance and its own efforts, the Los Angeles union movement made impressive, indeed unprecedented, gains between 1909 and 1911. From 1909 to 1910, union membership increased by 50 percent. The following year 7,000 more people joined the labor movement and twenty-five new unions were established.
The strike of Los Angeles metal workers that began in 1910 was one of the most important of many strikes in this period. The union was well organized and determined to achieve parity of wages and working conditions with its San Francisco counterpart. Metal workers in San Francisco were fully aware that if the strike was not successful their wage rates and working conditions, including the eight hour day, might be adversely affected.
The 1910 Los Angeles metal workers strike occurred against a backdrop of several bitter years of conflict at the national level between the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers, and a rival national organization representing metal employers that was determined to extirpate unionism in the metal and iron industries. The most ferocious battle occurred between employers and workers represented by the BSIW. Between 1906 and 1911, according to labor historian Philip Foner, union leaders were responsible for some 110 explosions.
In 1909, John McNamara, secretary of the BSIW, had been sent to Los Angeles to help the city's metal workers prepare for a strike. His brother James joined him. The Burns detective agency, hired by the city of Los Angeles soon identified James McNamara and Ortie McManigal, another union member, as suspects. On April 14, 1911, they were arrested in Detroit and found in possession of explosive devices. McManigal soon confessed and implicated John and James McNamara in the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building.
The McNamara brothers protested their innocence. A significant number of people, within and without the labor movement, believed them. They were aware of the polarized state of labor relations in Los Angeles and the role that Los Angeles Times had played in creating these conditions. In addition, they knew that in the past union men had been framed on such charges under similar circumstances. Only a few years earlier, three prominent labor leaders had been acquitted of murdering the ex-governor of Idaho in a case that drew international attention. Furthermore, the Burns agency did little to bolster its credibility when it tried to implicate the leaders of the AFL, including President Samuel Gompers, in the bombing. Finally, people took note of the fact that the Los Angeles labor movement and the Socialist party were by mid-1911 putting together a political ticket which appeared to have a chance of major successes in the fall elections.
Labor rallied to the defense of the McNamara brothers, and the country's leading defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, was hired to represent them. McNamara defense committees were set up in cities and towns throughout the country. The trial of James B. McNamara began in October 1911. On December 1, both McNamara brothers appeared in court and James McNamara pleaded guilty to the "crime of murder," while brother John pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the dynamiting of the Llewellyn Iron Works in Los Angeles, which had been damaged by an explosion on Christmas Day 1910.
The labor movement locally, statewide, and nationally was stunned, as were many other supporters of the McNamara brothers across the country. Four days after the guilty plea, Job Harriman, the union and Socialist candidate for mayor, who had received comfortably more votes than his opponents in the election five weeks earlier, was defeated in a run-off election. It was an election that even many of his opponents had expected him to win.
James McNamara received a sentence of life imprisonment and John McNamara one of fifteen years. The labor movement condemned the McNamara brothers and the use of violence, but the damage to labor's reputation was irreparable. The Los Angeles labor movement was put on the defensive and soon experienced significant losses of membership. Los Angeles continued to be one of the strongest open shop cities in America. In the era of the open shop between the two world wars, the city's labor movement was one of the weakest in the country. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Gold proved a powerful magnet, luring people to California from all corners of the United States and the world at large. News of the discovery spread rapidly, sometimes reaching places like Cornwall, England, before it reached most settlers in Michigan. In 1852 alone, 20,000 immigrants entered California, most of them headed to the diggings. At least 15,000 prospective argonauts (gold miners) arrived from Latin America, principally from Mexico but also from other South American countries such as Chile and Peru.In 1848, when gold was first discovered in California, the state had a non-indigenous population of about 13,000 people roughly evenly divided between Californios and more recent settlers from the United States and Europe. Fewer than 1,000 people lived in Yerba Buena Cove, the future site of San Francisco. By 1854, 300,000 people had migrated to California and the population of San Francisco approached 50,000.Anecdotal evidence suggests that miners came from a range of social backgrounds. However, because the cost of the journey to California by sea or land usually exceeded the annual income of a typical farmer or worker in the eastern United States, it is unlikely that many of the Argonauts came from the ranks of the poor. The 1850 census reported that almost 75 percent of all men employed in California (57,797 of 77,631) were miners. Two years later, it is estimated that 100,000 people in the state were working as miners. The relative importance of mining declined during the 1850s, as the pickings became slimmer for individual miners and as other industries offering employment sprang up. Nevertheless, 38 percent of California's workers (82,573 of 219,192) were still employed as miners in 1860.Instant cities like San Francisco and Sacramento sprang up in the early gold rush years as bases for the mining industry. Businesses developed to supply the needs of the miners and to cater to the needs of the cities themselves, creating the state's first white urban working class, and resulting in the formation of the first unions and strikes. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Most California settlers during the gold rush era were probably familiar with unions and strikes as it is quite likely that some had been union members before migrating from other parts of the United States. A strong trade union movement had emerged in most eastern cities during the Jacksonian era (1828-1836).This knowledge, and sometimes experience, of trade unionism, combined with the acute shortage of labor in the early gold rush years, resulted in immediate labor activity by California workers. As early as November 1849, carpenters in San Francisco and Sacramento struck successfully for higher wages. In June 1850, the San Francisco Typographical Society became California's first trade union. That same year, reflecting the influence of labor as a constituency, the state legislature passed the first mechanics' lien law. During the early 1850s, the formation of trade unions, and sometimes strikes, occurred among the following occupational groups: carpenters, bricklayers, hod carriers, teamsters, sailors, longshoremen, printers, bakers, coal heavers, blacksmiths, shipwrights, painters, tinners, and plasterers. While most strikes and union foundings occurred in San Francisco, they also took place in smaller California cities, including Sacramento, Stockton, and Marysville.However, trade unions in gold rush era California often proved to be as ephemeral as they were elsewhere in the United States for most of the nineteenth century. Their fortunes ebbed and flowed according to the cyclical fluctuations in the economy. Unions emerged and were successful in good times, but often passed out of existence in bad times. Trade unionism among skilled workers tended to be more enduring but, not infrequently, these unions would disappear or their members would have to take large wage cuts during economic downturns. By the 1860s, some unions, representing workers such as printers and carpenters, had achieved a measure of permanence and stability. But the depression of the mid-1870s tested the resilience of even the most established unions, as the unemployment rate surpassed 20 percent in many areas of California, giving employers the upper hand. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Trade unionism was slow to develop in California's mining industry. In 1857, miners in Sierra County went on strike when their wages were cut, but significant labor conflict and unions did not emerge until over twenty years after the discovery of gold.
Why was labor conflict and unionism so slow to develop in an industry that employed tens of thousands of workers? To begin with, in the initial years of the gold rush, most miners were self-employed prospectors who worked for themselves or in partnership with a few other men. By the mid-1850s, in most mining regions, the era of the individual prospector was over and the easy pickings had been taken. Most miners now worked for heavily capitalized hydraulic and quartz mining companies.
Although the majority of miners had become wageworkers, many factors militated against the development of unionism. First, miners tended to be highly mobile, and many California miners saw their stay in the Golden State as a temporary one. Such workers were not predisposed toward building permanent organizations. Like many disgruntled workers in other industries with a highly mobile work force, miners tended to strike with their feet and simply moved on to other mining companies. Second, the relative isolation of the work setting made it hard for miners to coordinate strikes of a significant scale and to build a union. These remote locations also made it difficult for workers to gain support of a community, a factor that proved crucial to the success of later strikes and unions.
Third, deep-seated ethnic, racial, and national animosities among the diverse mining work force inhibited the collective action required to wage strikes and building unions. Finally, quite often the owner of a mine was also the manager and, therefore, in the eyes of many workers, a fellow member of the "producing classes," and one who often risked considerable capital to put men to work.
It is not without significance that the first major strike in the California mining industry came when the almost entirely white mining work force was threatened by the concurrent introduction of new technologies and Chinese labor. In 1869, quartz miners in Grass Valley went on strike when their employers tried to make them use new single-handed drills and dynamite instead of the less powerful and safer "black powder." The miners insisted that the new dynamite was dangerous because of its volatility and the noxious fumes it produced. And they were resistant to using the single-handed drill. The mine owners inflamed the situation by threatening to hire Chinese workers as single-handed miners using the new explosives.
In April 1869, several hundred miners went on strike in Grass Valley, and they founded a "branch league" of the Comstock miners' union. They asked their Nevada comrades to send them an organizer. The Grass Valley miners won their strike, and by July 1869, the union boasted 700 members. In 1871, miners in Amador County founded a union when their employers cut their wages and threatened to introduce Chinese labor.
Several other mining strikes occurred in the early 1870s. However, as gold mining continued to decline in importance as an industry, there is little evidence to suggest that mining unions persisted for very long in California, or of many more major strikes in the industry. In 1900, the Tuolumne Miners' Union still existed, and perhaps some other localized mining unions. Nevertheless, the president of the Tuolumne Miners' Union was quoted as saying that, as far as miners were concerned, California "was the poorest organized state in the West." -- Daniel A. Cornford
From the 1850s to the 1880s, Sinophobia pervaded California, where the majority of Chinese immigrants to the United States had settled. Although Sinophobia was by no means confined to working class people, the California labor movement, especially in San Francisco, was at the forefront of the anti-Chinese campaign. The movement scored a victory in 1882 with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which greatly restricted emigration from China to the United States. There were several reasons why anti-Chinese sentiment flourished among California workers. To begin with, California had by far the nation's highest concentration of Chinese migrants. From 1860 to 1880, Chinese people made up nearly ten percent of the state's population, and a significantly higher proportion of the work force, particularly in San Francisco. California workers feared that competition from Chinese labor would drive their wages down. This was especially true during the 1870s when the state was hit by a severe depression shortly after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which had employed 12,000 Chinese workers. The depression of the 1870s also came at a time when Chinese employment as mining prospectors was in steep decline.The tightly and exclusively organized nature of California's Chinese labor force further fueled the state's Sinophobia. Many Chinese were recruited and brought to California by large employers. Partly to pay back their passage, these immigrants were received by groups like the Six Companies in San Francisco and housed, fed, and sent off to their various places of employment. In the eyes of white workers the Chinese were not only likely to work for low wages, they were also a dependent class of workers whose status differed little from that of slaves, and thus were not members of the "free" working class--a status imbuing white workers with considerable pride and righteousness.Although many other national, racial, and ethnic groups formed their own distinct neighborhoods, the fact that many urban Chinese workers lived in Chinatowns was regarded as a reflection of their exclusiveness. Prejudices were reinforced by the fact that Chinese immigrants had every intention of returning to their homeland and often did. In addition, they frequently sent a large percentage of their income to their relatives in China. The fact that many groups of European immigrants engaged in similar practices did little to mollify the prejudices of most white workers. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The first statutory act of discrimination that the Chinese experienced in California was the Foreign Miners' Tax law of 1850, which levied a twenty-dollars-a-month tax on all non-citizen miners. While the legislation was not aimed exclusively at the Chinese, they were its prime target. Furthermore, the tax was imposed with greater uniformity on the Chinese than on most other foreign miners.As the Chinese rapidly became the largest segment of foreign-born people in California (amounting to 15 percent of San Francisco's population by the 1870s), measures directed specifically at them soon followed. From the late 1850s, the San Francisco labor movement played the leading role in initiating boycotts against the Chinese, including against the businesses of some white employers who used Chinese labor. Although the courts struck down laws passed by the state legislature during the 1850s to restrict Chinese immigration, in 1855 San Francisco lawmakers passed an ordinance requiring all Chinese to cut off their pigtails one inch from their heads. San Francisco also passed the Cubic Air Ordinance, which mandated that each tenement building had to have at least 500 cubic feet of air per inhabitant. The law was enforced only in Chinatown. From the early 1850s, the rhetoric and platforms of all political parties reflected strong anti-Chinese sentiment. California's first Republican governor, Leland Stanford, used his 1862 inaugural address to denounce "the presence among us of a degraded and distinct people." In the same year, Anti-Coolie Clubs were organized in San Francisco, and within five years, there was one in every ward of the city. In October 1871, a mob raged through Los Angeles's Chinatown and killed twenty Chinese people.In 1877, in the context of a severe economic depression, a major national railroad strike, mounting discontent among Californians about a range of issues, the California Workingmen's party (CWP) was born. Dennis Kearney, the party's founder and leader, rallied San Francisco workers to his cause with the cry: "The Chinese Must Go." For a few years, the CWP was a major force in California politics. It helped nationalize the anti-Chinese movement, and in 1882, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted. Greatly limiting Chinese immigration, this was the first federal law passed restricting immigration to America.The Chinese Exclusion Act did not, however, do much to dampen Sinophobia. During the mid-1880s, in particular, instances of attacks on Chinese people, and communities simply expelling their Chinese population wholesale, were not uncommon. Precisely how many Chinese people were expelled from their communities cannot be known for sure. In his research, historian Alexander Saxton found evidence that thirty-five communities in California expelled their Chinese population between January and April 1886.As the Chinese population fell during the 1890s, the number of such incidents declined. However, the increasing numbers of Japanese immigrants arriving in California in the early years of the twentieth century reignited the fires of Sinophobia. -- Daniel A. Cornford
For many years, unemployed workers in San Francisco had gathered on street corners and vacant lots to voice their political discontents. By 1877, in the midst of a severe depression, the ranks of unemployed were especially numerous, and they, along with other workers, were particularly disgruntled.
On the evening of July 23, a mass meeting of workers took place on the sandlots in front of San Francisco's city hall. The immediate purpose of the gathering was to express solidarity with many eastern railroad workers who were on strike. At the meeting, a group of workers belonging to an anticoolie club pushed its way through the crowd and demanded a strong anti-Chinese resolution. After being rebuffed, a large group of workers broke away, gathered new recruits, and started a riot in Chinatown. A Committee of Public Safety hastily enrolled almost 6,000 members the next day, and the following day they broke up another riot, killing four people and wounding several others in the process.
The outraged workers continued to protest on the sandlots facing city hall. Dennis Kearney, a small business proprietor who had been part of the Committee on Public Safety, soon emerged as their leader. An articulate orator, he stirred the crowd with the inflammatory rhetoric of class war and proclaimed that: "The Chinese Must Go." Under Kearney's leadership, the California Workingmen's party (CWP) took shape between August and October of 1877. In January 1878, the CWP held its first statewide convention.
In June 1878, when California voters chose delegates to the second state constitutional convention, the CWP elected a third of all the delegates (51 of 152). If it had not been for the fact that in many electoral districts Democrats and Republicans joined forces against the CWP and ran a "non-partisan" candidate, it is quite possible that the CWP would have elected a majority of the delegates to the constitutional convention.
Why was it that a party that had been founded less than a year previously attracted so much support? Certainly, San Francisco, where anti-Chinese sentiment was a major factor in the rise of the CWP, elected thirty delegates (nearly one fifth) to the convention. However, the CWP also had a significant presence in forty of California's fifty-two counties, and in many of these counties there were few, if any, Chinese people.
Unquestionably, the rising tide of Sinophobia in San Francisco--which occurred in the context of a serious state and national depression, as well as a major railroad strike-- was the catalytic factor setting off the anti-Chinese riots in July 1877 and the founding of the CWP shortly afterwards. However, many California workers and farmers had a longstanding series of grievances that had threatened to upset the status quo in California politics.
Both workers and farmers resented the political and economic power wielded by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad was but one source of political corruption that troubled many workers and farmers. In their view, corporations were often responsible for the corruption of many state and national politicians as a succession of well-publicized scandals after the Civil War rocked people's faith in their cherished democratic republican institutions.
The fact that in California individuals and corporations held large amounts of land also embittered working people. In part, this was a legacy of the large Mexican land grants made before 1846, but it was also due to a host of other factors, including generous land grants to corporations and individuals by both the state and federal government; the failure of the state and federal government to enforce existing land laws; and the nature of California agriculture in which cattle raising and then wheat production encouraged large-scale farming operations.
The national economic depression of the mid-1870s was severe, and especially so in California. Unemployment levels were estimated at 25 percent in some areas and many workers suffered wage cuts. This depression also occurred at a time when many Chinese workers were leaving the mines and migrating to cities like San Francisco and only a few years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad (1869), which, it was promised, would bring general prosperity.
Rumblings of political discontent in California were evident by the early 1870s, as an Independent Taxpayer party gained a majority in the state legislature in 1873. But this new party did little to bring about reform. The founding of the CWP represented the culmination of longstanding discontents fueled by events of the mid-1870s. Certainly, by the fall of 1877, many workers, and indeed a significant number of farmers, had little faith that either the Democratic or Republican parties could be trusted to represent their interests. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Despite the success of the California Workingmen's Party (CWP) in electing a third of all delegates to California's second constitutional convention in 1878, as well as some notable electoral successes at the municipal level, the CWP did not become an enduring and powerful force in California politics. While the party played some role in shaping California's second constitution, such as a provision providing for an elected railroad commission, it did not achieve sweeping changes.
The CWP had a majority on only two of the thirty committees that drafted the new constitution. To a significant extent also, the success of workingmen in securing reforms was dependent upon the support of farmers, and that support was not always forthcoming. In addition, historians generally agree that CWP delegates were often outmaneuvered by the more skilled and experienced politicians representing other parties.
However, despite their limited success at the constitutional convention of 1878, the CWP continued to do well in municipal elections. In 1879, Isaac Kalloch was elected mayor of San Francisco on the Workingmen's party ticket. In the statewide elections that year the party also put up a creditable performance, electing the chief justice of the state supreme court, five of six associate justices, one railroad commissioner, eleven senators, and sixteen assemblymen.
By 1880, the CWP was in decline and disarray. From almost its inception, factionalism had plagued the party. For example, the party split on whether to support ratification of the newly drafted constitution. Kearney's flamboyant leadership proved especially divisive. The party also attracted political opportunists, usually from other parties, that often ignored the wishes of their new political constituency once elected. In addition, people without previous political experience often proved ineffectual political leaders.
In addition, by 1880, the lingering after-effects of the depression of the 1870s had passed. Some historians also have argued also that by 1880 many in the CWP believed they had attained their objectives. Further undermining the CWP was the shift to the left of center by the California Democratic party amounting to what historian Alexander Saxton has called the "institutionalization of labor politics." Finally, some leading members of the CWP, including Kearney, decided to throw their lot in with the Greenback Labor party, which had established a national presence in the late 1870s. -- Daniel A. Cornford
While many trade unions led a precarious existence in mid-nineteenth century San Francisco, the growing presence of unionism led to efforts to establish a city federation of all trade unions. As early as 1859, the Cigar Makers' Association suggested the idea.Nothing came of the proposal, but in 1861, at the instigation of the Coopers' (barrel makers) union, which had been hurt in a recent strike by the use of convict labor, a Mechanics' League was founded at a large meeting of workingmen in San Francisco. The League soon forged an alliance with the Anti-Coolie Association to lobby for laws to protect workers from the competition of convict and Chinese labor. However, the coalition was co-opted by politicians who did little to advance the League's cause after the elections in 1861.In September 1863, after a three-month strike by the tailors, the tailors and upholsterers unions called for a federation of San Francisco's unions. A majority of the city's unions heeded the call and the San Francisco Trades' Union was born‹the first citywide federation of unions in the American West. By January 1864, the organization represented fifteen local unions, and 2,000 to 3,000 workers. Meeting monthly, the Trades' Union aided several unions in their demands for higher wages and shorter working hours. It also lobbied the state legislature on laws affecting labor's interests such as a mechanics' lien law and legislation to bring about the eight-hour day. In decline by late 1865, the Trades' Union disbanded in spring 1866 due to personal rivalries and political dissensions connected with the effort to attain the eight-hour day. Twelve years would elapse before the San Francisco unions attempted to form another citywide federation of unions. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In April 1874, the Journeymen Tailors' Union called for the establishment of a city federation of trade unions, but their proposal met with a tepid response from most other unions. In March 1878, in the immediate aftermath of the rise of the California Workingmen's party, the climate was much more auspicious for the formation of a citywide federation of unions.
The tailors' and printers' unions took the initiative in calling a convention of ten interested unions. A constitution was adopted and a per capita tax of five cents per member levied on affiliated unions. The Trades' Assembly promised affiliated unions assistance in resisting wage cuts. Leaders of the new organization, while sharing some of the goals of the Workingmen's party, were anxious that it not become a tool of the party, and there was particular hostility toward Dennis Kearney.
By the early 1880s, the evidence suggests that the Trades' Assembly played a significant role in rebuilding the San Francisco trade union movement following the depression of the 1870s. New life was breathed into the organization when former Workingmen's party supporter, Frank Roney, became president. Frank Roney had become an avowed socialist shortly after his involvement with the Workingmen's party. In September 1880, with three socialist associates, Roney founded the Seamen's Protective Union in San Francisco. After his election as a delegate by the seamen to the Trades' Assembly, that body soon recognized his talents and chose him president.
Under Roney's leadership, the Trades' Assembly became a more effective political lobbying organization. It pushed several anti-Chinese measures, especially the boycott of Chinese-made goods. It called for new legislation to restrict the use of convict labor, and was in part responsible for the creation in 1883 of a State Bureau of Labor Statistics.
By 1882-1883, there were forty-nine active unions in San Francisco, an increase of thirty- one since the founding of the Trades Assembly in 1878. A majority came from the well-established trades or industries: building trades (10); maritime (9); and metal trades (7). The remaining unions were scattered among a host of trades and occupations: printers, tailors, cigar makers, beer bottlers, butchers, waiters, cooks, and bakers.
The precise role that the Trades' Assembly played in the union revival is hard to assess, as the renaissance of unionism coincided with the emergence of the socialists and the Knights of Labor as important elements in the city's labor movement. By 1882, the Knights of Labor were strong enough to form a district council in the Bay Area. Writing about the collaboration among the Trades' Assembly, socialists, and the Knights of Labor, historian Alexander Saxton concluded: "Everything in the house of labor in those days was inter-permeable; ideas overlapped; personnel swapped places."
In 1884, however, the Trades' Assembly expired. There were several reasons why. First, considerable factionalism and conflict had developed within the Assembly, leading to the resignation of Roney. Second, the economy went into a downturn and employers launched an effective counter offensive. Finally, as the Knights of Labor became more nationally prominent, many San Francisco labor leaders redirected their energy into bolstering the Knights. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Burnette Haskell was born in Sierra County, California, on June 11, 1857. He attended several universities, including the University of California, but did not graduate from any of them. Nonetheless, in 1879, he passed the California bar examinations and began to practice law. In January 1882, he founded a weekly paper in San Francisco called Truth, and at the same time, he began to explore the basic principles of socialism. During 1882, he established the International Workingmen's Association (IWA), which, despite its grandiose title, was solely his creation and lacked any ties with the international labor or socialist movement.
The IWA's organization was modeled on many secret or semi-secret revolutionary societies. It was based on a group system made up of nine members. Each member was expected to form another group of nine, and thus, in theory, individuals could only know sixteen other members of the organization. The IWA espoused unabashedly socialist principles. The red membership cards carried statements that borrowed liberally from the Communist Manifesto: "The Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. To each according to his need."
The highly secretive nature of the organization makes it hard to assess its importance and membership. Quite vibrant branches of the IWA were established in Denver and the Rocky Mountain region nearby under the leadership of Joseph Buchanan, a prominent leader of the Knights of Labor and editor of the Labor Enquirer, but most of the IWA's following was in northern California. Historian Ira Cross estimates that there were at least nineteen groups in San Francisco, ten in Humboldt county, and branches in Oakland, Tulare county, San Rafael, Berkeley, Healdsburg, Stockton, and Sacramento.
One of the IWA's most importance aims was to assist all trade union organizations by every means possible. For several years Haskell had close ties with the San Francisco movement, and traveled to places as far afield as Humboldt county and Denver to make contact with labor unions and dissidents. In 1882, Haskell met Frank Roney at a meeting of the San Francisco Trades' Assembly. He was evidently greatly influenced by Roney's socialist ideas, and this lead him to reorient his weekly paper Truth to provide a socialist and labor perspective on events to such an extent that the paper became the official organ of the Trades' Assembly. Haskell repeatedly eulogized the Knights of Labor as the great hope for national reform. At the same time, the pages of Truth contained some of the revolutionary rhetoric that Dennis Kearney had uttered a few years earlier. There were frequent references to the use and need for dynamite, for example.
But Haskell did not simply engage in rhetoric, he was actively involved in not only organizing the IWA‹which in some instances had a close relationship to the Knights of Labor-‹but also in other kinds of everyday labor activity. He played the key role in the founding of the Coast Seamen's Union (the predecessor of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific) in San Francisco in March 1885.
In 1884, Haskell helped found the Kaweah Cooperative colony in Tulare County. Founded on the socialist principles of Laurence Gronlund's Cooperative Commonwealth, the colony was briefly successful, and one of the most interesting of many cooperative living experiments in nineteenth century California. Haskell joined the colony in the late 1880s and was present at the date of its demise in 1892. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Within less than a year of the demise of the Trades' Assembly of San Francisco, attempts were made to revive an organization that would bring together and represent the city's unions. Founded at a time of dramatic union expansion, the resulting federation was to prove much more enduring than its predecessors. Indeed, while reconstituted in 1892 as the San Francisco Labor Council, the new organization survived the severe depression of the mid-1890s and helped build the foundations of the early twentieth century San Francisco labor movement.
After several false starts in 1885, in January 1886 an organization entitled the Representative Council of the Federated Trades and Labor Organizations of the Pacific Coast was launched. Two points about the genesis of this new organization, which came to be known as the Federated Trades Council, are worthy of particular note. First, another crescendo of anti-Chinese sentiment provided impetus for the founding of the new organization.
Second, the Federated Trades Council attempted to encompass a wide range of California unions outside San Francisco, and indeed outside of the state. In this, they were aided by the fact that the Knights of Labor and the International Workingmen's Association, two of the organizations primarily responsible for launching the Federated Trades Council, had a network of branches across California and in some other western states. Frank Roney was elected president of the Federated Trades Council, and within three months, it had fifty-four affiliates.
For much of 1886, the Federated Trades Council worked with the cigar makers' and shoemakers' union to support a boycott of all Chinese made products. The Council also played a leading role in organizing a boycott of the Morning Call and the Evening Bulletin newspapers during a printer's strike. More than 40,000 copies of the Pacific Coast Boycotter were distributed in San Francisco, forcing the two newspapers to allow their union men to return to work on favorable terms.
Mirroring national events, 1886 was a year of unprecedented labor activity in San Francisco. There were major strikes by unions represented by the Iron Trades Council against the Union Iron Works, and by the Coast Seamen's Union, the streetcar worker's, and the brewery workers, among others. The wave of strikes, boycotts, and organizing activity continued into 1887 in both San Francisco and in other parts of California. In 1888, the State's Labor Commissioner estimated that in San Francisco there were eighty-one unions with over 19,000 members.
It is difficult to assess precisely the influence of the Federated Trades Council in all of this labor activity. In 1888, only a minority of unions were actually affiliated with the Trades Council, and undoubtedly some succeeded without its help, or instead received aid from the Knights of Labor, which was a separate but overlapping organization. On the other hand, historian Ira Cross, in the most detailed study of the nineteenth century California labor movement, credits Frank Roney and the Federated Trades Council with bringing "renewed life to the labor movement in California."
Whatever the cause, during the mid-1880s, the labor movement in San Francisco and many other parts of California grew at a rate that was not to be matched until the early twentieth century. Groups of workers (most of them unskilled) that had never, or hardly ever, been organized before flocked into unions on an unprecedented scale.
In addition, the labor movement outside San Francisco made great strides. Most of the over one hundred assemblies of the Knights of Labor that were founded in California were established in the mid-1880s. Many small metropolitan and rural areas in California saw the emergence of trade unions for the first time. Places such as San Jose and Humboldt County could boast over 2,000 members by 1886. Other areas, such as Santa Clara County, Alameda County, San Diego, Sacramento, Stockton, San Bernardino County, and Los Angeles County founded their first city- or countywide union federations by 1891.
In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the fortunes of the Federated Trades Council were mixed. The emergence of other city or countywide federations diminished its appeal to unions outside the Bay Area. Within San Francisco, there was also constant factionalism within the union movement, causing many unions to disaffiliate. In 1891, a split between the Federated Trades Council and the newly founded San Francisco Building Trades Council became so serious that it threatened the future of the former organization. Mediation by representatives of the Federated Trades Council of Sacramento, however, resulted in a merger of the two organizations in December 1892. Founded with thirty-one unions, the new organization soon became known as the San Francisco Labor Council. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The Los Angeles labor movement emerged later than that of San Francisco and some other northern California cities. This was because Los Angeles remained a small and isolated community for well over a quarter of a century after the gold rush derided by northerners as little more than a "cow" county. Even by 1880, the county of Los Angeles had less than five percent of the population of San Francisco (11,000 inhabitants compared to 233,000). As late as 1900, the city of Los Angeles, with 102,000 residents, amounted to less than thirty percent of the population of San Francisco.
The city of Los Angeles was dominated by agricultural interests until the 1880s. Almost all "industrial" production was for local consumption, and the size of the working class population was relatively small. A union of typographical workers, founded in 1859, was the first union established in Los Angeles but it lasted only a year. Despite the brief appearance of a Mechanics Eight Hour League in 1868, and an interest in third party political activity by workingmen and farmers during the 1870s, the printers' union was the only one in Los Angeles in 1880.
While the Los Angeles labor movement began to establish a broader foundation during the 1880s, it was anything but a solid one and the fate of the movement as a whole, and that of individual unions, was oftentimes precarious. As the city began to grow in the early 1880s, the first building trades unions were founded, and in 1885, an attempt was made to establish a Trades Council. But not all of the relatively few unions in the city chose to affiliate, and the Trades Council had limited contact with the labor movement elsewhere in the state and few ties with national bodies.
The Knights of Labor, however, gradually began to establish a significant presence in Los Angeles. The first assembly was founded in 1882, and by July 1886, there were six assemblies with 308 members, enough to warrant the founding of a district assembly. Anti-Chinese sentiment played a significant, but probably not decisive, role in the spread of unions during the mid-1880s. As was the case in other areas of the state, and indeed the nation, a notable feature of the city's union growth was that comparatively unskilled workers, often in the service sector of the economy, organized for the first time. In the case of Los Angeles, these included retail clerks, cooks and waiters, bakers, butchers, teamsters, sailors, and other workers not previously considered as belonging to highly skilled occupational groups.
The completion of the Santa Fe railroad to Los Angeles in November 1885, and the resultant migration and real estate boom, helped sustain the city's nascent labor movement. This was especially true in the building trades, as real estate development and speculation flourished. In 1888, a Building Trades Council was founded.
In 1889, when the real estate boom suddenly crashed, the Los Angeles labor movement struggled to maintain its foothold. With the Los Angeles Trades Council defunct, five unions founded the Los Angeles Federation of Labor in 1889, but it lasted only six months. As the leading scholar of the early Los Angeles labor movement, Grace Stimson, has observed, the federation's demise marked the "lowest point thus far in the fortunes of the Los Angeles labor movement." -- Daniel A. Cornford
Throughout the late nineteenth century, the Los Angeles Typographical Union was in the vanguard of the Los Angeles county labor movement. In 1859, it founded the first union in southern California, and this union (re-established in 1876) remained the only one in Los Angeles as late as 1880. The skills of many of their members, and the acute need for newspapers and promotional literature, gave the Typographical Union considerable power.
When, in 1890, the Los Angeles printers squared off against the Los Angeles Times, "the most significant event in the history of industrial relations in Los Angeles before 1910" took place, according to historian Grace Stimson. The struggle had ramifications far beyond the conflict between the printers and the Los Angeles Times. The struggle influenced the union movement as a whole during the 1890s, and established the Los Angeles Times and its editor, Harrison Gray Otis (succeeded by his son-in-law, Harry Chandler), as the most effective and entrenched anti-union force in Los Angeles for a period of over forty years.
The collapse of Los Angeles's first real estate boom in the late 1880s hit business and labor hard. Many workers had to take pay cuts. In July 1890, the proprietors of four Los Angeles newspapers demanded that the printers cut wages. The printers refused and on August 5 began a strike. Neither the Los Angeles Tribune nor the Los Angeles Express was willing to put up a fight. The Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Herald, however, were determined to defeat the strike, and they hired replacement printers. However, the Herald was not prepared for a long strike and by October, it was unionized.
Otis was determined, however, that the Los Angeles Times would hold out at all costs. Aware of the intransigence of the newspaper's position, the printers launched a mass boycott of the newspaper. They enlisted the help of the Knight of Labor and other unions, and were instrumental in founding a Council of Labor in September 1890 in significant part to back this boycott. The Los Angeles printers also appealed to printers elsewhere in the state for support leading to the founding of the California Federation of Typographical Unions in January 1892. In addition, the railroad brotherhood unions and the Socialist Labor party were persuaded to join the boycott.
The Los Angeles Times responded by declaring all its operations non-union. In April 1893, after a twenty-month strike, a settlement was reached largely on the terms of the Times. The settlement proved to be a temporary truce. The printers, enraged by the Times's continuing salvos against organized labor and the refusal of the paper to pay printers the wages promised in the earlier settlement, called for the complete unionization of the Los Angeles Times. When the ultimatum was rejected, a strike and boycott were called on September 27.
While initially the printers got wide union support for their boycott, it was uneven in its effectiveness. Meanwhile, Otis consolidated his position by becoming a founding member of the virulently anti-union Merchants' Association. During the 1890s, the boycott was not without impact, but Otis kept both the printers and other labor unions on the defensive. The situation presaged increased polarization between labor and employers and ultimately led to a successful open shop (non-union) campaign in Los Angeles for a twenty-five years period after 1911. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was founded in Chicago by a mix of socialists and of unions disaffected with the conservative politics of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Soon nicknamed the Wobblies, the IWW aimed to organize unskilled, immigrant, women, and minority workers who were excluded from the mostly craft unions of the AFL.
The IWW also embraced a grand syndicalist vision that aimed ultimately to create "one big union" through which workers would own the means of production. In theory, this would be accomplished by a series of strikes that would cripple production and lead to the end of the power of the capitalist class. Nonetheless, while many IWW leaders, and some followers, undoubtedly held some mix of Marxist, socialist, and syndicalist beliefs, the Wobblies often functioned as a union dedicated to organizing workers in whom the AFL showed little interest.
The IWW was slow to make an impact in California. While a few scattered locals were founded shortly after 1905, the Wobblies presence was limited. In part, this was due to the halting start that the IWW made as a national movement, as well as the fact that in California the AFL was considerably more progressive and autonomous than its Wobbly critics liked to admit. In San Francisco and other places, unskilled, immigrant, and women workers did organize unions with some success under AFL auspices. While in the redwood region of Humboldt County, California, the IWW was pre-empted by a progressive and efficient union when it attempted to found a base there among lumber workers in 1905.
It was during the so-called "free speech" fights that the IWW came to prominence in California. By 1908, the IWW was endeavoring to organize migratory workers in a range of occupation. In order to do so they went to some of the major cities where migratory workers tended to congregate. Here they stood on soapboxes and urged workers to found unions, and introduced the workers to some of the IWW's more radical ideas.
One such place where this happened was Fresno, California. By late 1909, an IWW local in that city had met with considerable success in organizing Mexican-American railroad laborers and migratory farm hands. Alarmed by the effectiveness of the Wobblies recruiting methods, the police chief revoked the IWW's permit to hold street meetings and threatened to arrest any worker without a job on vagrancy charges. Before long, large numbers of Wobblies had been jailed. Wobblies from all over the country soon arrived to join the "free speech" fight and fill up the Fresno jails. In February 1911, a truce was reached and the Fresno authorities agreed to allow the IWW free speech on the city's streets. However, following this victory, the IWW failed to consolidate its position, and, as was so often the case, its existence proved short-lived.
In 1912, the Wobblies led a similar free speech fight in San Diego, though on a somewhat larger scale with as many as 2,000 Wobblies and their sympathizers marching through the streets on occasions. At least 5,000 demonstrators were arrested in the course of a struggle that lasted nine months. However, this time the tactic did not succeed and the fight was ended repeated acts of mass vigilantism. In historian Joyce Kornbluth's words: "Besides the intimidation of the prisoners inside the jail, local businessmen organized vigilante committees which terrorized community leaders sympathetic to the free speech campaign. In collusion with the police, the vigilantes would seize prisoners released from jail in the evening, load them into cars, drive them out of town, and after beating and clubbing them warn them not to return to San Diego." In one of the most publicized incidents anarchist Emma Goldman's companion, Ben Reitman, was kidnapped from his hotel room and taken out of town, beaten, banded, and tarred and feathered. Even the editor of the San Diego Herald was captured and beaten by vigilantes for supporting the free speech campaign.
In 1913, the Wobblies led a protest of several thousand migrant agricultural workers at Wheatland after almost 3,000 workers had been lured to a large ranch there to pick hops in the most deplorable working conditions. A strike meeting turned into a riot as authorities tried to disperse the farm hands. Before the violence subsided, four men including a district attorney and a sheriff lay dead. The IWW was blamed for the deaths and the violence. Mass and indiscriminate arrests of Wobblies took place in many areas of California and "Blackie" Ford and Herman Suhr, both IWW members, were indicted for murder. Despite the fact that there was no evidence linking them with the violence, Ford and Suhr were sentenced to life imprisonment. Both the IWW and the California AFL launched a movement to try to free Ford and Suhr.
In December 1915, IWW delegates, meeting in Sacramento, launched a California branch of the IWW's newly founded Agricultural Workers' Organization (AWO). While the organization established a presence in California and led several small strikes, it never gained the solid foothold that it acquired in other areas, such as the wheat fields of the Midwest.
With the American entry into World War I in 1917, the IWW was subject to unbridled repression by local, state, and federal authorities, as well as by well-organized vigilante groups. In California, in the period from 1917 to 1920, hundreds, if not thousands, of alleged IWW members were arrested, imprisoned, or deported under the federal Espionage and Sedition acts, and California's criminal syndicalism law (1919).
The draconian repression of the IWW virtually extinguished the Wobblies as an effective organization by the early 1920s. However, the IWW, while greatly weakened, proved to be especially resilient in California. Up until the mid-1920s, the Wobblies made valiant, if ultimately futile, efforts to organize northern California lumber workers. The IWW also maintained a significant following among California sailors and longshoremen. In April 1923, Wobbly longshoremen led a vigorous strike at San Pedro, the harbor town of Los Angeles.
By the mid-1920s, the IWW was all but dead as a force in California and nationally. What kind of legacy the IWW left for the resurgent labor movement of the 1930s it is difficult to assess. While in California and elsewhere, the IWW was generally unsuccessful in building enduring unions, its syndicalist ideas made an impression on some workers, especially in the maritime industry. This certainly played a role in shaping the nature of maritime unionism on the West Coast during the 1930s. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In 1900, there were approximately 70,000 people of Mexican descent in California. The majority of these people had been born in California, and a small minority had emigrated to the Golden State from other parts of the United States and Mexico. At most, they made up little more than about fifteen percent of all people of Mexican descent in the United States, with Texas accounting for roughly seventy percent of this population.
Before 1900, emigration from Mexico to the United States was limited, though only rough estimates exist. One authority, historian Albert Camarillo, calculates that in the 1890s fewer than 10,000 Mexicans emigrated to the United States. After 1900, the pace of Mexican migration picked up, with approximately 50,000 Mexicans migrating in the first decade of the twentieth century. Between 1910 and 1930, almost 1.5 million Mexicans migrated to the United States. Texas was the primary destination, but California became an increasingly popular destination, with the percent of Mexican immigrants bound for the Golden State rising from fifteen percent in 1910 to thirty-one percent in 1930.
A mix of push and pull factors account for the acceleration in the pace of Mexican emigration to the United States and California in the early decades of the twentieth century. On the pull side, the primary factor was the rapid expansion of commercialized agriculture in the southwestern United States due to the spread of irrigation, railroads, and agricultural markets. Almost as important was the development of industries such as mining and oil in this region, combined with a pattern of metropolitan industrialization in cities with rapidly growing populations. Thus, between 1900 and 1930 the city of Los Angeles grew from 102,000 to over 1.2 million inhabitants, while the county grew from 170,000 to 2.2 million.
While there was a labor shortage in the Southwest, there was a surplus of labor in many parts of Mexico due to a series of economic and political dislocations that pushed Mexicans to seek work in the United States. The increasing commercialization of agriculture in certain regions of Mexico displaced large segments of the Mexican peasantry as commercialization deprived the peasantry of the means to engage in subsistence agriculture. In particular, many peasants lost entitlement to their own and other communal lands. This began to happen in the late nineteenth century at a time when the population of Mexico was burgeoning. Between 1875 and 1910, the population of Mexico increased from 9.5 million people to 15.2 million.
In 1910, the revolutionary turmoil that was to envelop Mexico for over ten years began. Mexicans fled political persecution and conscription. By one estimate, 300,000 people left Mexico for the U.S. either to desert from an army or to avoid conscription. The revolutionary wars also bought economic disruption, including a very high rate of inflation.
The aftermath of the revolution resulted in limited land redistribution in Mexico during the 1920s. Wages in many sectors of the Mexican economy increased in this decade, but they still fell far short of what a worker could receive in the southwestern United States. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Between 1900 and 1930, Mexicans worked in a wide variety of occupations in California. By 1918, they constituted the largest pool of agricultural labor in the Imperial Valley. In the Southwest as a whole, they made up half of all cotton workers by 1922 and three- quarters of all fruit and vegetable workers. By the late 1920s, Mexicans accounted for over 80 percent of the agricultural workers in southern California.
California was dominated to a greater extent than any other state by agri-business, or large-scale farms by 1930. In that year, 37 percent of all large-scale farms in the United States were located in California. These farms were the primary employers of minority farm workers, especially Mexicans.
Although agriculture was an importance source of employment for many Mexicans in 1930, it was not the primary one. In 1930, 60 percent of Mexicans were employed in non-agricultural occupations. A state study conducted in 1928 revealed that 45 percent of the industrial firms surveyed employed Mexicans, and that they made up seventeen percent of all employees. By 1930, 31percent of all Mexicans in Los Angeles were employed in manufacturing.
Mexican workers were also employed in significant numbers as railway and construction workers, though they were usually consigned to the lowest rungs on the occupational hierarchy. Others were employed in mining and transportation services, among many other miscellaneous non-agricultural occupations. The largest number of Mexican women were employed in packinghouses and canneries, followed by jobs in the garment industry and in laundries.
The obstacles to Mexicans becoming part of the union movement were formidable in this period. First, they tended to work in occupations where unionism was very limited or non-existent, and for the most part work in southern California where the labor movement was weak. Second, there was much racial prejudice toward Mexicans from all sources. This included much of the organized labor movement and its leaders. Even unions that attempted to organize industries where large numbers of Mexicans were employed oftentimes overtly or covertly discriminated against Mexicans and other minorities.
Nevertheless, when presented with an opportunity, Mexican workers were often willing join unions and to strike. In 1903, Mexican workers, with the help of Japanese farm workers, founded the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association and conducted a successful strike in Ventura County. That same year, 1,400 Mexican workers, who were members of the Mexican Federal Union, went on strike against Henry Huntington's Los Angeles Railway Company. Early in 1911, with the help of the Los Angeles Central Labor Council, and California State Federation organizer, Juan Ramirez, Mexican workers founded the United Laborers' Union No. 13097.
Quite likely, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) attracted some Mexican sympathizers and members in its endeavors to organize migratory and other workers without regard to race, nationality, or occupation. In 1910, under the auspices of the IWW, Mexican workers led a strike against the Los Angeles Gas Works. Some Mexican workers were undoubtedly present during the IWW-led Wheatland strike in 1913.
In 1917, orange pickers went on strike at Riverside, and in 1919, Mexican citrus workers struck at San Dimas, Covina, San Gabriel, Azusa, Monrovia, and Duarte. In the same year, Mexican track workers joined other workers in a strike against the Los Angeles Railway.
In late 1927, representatives of Mexican civic, mutualist, and cultural organizations began holding meetings in Los Angeles and other parts of southern California to found an organization that would protect and organize Mexican workers in Mexico and the United States. In December 1927, the Confederation of Mexican Labor Unions (Confederación de Uniones Obrereas Mexicanas) CUOM was launched. The following month a lengthy manifesto was issued calling for the organization of all Mexican workers "according to Syndicalist principles." CUOM, however, attracted a much larger following in Mexico than in the United States, although the organization presaged, and may have contributed very significantly, to the organization of Mexican farm workers in California during the 1930s. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Enraged by Mayor James Phelan's actions in support of the employers in the major City Front Federation strike of teamsters and maritime workers (City Front Federation) in the summer of 1901, many San Francisco unionists decided it was time to form their own political party. They were especially aggrieved at the mayor's use of the city police force as strikebreakers. On September 5, 1901, delegates from sixty-eight different locals held a Union Labor party (ULP) convention and selected Eugene Schmitz, president of the Musicians' Union, as their candidate for mayor. The Building Trades Council did not support the ULP, and the San Francisco Labor Council did not formally endorse the new party. However, union leaders knew that many workers would vote for the ULP.
Eugene Schmitz was elected mayor in 1901 in a three-way contest with 41 percent of the vote. Schmitz soon proved true to the ULP platform when in 1902 he refused to issue weapons permits to guards during a streetcar workers' strike against the United Railroads. During the summer of that year, at the urging of the leaders of the City Front Federation, the ULP entered the state and federal electoral arena, and a full slate was nominated. A chastened Democratic party endorsed two ULP candidates, who defeated Republican incumbents for seats in the House of Representatives. The ULP also elected a state senator and seven assemblymen, all from the city's predominantly working class districts.
In 1903, Schmitz was elected mayor with 57 percent of the vote, and two ULP representatives were elected to the Board of Supervisors. In 1905, the ULP crushed the opposition of a fusion ticket of Democrats and Republicans. The ULP was aided by the endorsement of the Building Trades Council for the first time. Schmitz not only won re-election, but all eighteen people elected to the Board of Supervisors were ULP candidates.
In his campaigns for mayor, Schmitz had worked closely with Abraham "Abe" Ruef, who by the late nineteenth century had become one of San Francisco's most important political bosses. Ruef soon realized what a potent political force workingmen were in San Francisco, and he helped anoint Schmitz in 1901. With the ULP in power, Ruef was well positioned to extract bribes from businesses wanting city favors and patronage. Having obtained bribes, Ruef then passed on some of the proceeds to the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors.
A move to reform corrupt city politics was already underway before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 struck. The need to rebuild the city reinforced the determination of reformers to weed out fraud, and made people generally less tolerant of corruption in politics. An aggressive effort was made to uncover the misdeeds of Ruef and Schmitz resulting in both of them being charged with extorting money from brothels and from liquor dealers seeking licenses. When other several members of the Board of Supervisors were caught or implicated, they revealed the full extent of corruption in the Schmitz-Ruef regime. In 1907, Ruef was convicted and sent to prison. Schmitz was also sentenced and automatically removed from office, though his conviction was ultimately invalidated by a higher court.
Untainted by charges of corruption, Patrick McCarthy, an Irish born carpenter who had become president of the Building Trades Council, ran for mayor on the ULP ticket in 1907. However, with the graft prosecutions firmly on the publics' mind, McCarthy lost to the candidate of the Good Government League. But the ULP was not dead. In 1909, Patrick McCarthy won a decisive victory for mayor, getting 46 percent of the vote in a three-way contest. In addition, ULP nominees won twelve of eighteen seats on the Boards of Supervisors and many of the elective city offices. Not until 1911, when James Rolph defeated Patrick McCarthy in the mayor's race, did the era of the ULP in San Francisco come to an end. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The Los Angeles labor movement was slow to recover from the impact of the depression of the mid-1890s. In May 1900, it had twenty-nine unions with just over 2,000 members. This compared to 2,700 members in 1888 and around 6,000 in 1896. However, between June 1900 and December 1904, 122 unions were founded in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and San Pedro. Ninety-eight of these unions were established in Los Angeles, and by 1903, the city had had 10,000 union members. The building and construction unions led the way. Union growth occurred in other sectors of the economy, with skilled workers more successful in launching new unions.
During the period 1905-1909, the growth of the Los Angeles labor movement slowed considerably in the face of an increasingly well-organized open shop offensive by many of the city's employers. Only thirty-six new unions were founded, almost half of them in the construction industry. At the end of 1909, Los Angeles had seventy-three unions, and all but fifteen unions were affiliated with the Los Angeles Central Labor Council. However, with little more than 6,000 affiliated members, the central body was no larger than it had been in 1896.
By 1909, both the state and national labor movements recognized that the struggle to organize Los Angeles labor was crucial, and that outside support was essential to counteract the employers' powerful open shop drive in the city. Two years later, $345,000 had been contributed to the Los Angeles' General Campaign Strike Committee. Between June 1909 and June 1910, union membership grew by 50 percent, and in the following year, twenty-five new unions were organized, representing about 7,000 new members. However, the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building, and the arrest of the McNamara brothers for the deed, largely halted this advance.
In 1911, despite the arrest of the McNamara brothers on charges of bombing the Los Angeles Times building, the labor movement and Los Angeles' strong Socialist party membership united behind the candidacy of socialist Job Harriman for mayor. In a three-way race, Job Harriman won the most votes in the first election on Oct. 31, 1911. But for the dramatic admission of guilt by the McNamara brothers a few days before the election run off on December 5, many historians believe that Harriman would have been elected. More seriously still, the McNamara brothers' confession greatly damaged labor's reputation. For twenty-five years afterwards the Los Angeles labor movement was very weak. -- Daniel A. Cornford
By the mid-1880s, the California labor movement appeared to be establishing solid foundations, not only in San Francisco, but also in many other of the state's larger cities and towns. The Knights of Labor and other labor organizations helped spread the gospel of unionism. In some communities, unionism appeared on a significant scale for the first time. In others, the union movement expanded into occupational groups outside the skilled trades for the first time. This progress was sometimes halting and uneven, but it appeared that a new, more vigorous, and broadly based movement was in the making.
The severe national depression of the mid-1890s, however, dealt a serious blow to the union movement everywhere, including California. Unemployment levels reached 25 percent, and many workers experienced underemployment and large wage cuts. Even the strongest unions struggled to survive. By 1897, the San Francisco Labor Council represented only fifteen affiliates with about 4,500 members.
Initially, the nascent Los Angeles labor movement fared somewhat better. In May 1896, it had twenty-three unions representing 5,400 workers, but by 1900 only 2,000 of the city's workers belonged to a union. With forty-one unions in early 1894, the Sacramento labor movement appeared to be flourishing. However, the impact of the depression, combined with the significant defeat of the Pullman railroad strike in 1894, reduced the number of unions in the state's capital to only twelve by 1900. The Knights of Labor, that had brought unionism to some of the state's smaller cities and towns for the first time, was floundering before hard times hit, but the depression provided the final blow. The Knights were not alone in struggling for survival. Even highly skilled workers, with unions affiliated to the American Federation of Labor, often had difficulty in surviving.
The setback for the California labor movement was a relatively temporary one, however. The state and national economies revived in the late 1890s. Within a few years, the state's labor movement regained its momentum and indeed began expanding at an unprecedented rate in the early years of the twentieth century. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The revival of the national economy in the late 1890s presaged a dramatic growth in the nation's labor movement. The resurgence was evident in California, and especially in San Francisco. In 1902, the State Labor Commissioner reported that there were 495 labor organizations in California, 125 of which were in San Francisco, sixty-eight in Los Angeles, forty-five in Sacramento; and thirty-six in Oakland.
The State Labor Commissioner also reported that the labor movement was making progress in many places and occupations that had hardly been touched by trade unionism before. Labor councils existed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Bakersfield, San Jose, Stockton, Santa Rosa, San Diego, Fresno, San Bernardino, Eureka, and Vallejo, and most of these cities had building trades councils. In 1904, there were 805 unions in California (180 of them in San Francisco). Totals union membership in the state increased from 30,000 in 1900 to 110,000 in 1904.
Union growth was most dramatic in San Francisco. In July 1900, the San Francisco Labor Council had thirty-four union affiliates. By October of 1901, it had ninety-eight, and this did not include several important unaffiliated unions, especially in the building trades. Writing in 1904, journalist Ray Stannard Baker described San Francisco as the city "Where Unionism Holds Undisputed Sway."
Particularly important was the fact that in San Francisco, and elsewhere, unions were formed among workers who had never organized before, or whose unions previous existence had proved transitory. These workers included: cooks, waiters, waitresses, butchers, stablemen, cement workers, carpet workers, laundry workers, house movers, and window shade workers. -- Daniel A. Cornford
After Mexico obtained its independence from Spain in 1821, important reforms took place that soon affected California. In 1823, the Mexican government abolished the restrictions on foreign trade that had been in place under Spain. This spurred the growth of the hide and tallow trade which had begun illicitly in the Spanish period and led to a transfer of resources away from agriculture toward cattle raising.In the early Mexican period, the missions continued to play the major role in the cattle raising business and the hide and tallow trade. Under the Colonization Act of 1824 and the Supplemental Regulations of 1828, Mexican nationals and foreign immigrants could for the first time own land in California. However, these laws stated that the valuable mission lands could not be colonized. However, the Secularization Act of 1833 opened up the highly prized mission lands for pasturage and settlement. Individuals rushed to make claims, especially on the lands previously owned by the missions. Under the 1824 and 1828 laws, the claims could be as large as 50,000 acres.While the majority of the large Mexican land grants occurred after 1840, the ranch became the primary social and economic institution in California by the 1830s. The ranchos were controlled by a small number of large landowners mostly of Spanish descent. The non-Indian population (numbering not more than 7,000 people in 1845) consisted mainly of soldiers, ex-soldiers, and a few colonists and their families who usually lived in the pueblos and presidios. Most engaged in subsistence farming on public lands, or on land acquired by small grants. Women took on significant responsibility for farming while many men worked full or part-time as vaqueros, blacksmiths, and in other artisanal trades in the pueblos and on the ranchos.While cattle raising was the main activity on the ranchos, sheep, horses and hogs were also raised. In addition, wheat was grown in large quantities. On the ranchos Indians were the prime and indispensable source of labor, with a rancho employing anywhere from twenty to several hundred Indians at peak times. -- Daniel A. Cornford
On August 9, 1834, California Governor Jose Figueroa issued a proclamation establishing the guidelines for the secularization of the missions. Half of the mission property was to go to Indians, with each Indian family receiving thirty-three acres of cultivatable land along with grants in common of sufficient land to pasture their stock. One half of the mission livestock was also to be given to the Indians. For a whole series of reasons, relatively few Indians obtained land, and in the vast majority of cases where they did, they did not retain it for very long.
While a significant number of Indians left the mission lands, quite a number remained on the mission land either unwilling or unable to see any alternative to continuing to work as wards of the mission. Many Indians, historians have contended, did not have a concept of private property. However, some Indians remained on the mission lands determined to claim their property rights, and they protested vigorously when these were denied.
Government officials in California and Mexico did little to ensure that the Indians obtained their land. With the increasing value of land and the budding hide and tallow trade, many landowners had a strong incentive to disobey Governor Figueroa's proclamation. Heavily reliant on Indian labor, they did not want Indians leaving their lands to become freeholders. Nor did they want the Indians to obtain some of the best agricultural lands in California. The few attempts that were made by government officials to give land to the Indians were usually stymied by their limited authority and control of California.Most of the relatively small minority of Indians who did obtain land lost it within a few years. They often found that their small land allotments were not viable for either subsistence agriculture, and were insufficient to enable them to compete in the commercial agricultural economy. As a result, Indians were often tempted into selling their land to eager Mexican and Anglo-American buyers for a small sum.
Indians who left the mission lands often worked as casual laborers in the pueblos and on the ranchos. On the ranchos, they usually got little more than food, shelter, and clothing for their labors. While some were employed on a causal or seasonal basis, the ranchos also depended on a core of permanent Indian labor. In order to ensure that they retained this, the rancheros kept the some of their Indian workers in a state of indebtedness (for clothes and other items) so that the Indians could not leave the rancho. This system of peonage closely resembled the labor system for African American after their emancipation and the demise of Reconstruction. -- Daniel A. Cornford
During the Spanish California period (1769-1821), there were twenty-five private land grants made in California. At the time of the secularization of the missions in 1834, the number of land grants stood at fifty. Under the colonization Acts of 1824 and 1828, claims were limited to 50,000 acres, even if one or two individuals successfully made more than one claim. Following the secularization of the missions, the rate of land grants increased, at first incrementally, and then dramatically between 1840 and 1846. By 1846, 813 land grants had been made. Not uncommonly, these grants were for 50,000 acres or more. Best estimates are that well over a third of these grants went to non-Hispanic people, mostly with British or American surnames. In total, over ten million acres of California land, representing ten percent of the surface area of California, passed into private hands in the Mexican period. These claims covered much of California's prime agricultural land. Sometimes these lands were fraudulently acquired, and the boundaries of many claims were imprecise and poorly legally documented. After the gold rush, many white settlers arrived in the state to find that the best lands had often been acquired by what they regarded as dubious means. In 1851, the political outrage that this engendered led the federal government to establish a land commission to adjudicate the validity of more than 800 claims that had been filed in California courts. The commission approved 553 claims totaling some 8,850,000 acres. The remaining claims were rejected on the grounds that the grantees had failed to comply with Mexican law requiring complete documentation, or that the grantees had made fraudulent claims. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The Knights of Labor was the first truly significant national organization of the American labor movement. The Knights of Labor established 15,000 assemblies across the country between 1869 and 1896, and at its peak in 1886, it contained about 800,000 members. It is conservatively estimated that two million workers joined the Knights at one time or another between 1869 and 1896.
The Knights of Labor was founded in 1869 by a group of Philadelphia tailors. Membership was open to anyone "working for wages or who at any time worked for wages" regardless of race, gender, or skill. The Knights advocated many social reforms including the eight-hour day, equal pay for equal work, the abolition of child labor, and the establishment of cooperatives. The Knights also functioned as a union. Members of a trade usually joined a "trade assembly," and others could join "mixed" assemblies. Many Knights were also strong advocates of workers' self-improvement through education, establishing cooperatives, and adhering to the principles of the temperance movement.
The Knights of Labor attained a substantial following in California. Over one hundred assemblies were established in at least twenty-six counties between 1878 and 1895. Thirty of these were founded in San Francisco, which was easily California's largest and most industrial city at the time. Sixteen assemblies had been founded in San Francisco before 1884, but almost half of all the assemblies organized in California were founded when the Knights were at the peak of their national strength, in the years between 1884 and 1888.
The California Knights, like the Knights nationally, were often divided. Some assemblies operated as trade unions, some put more emphasis on worker self-improvement and political action, while others advocated a mixture of these panaceas. As was the case in some other states, the California Knights did not admit all individuals regardless of skill, gender, or race. Most notably, California assemblies excluded Chinese workers. I spite of this, the California Knights gave many workers their first experience of union membership; conducted some major strikes and boycotts; and often became involved and influential in local politics.
By the mid-1890s, the Knights, both nationally and in California, were in rapid decline torn apart by dissension within their own ran and weakened by the severe depression beginning in 1893, and competition from the American Federation of Labor (founded in 1886). -- Daniel A. Cornford
Beginning in the Jacksonian era (1828-36), and with the advent of almost universal adult white male suffrage, workingmen increasingly ran for political office and sometimes established political parties to represent labor's interests. As early as 1850, San Francisco workers were seeking local and state offices. In March 1850, two were elected to the positions of San Francisco County's assessor and recorder setting the stage for many years of campaigns for political office by working men in San Francisco. Some San Francisco's unions regularly made political endorsements. During the 1850s, workingmen were highly active in one of the major parties, usually the Democratic Party. By 1853, parties such as the Mechanics Lien slate, the Independent Mechanics ticket, and the Regular Mechanics and Workingmen's ticket had all made their appearance in San Francisco politics. This indicated that from its inception the California labor movement did not always trust the major parties to represent its interests. -- Daniel A. Cornford
From the early days of the American conquest of California, both the state and national governments grappled with the issue of the status of California Indian labor. Laws governing Indian labor were shaped by conflicting considerations. On the one hand, for approximately two decades after the gold rush, there was a great demand for Indian labor. On the other hand, the California constitution did not sanction slavery, and American settlers regarded the indigenous people as a threat to them. Until the mid-1860s, government regulations and state laws were directed primarily at controlling and exploiting Indian labor.In September 1846, Commodore John Montgomery issued a "Proclamation to the Inhabitants of California." In it he declared that all Indians held "to service" against their will and without legal contract were to be released. While the proclamation stated that Indians were not to be regarded as slaves, it also asserted "all Indians must be required to obtain service." Unemployed Indians were to be arrested and forced to labor on public works. Employed Indians were to remain with their employer until provided with a written discharge. A proclamation the following year reaffirmed this policy and stated that any Indian found without a pass beyond the limits of the town or rancho where s/he was employed would be liable to arrest.In April 1850, the state legislature passed a bill entitled "An Act Relative to the Protection, Punishment, and Government of the Indians," giving local justices of the peace major powers over Indians. The law allowed the indenturing of native children: boys until age eighteen and girls to age fifteen. Their custodians were required to treat them well and to clothe and feed them. Native people could remain in their homes and villages, but were permitted to own only designated lands. In 1860, a law was approved by the California state legislature amending the 1850 Act. The new law extended the term of indentureship for children and allowed adults also to be indentured. Males apprenticed under age fourteen could be held until they were twenty-five, and those apprenticed between ages fourteen and twenty could be held until they were thirty. Female Indians could be held as apprentices until age twenty-five. -- Daniel A. Cornford
The California gold rush drew people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and races to the diggings. Americans miners bitterly resented the competition, especially from the Chinese, and pressured the state legislature to exclude foreign miners from the diggings. In 1850, the legislature passed the Foreign Miners' License Tax which provided that all miners who were not native born citizens of the United States, or those who had not become citizens under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, were to pay a tax of $20 a month. Before and after the passage of this law, miners of several different nationalities were driven forcibly from the mines. The foreign miners' tax law was amended several times and eventually declared unconstitutional in 1870. -- Daniel A. Cornford
By the early 1850s, San Francisco printers had established one of the strongest unions of the gold rush era. They resisted at least one concerted attempt to lower their wages and maintained strict work rules. However, in October 1853, the Alta California discharged its union employees leading to an unsuccessful strike.The following year, the union received the first national charter granted to any union on the Pacific Coast. It continued until 1858 when employers, determined to cut wages, succeeded in breaking the union. Along the Sacramento printers, this union was the only California union to apply for and receive a national charter until the mid-1860s. -- Daniel A. Cornford
By the mid-1860s, the issue of enacting legislation to mandate that no employee could be compelled to work more than an eight-hour day was a national one. At this time, many skilled laborers worked ten-hour days, while most unskilled ones worked twelve or more. In San Francisco, a printer named Alexander Kenaday was at the forefront of the movement. In 1865, as President of the San Francisco Trades Union, he issued a ringing call for eight-hour legislation. Mass meetings were organized shortly afterwards in San Francisco, Marysville, and Sacramento. On February 13,1866, a 22 foot long petition containing 11,000 names was submitted to the state legislature demanding that an eight-hour law be passed. The bill passed the assembly by a large majority, but the senate passed it with a provision that the law should not take effect until New York and Massachusetts passed similar laws.
A few San Francisco trades successfully obtained the eight-hour day in 1865, and over the next two years, an increasing number of trades followed their example. San Francisco printer Alexander Kenaday was at the forefront of the movement. In 1865, as President of the San Francisco Trades Union, he issued a ringing call for eight-hour legislation. Mass meetings were organized shortly afterwards in San Francisco, Marysville, and Sacramento. On February 13, 1866, a twenty-two foot long petition containing 11,000 signatures was submitted to the state legislature demanding passage of an eight-hour law.
In January 1867, a secret statewide Industrial League was founded to work for the eight-hour day and later in the year a Mechanics' Eight Hour League was organized to pressure candidates for political office into supporting the eight-hour day and other pro labor legislation. On June 3, a demonstration and march of more than 2,000 men took place in San Francisco. Division among the trade union movement, on the question of Chinese immigration in particular, hampered and weakened the movement, although in August 1867, a Mechanics' Eight Hour League was formed to pressure candidates for political office into supporting the eight-hour day and other pro labor legislation. In November 1867, faced with the continued intransigence of some employers over the eight-hour issue, workers founded the Mechanics' State Council. Many unions established formal Eight Hour Leagues, and by February 1868, there were fifty-eight eight-hour leagues in California, at least half of them located outside San Francisco.
In February 21, 1868, the state legislature passed an eight-hour law that was signed immediately by Governor Raymond Haight. The law, however, had some serious weaknesses. It contained a provision that if employers expressly stated that the eight hour law did not pertain in their business, they were permitted to make their employees work longer hours. In addition, the law did not cover agricultural and domestic workers.
Nevertheless, most workers regarded the legislation as a victory. Not long afterwards, San Francisco workers secured passage of a municipal ordinance establishing an eight-hour day for all city employees and for all workers hired under contracts by the Board of Supervisors. For a while, the law was successfully enforced. However, the California Supreme Court watered down the application of eight-hour law in an 1869 decision. Just as significantly, the economy took a turn for the worse, aiding employers in their determination to avoid implementation of the eight-hour law. By 1870, the Mechanics Council had delegates from 23 unions representing 11,000 union members. The Council kept in close touch with unions in most of California's major cities, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Jose, and Vallejo. Under the leadership of General A.M. Winn, they endeavored to try to enforce the new state law and called for a national eight-hour law, but the very success of the Council led politicians to try and appropriate it for other ends. The ensuing dissension weakened the organization to the point where it met only rarely during the 1870s until it disbanded in 1877.
In fact, by late 1869, the California Supreme Court had already watered down a law with loopholes. Just as importantly, the economy took a turn for the worse thus aiding employers in their determination to avoid implementation of the eight-hour law. Between 1870 and 1877, all trades that had gained the eight-hour working day had lost it. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In 1885, approximately 1,000 men were employed as horse and cable streetcar employees in San Francisco. Some of these workers organized with the help of the Knights of Labor. Employers discharged workers suspected of being union members, resulting in a strike in July 1886. Considerable violence ensued as the employers attempted to use scabs, but after four days, the employers backed down and granted a small wage increase.
However, some horse and cable streetcar employees were still obliged to work a thirteen and a half hour day and wages remained low. In December 1886, the Carmen's Association declared another strike. An eighty-six day strike ended in defeat for the workers. However, the strike attracted wide attention, and the state legislature subsequently approved a law limiting the number of hours that streetcar workers could labor to a maximum of twelve. Signed into law by the governor on March 11, 1887, this was one of the first pieces of protective legislation to become law in California. -- Daniel A. Cornford
By the nineteenth century, it was common for employers in a particular industry, region, or city to form some kind of association for collective business purposes. As the union movement grew in power in the latter part of the century, employers increasingly used their organizations to try to limit or eliminate labor's power. Indeed some businessmen established organizations that were almost solely dedicated to this purpose.
Meeting in San Francisco in 1891, businessmen founded the Board of Manufacturers and Employers of California (commonly referred to as the Manufacturers' and Employers' Association). It was one of the first and most important statewide organizations of employers to be established in California. One of the avowed goals of the Association was to eliminate unionism. The Association soon launched a vigorous anti-union offensive in San Francisco aiding various industry-based employer organizations in a successful effort to weaken and eliminate several labor unions during the 1890s. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Founded in 1885, the Coast Seamen's Union quickly became a strong force, especially in San Francisco where it soon boasted several thousand members. Despite defeat in a strike the following year, the union was a force to be reckoned with for several years. In July 1891, it merged with the Steamshipmen's Protective Union to form the Sailors' Union of the Pacific (SUP).
Later that year, the Ship Owners' Association notified sailors that wages would be reduced by 25 percent. The SUP went on strike and, in the words of labor historian, Ira Cross: "Much rioting and violence ensued," as the ship owners tried to use non-union labor. In December 1893, this culminated in the dynamiting of a boardinghouse known to house non-union men. Eight men were killed in the incident, which put an end to a strike that had lasted over two years. Membership in the union declined precipitously from about 4,000 in 1891 to less than 1,000 by the end of 1893. Not until the beginning of the new century did the union recoup its membership. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In June 1894, railroad magnate George Pullman (the maker of railroad sleeping cars) laid off a third of his workers and cut wages at his company town in Pullman, Illinois, from 25 to 40 percent. At the same time, he refused to reduce rents or prices at the company store. The Pullman workers walked off the job and appealed to the newly formed American Railway Union (ARU) for support. The ARU, with 150,000 members nationally, called for a strike and boycott of all trains hauling Pullman cars.
In late June 1894, acting on orders from the President of the American Railway Union, Eugene Debs, the railroad workers in Oakland refused to prepare trains carrying Pullman cars. Workers were dismissed for taking this action and a strike of railway workers broke out across California where the ARU had established a solid base. Governor H.H. Markham called out the militia in Sacramento to confront hundreds of striking railroad workers and their supporters. At the same time, approximately 2,000 federal troops were dispatched to Los Angeles and other locations in California. In one incident ,several strikers were shot by soldiers. After an alleged act of sabotage against a train carrying soldiers that killed several people, public opinion swung against the strikers. This sentiment, coupled with the strong presence of federal troops, resulted in the collapse of the strike in by mid-July.
The collapse of the strikes was a devastating blow against railway workers' union and reverberations shook an already declining labor movement. At the time, Eugene Debs wrote that the strike had "shocked the country and jarred the world." Historian William Deverell has concluded, "California and Californians felt that earthquake more than most places." -- Daniel A. Cornford
In July 1900, the San Francisco Building Trades Council (BTC) informed all building trades employers that effective October 1 of that year their members would work only eight hours a day for the standard wage of $3. Most building employers accepted the terms, but many mill owners did not. The Council immediately began organizing mill workers in other Bay Area cities. On August 13, the employers' Master Builders' Association proposed a lockout. Employers of millmen in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, San Jose, and Santa Clara locked out 8,000 employees.
The Building Trades Council ordered all its affiliated unions not to handle lumber products from non-union mills. Raising $100,000, it established a union planing mill where contractors could buy their union-made supplies. More than $25,000 was collected to support the striking mill workers. The dispute went to arbitration in February 1901. The employers agreed to grant the eight-hour day to millmen after six months, and that all skilled workers employed at the mills were to be union members. In addition to establishing the union shop, a joint committee was established to arbitrate future disputes.
More importantly, in order to protect the mill owners from outside competition, Patrick McCarthy, president of the BTC, declared that all council unions would refuse to work with material from planing mills not operating under similar wage and working conditions as San Francisco. The February 1901 agreement also stated that all mill products used in San Francisco must carry the union stamp.
This was one of the most important strikes in San Francisco history. Boasting 15,000 members a few months after the agreement, the BTC became the bastion of the city's labor movement for over a decade. Historian Robert Knight has written as follows on the importance of the strike: "The conflict involved the largest number of workers for the longest period, and had the greatest impact on construction activity, of any labor dispute arising in the Bay Area building industry before the 1920s." -- Daniel A. Cornford
In 1901, the national AFL embarked on a campaign to attain the nine-hour day for machinists. In the previous year, the San Francisco branch of the International Association of Machinists had made impressive gains and boasted at least 1,500 members. On May 20, 1901, 4,000 men from all branches of the iron and metal trades in San Francisco struck for the eight-hour day. A protracted and costly struggle followed, but by late 1903, most firms had conceded a nine-hour day. In 1907, a campaign was begun for the eight-hour day and a six-week strike ensued. The employers eventually agreed to phase in the eight-hour day, and all San Francisco machinists attained it by June 1, 1910. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In 1901, a lockout of the recently formed Teamsters' union produced a major labor conflict in San Francisco. The dispute began between the Teamsters and their employers, the Draymen's association. The Teamsters, who drove teams of horses that pulled wagons, were crucial to the delivery of goods throughout the city. When Teamsters refused to handle cargo that they considered in violation of their contract, they were locked out. The union declared a strike on July 25. Soon a powerful, new organization, the Employers' Association, took over the employers' side of the conflict and announced that they would not recognize the right of the union to bargain over working conditions. Other unions saw this as a challenge to their own ability to seek improvements in their working conditions. On July 29, unions on the waterfront, organized as the City Front Federation, followed the lead of the Sailors Union of the Pacific and voted to strike in support of the teamsters. They closed the port for more than two months. The strike was sometimes violent, especially after city police began to protect strikebreaking team-drivers by riding on the wagons with them. Father Peter Yorke, a Catholic priest sympathetic to the strikers, had given crucial support to Governor Henry Gage during his campaign for the governorship in 1898, and Yorke now persuaded Gage to intervene in the strike. Gage brought together the teamsters and draymen and, on October 2, got them to agree on a settlement that permitted the teamsters to continue to unionize. -- Robert W. Cherny
During World War I, the San Francisco Riggers and Stevedores, the longshore union founded in 1853, lost a good deal of control over their working conditions, and wages failed to keep pace with inflation. At the end of the war, the union asked for wages of a dollar an hour, a forty-four hour workweek, changes in overtime rules, and a maximum sling-load weight and minimum gang size. When no agreement was reached, the R&S struck, on September 15. Given the R&S's reputation for radicalism, other unions withheld support for the strike. Shipping and stevedoring companies brought in strikebreakers, especially Mexicans and African Americans. Violence flared along the waterfront throughout the strike. In early December, with the strike clearly a failure, a group of foremen, called gang bosses, organized the Longshoremen's Association of the Port of San Francisco and Bay Districts. Called the "Blue Book" for the color of its dues book, the new union immediately signed a five-year contract with the Waterfront Employers' Union at 90 cents per hour and no mention of minimum gang size or maximum load weight. The Riggers and Stevedores voted to return to work without a contract, at the prevailing wage on the waterfront. Those who questioned the Blue Book found themselves blacklisted even though they paid their Blue Book dues. A short-lived wildcat strike by several hundred union members in late January 1920 failed to persuade waterfront employers to permit men to work without proving membership in the Blue Book. -- Robert W. Cherny
In February 1921, the plasters, hod carriers, painters, and metal roofers of San Francisco struck for an increase in wages. Before the strike erupted into a general one of the building trades, the dispute was submitted to arbitration. The ruling of the arbitration board was to cover all unions in the building trades. On March 31, 1921, the arbitration board recommended a wage cut of 7.5 percent, which the unions refused to accept. On May 9, 1921, the Builders' Exchange, representing employers, declared a lockout. The Building Trades Council (BTC) attempted unsuccessfully to provide building supplies from union concerns.
The Builders' Exchange, fortified by massive financial support from other employers, declared that construction workers would have to return to work under open shop conditions, and that acceptance of the 7.5 percent wage reduction was not sufficient. The BTC declared a general strike of all its unions on August 3. Later that month, the union conceded defeat and workers in the building trades went back with a wage cut and under open shop conditions. The BTC, a bastion of San Francisco trade unionism was crushed with deleterious consequences for all workers in San Francisco. Criticism of long time BTC leader, Patrick McCarthy, was so strong that he was forced to resign as president on January 12, 1922. -- Daniel A. Cornford
From 1902-1921, San Francisco was widely known as the most labor-friendly city in the country. As members of a powerful labor organization called the Building Trades Council (BTC), San Francisco's carpenters had enjoyed considerable say over their wages and working conditions. The BTC insisted that employers maintain the "closed shop"--meaning that only union members would be hired to work on jobs. Carpenters' wages plummeted in 1921, when an employer-backed group called the Industrial Association (IA) weakened the unions and widely instituted the "open shop" (or "American Plan"), meaning that workers were hired regardless of union affiliation.
In 1926, San Francisco carpenters were earning eight dollars a day, whereas carpenters in New York and Pittsburgh made twelve dollars and in Chicago, eleven dollars. Believing that regaining the open shop was the key to raising local wages, the San Francisco Chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners declared that beginning in April 1926 they would refuse to work with non-union carpenters. On April 1, they went on strike.
From the beginning, the San Francisco carpenters faced difficulty in winning public support for their strike. The IA controlled the city's two largest newspapers, and so the strikers' views did not appear in these papers. Indeed, the IA depicted the strike as one of greedy union carpenters refusing to share work with non-union carpenters, rather than as a strike of laborers trying to gain improved wages from employers. Given that picketing was illegal, the strikers had no way to communicate their position to the public.
The strikers faced other obstacles. The federal government did not recognize or protect the union, and San Francisco's pro-labor city government proved unable to compel the IA to negotiate with the union. Instead, the IA simply hired replacement workers and an army of guards to protect them.
Denied a voice in local newspapers and unable to negotiate with the IA, the strikers attempted to prevent construction from taking place by non-union carpenters--halting construction was the only tactic through which they might pressure the IA to recognize their union. In attempting to keep replacement workers off the job, strikers scuffled with non-union carpenters and with guards. At night, a union "wrecking crew" tore down buildings erected by non-union carpenters. As the strike thus grew more violent, public opinion turned further from the strikers.
June 1926 marked the strike's major turning point, a stand off between the IA and the municipal government over the construction of public schools and a public relief home. Because the job sites employed only union carpenters, the IA refused to sell building materials to the contractors in charge. Mayor James Rolph criticized this tactic as "jeopardizing public interest for private gain" and announced that the city itself would supply the building materials. However, fearing future blacklisting from the IA, the contractors fired all the union workers and replaced them with non-union men. This incident showed that the city's political muscle was no match for the financial pressure the IA could bring to bear on the hiring market. The city, which had been the strikers' chief ally, abandoned attempts at mediation and instead succumbed to public pressure to restore law and order by cracking down on strike-related violence.
On October 21, 1926, several non-union carpenters were severely beaten by union carpenters. The next day, one of these men, C. W. Campbell, died. A legal injunction declared that thereafter the union itself would be held criminally liable for all violence and destruction of property perpetrated by strikers. As a result, strike violence effectively came to a halt.
On December 10, San Francisco's Impartial Wage Board granted a one-dollar-per-day pay increase for carpenters (as part of a pay adjustment for all the building trades), effective January 1. These wages still left San Francisco carpenters significantly below prevailing wages in other cities. However, absent the support of government, law, or public opinion, the carpenters eventually agreed to return to work at the new rate of pay and without formal union recognition. The strike ended January 15, 1927.
The San Francisco Carpenters Strike failed to win either union recognition or the closed shop, and it failed to bring wage levels in line with those in other cities. It would not be until the General Strike of 1934 that the carpenters, through uniting with other labor unions, would see significant gains in labor conditions. -- Brenda D. Frink
In 1935, a group of unions left the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and founded the Committee on Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO dissidents were highly critical of the conservative leadership of the AFL and, in particular, its refusal to organize workers into industrial unions.
Before long, bitter jurisdictional battles broke out between the AFL and the CIO, and the struggle soon permeated down to the state and local levels. In 1936, the California State Federation of Labor had endorsed the CIO, but following pressure from national AFL leader, William Green, and some AFL California labor leaders, it changed its position. On May 14, 1937, CIO oriented unions were forced to withdraw from central labor councils in California, and at its convention later in the year, the California State Federation of Labor endorsed Green's decision to expel all CIO unions from state and city central labor bodies. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In 1942, in response to acute agricultural labor shortages, especially in California, growers persuaded the federal government to begin the bracero program. Under it the United States agreed to provide transportation, health care, decent housing, a minimum wage, and unemployment benefits to Mexicans who signed labor contracts with growers. In 1944, California imported 26,000 bracero workers. Before the program ended in 1947, 200,000 braceros worked in the United States, approximately half of them in California.
In 1951, the program was revived by Public Law 78 because of labor shortages due to the Korean War. By the end of the year, 200,000 braceros were working in the U.S. During the late 1950s, nearly half a million braceros came to the United States each year. In the last year of the program, which was terminated due to union pressure in 1964, 178,000 braceros entered the United States, of which about 19 percent (33,000) became immigrants. When the program ended, 25 percent of all braceros in the United States were working in California.
There were ironies and contradictions in United States immigration policy toward Mexico during the bracero period. By definition, braceros worked legally in the United States between 1942-1947 and 1951-1964. Following the end of the first program in 1947, an estimated half million Mexicans crossed the border each year to work illegally. In the early 1950s, the U.S. government cracked down on illegal immigration. It launched Operation Wetback, which repatriated 3.5 million Mexicans back to Mexico between 1950 and 1954, including more than a million in 1954 alone. -- Daniel A. Cornford
California-born writer John Steinbeck is notable not only for his contributions to American literature but also for having brought the plight of migrant agricultural workers to national attention, especially through his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
John Steinbeck was born February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California. Steinbeck's first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929. He published prolifically in both fiction and non-fiction through 1966; his major works include Tortilla Flat (1935), Of Mice and Men (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Cannery Row (1945), The Pearl (1947), East of Eden (1952), and Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962). Steinbeck died in 1968.
Much of John Steinbeck's work dramatized the lives of laboring men and women in California. Books like Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, and Cannery Row offered compelling character sketches of Mexican paisanos, California ranch laborers, and workers in the Monterey canneries. In his writings, Steinbeck strove to avoid making moral judgments about his characters but to simply describe human nature as it really was.
Steinbeck's most evocative and politically controversial works depicted in aching detail the lives of California's migrant agricultural families. For family farmers in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and other parts of the Southwest, the Great Depression of the 1930s exacerbated dire financial problems caused by drought. Entire families packed up their belongings and came to California's Promised Land in search of work harvesting crops at commercial farms, but there were more migrants than there were jobs. Instead of finding a land-of-plenty, the migrants found low wages, hunger, and poverty.
In 1936, George West, an editor of The San Francisco News, asked Steinbeck to write a series of articles describing the lives of these migrant farm workers. To do so, Steinbeck traveled to the roadside squatters' camps where the migrant workers lived, and he saw firsthand their squalid living conditions. The better-off families slept in tents; many families fashioned makeshift shelters from blankets, cardboard, and scraps; others simply slept on the ground. There was no clean water and no medical care; disease spread quickly from one family to the next. Children suffered from malnutrition and starvation. Steinbeck also visited federally run migrant camps in Marysville and Bakersfield. In these camps, life was still difficult, but families could stay in small cabins, they had access to drinking water, and they could grow vegetables in a communal garden. Steinbeck's articles, which argued for more government camps and better conditions generally, ran in October of 1936. San Franciscans were stunned to hear of the conditions in which the laborers lived.
Overwhelmed by all he had seen, Steinbeck began plans for a novel that would bring the plight of the migrant workers to a national audience. That novel, The Grapes of Wrath, tells the story of the fictional Joad family. The Joads leave their family farm in Oklahoma and head west, their possessions piled high in a beat-up truck. In California, they do not find the work and wages they had hoped for, and they live at filthy, disease-ridden camps. Gradually, their family structure breaks down as their financial situation further deteriorates.
The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939 and immediately aroused political controversy. The Associated Farmers claimed that migrant-worker conditions were not so squalid as those described in the book, and they called Steinbeck a communist and a liar. However, newspaper and magazine reporters and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the camps and confirmed Steinbeck's reports.
The U.S. Senate convened hearings on growers' use of violence against agricultural workers, and they called for legislation to protect migrant workers' civil rights. In 1940, Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Grapes of Wrath. In 1962, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in recognition of his lifetime of work. -- Brenda D. Frink
For thousands of years, Indian people lived in hundreds of tribes in California. The people labored for food and for the other elements of their material life. While there were different labor patterns across the state (for instance, the tribes in the Mohave Desert and the tribes in the Pacific Northwest), there were some shared patterns of labor practice in Native California. Resource areas were owned or cared for by kin groups, with families of higher class owning or having access to more substantial resource areas. In parts of the state, tribes acquired slaves from debt or war. The slaves lived with and worked for the families that held them. There was a scientific knowledge of plants and animals. For example, each tribe maintained a yearly calendar of lunar months that provided a schedule of the ripening of natural crops (such as acorns) and the arrival of seasonal animals (such as salmon or deer), which allowed families to organize the work groups and to prepare the tools of harvest. According to religious beliefs, women working in kin groups were the principal harvesters of plant materials, and men working in kin groups fished and hunted. Since plants and animals were harvested in great quantities, they were preserved by various methods (such as smoking fish or salting meat) and stored for many months (for example, storing plant materials in granaries). The food was distributed daily by the head women of the family, and periodically by the head men for ceremonial purposes or to other families in need. Every tribe engaged in the trade of resources across ecological zones with other tribes, sometimes with neighbors at trade fairs held in conjunction with ceremonial events, and at other times over long distances, such as the regular acquisition of dentalia shell money from Vancouver Island in Canada. The Native California economy rested on a well-tended garden that fed hundreds of thousands of people, with a systematic knowledge base, a predictable resource and work calendar, and an organized labor force. The early non-Indian explorers regularly starved in the same landscape. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Undocumented Mexican workers, also know as "wetbacks" (mojados), began arriving in large numbers after 1947, as governmental supervision of the bracero program deteriorated and Mexican workers hired by private employers suffered countless abuses. With the Border Patrol selectively enforcing the law against illegal migration, and the farm bloc using its alleged incompetence to cut necessary funding, "illegal" immigration from Mexico rose dramatically after 1950, as "wetbacks" replaced many legally imported workers. In 1953, Attorney General Herbert Brownell toured the U.S-Mexico border, pronouncing it a human sieve. Under the direction of General Joseph M. Swing, the Immigration and Naturalization service in 1954 opened a massive drive to arrest and deport "illegal" Mexican immigrants. (As a result, 1,075,168 "wetbacks" were apprehended in 1954, but the number declined to 242,608 the following year. At the same time the number of braceros more than doubled from 201,380 in 1953 to 445,197 in 1956. -- Daniel A. Cornford
During the 1950s, when farm labor organizing reached a low point, Fathers Thomas McCullough, of Stockton, and Donald McDonnell, of San Jose, along with two other Catholic priests‹John Garcia and Ronald Burke‹left their parish duties to work among the state's rural poor. Assigned to what was then known as the Spanish Mission Band, and later the Missionary Apostolate, they were soon doing battle with agribusiness, government agencies, organized labor, and factions within their own church. Known as the "bracero priests," they visited bracero camps nightly, using their knowledge to attack the system as a whole. In 1956, McCullough founded a church for the Stockton farm worker community, St. Linus Mission, and soon he and Father McDonnell emerged as spokesmen for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, an organization dedicated to applying the precepts of the Catholic church to questions of rural poverty. Throughout the 1950s, the Mission Band appeared at farm labor conferences, testified before government investigating committees, and tried to shame organized labor into action. In 1958, after talking to the Teamsters, Packinghouse Workers, and AFL, the two fathers decide that organized labor would be of little help and became farm worker organizers. Meeting with Fred Ross, an organizer who had arrived in Stockton with the Community Service Organization (CSO), McCullough began holding organizational meetings. By November 1958, house meetings were being held every night, and McCullough had found an important ally in Dolores Huerta, one of his parishioners who would soon play a central role in the farm worker story and in the formation in January 1959, of the Agricultural Workers Association. In February 1959, McCullough and McDonnell joined Ernesto Galarza in the new AFL-CIO Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). In June, they dissolved AWA. Much to his regret, he watched in dismay as AWOC veered away from the patient AWA-CSO approach resting on community building among local workers with families and permanent ties in the Stockton area and moved operations 550 miles south to El Centro. Although the two attempted to assist AWOC in the Imperial Valley, their work raised the ire of the Bishop of the San Diego diocese, which had jurisdiction over Imperial County, and the two were forced to leave the Mission Band. McDonnell went to Mexico, and then to Brazil; McCullough, to a dying parish in Oakland, where he was ordered to cease his activism among farm workers. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In 1959, the AFL-CIO created the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), which announced that it would "do the job at last" of organizing California farm workers. Although both the National Agricultural Workers Union and United Packinghouse Workers of America had considerable experience and a long history of farm worker organizing, neither played a significant role in directing the new organization. Turning to a new face, AFL-CIO Director of Organization Jack Livingston brought in Norman Smith, who for the past 18 years had been a supervisor at Kaiser Steel Company in Fontana. A labor organizer from an earlier ear who had played a key role in the United Auto Workers, Smith was a pudgy, 300 lb. bear of a man who stood five feet eight inches tall, and talked nonstop. With no experience organizing in the fields, Smith tried to borrow tactics from the glorious ear of UAW triumph and began searching the state for what authors Joan London and Henry Anderson called "the agricultural equivalent of the River Rouge gate." The closest parallel was Stockton's skid row, where contractors showed up each morning to hire men standing on the street corners, and the state Farm Placement Office maintained a hiring office. Nearly every morning for five years, Smith worked the shape-ups in valley towns trying to organize transients. The rest of the time, AWOC focused on exposing abuses, scandals, and violations of the bracero program. During 1960, AWO participated in over 100 strikes the length of the Central Valley, most of them spontaneous reactions to wage cuts. In the midst of these strikes, AWOC was sued for libel by DiGogrio Fruit Company. At issue was the documentary film "Poverty in the Valley of Plenty." Supposedly destroyed ten years earlier as part of a court settlement with the National Farm Labor Union, the film had been shown by AWOC members unaware of its status as contraband. At trial, AWOC was forced to pay DiGiorgio $150,000 in damages. At about the same time, an ugly jurisdictional dispute further complicated AWOC's turbulent existence. The NAWU, angry with Smith over his tactics and believing AWOC was absconding with the dues of NAWU members, withdrew from AWOC and, in September, 1960 and joined the Meatcutters Union, taking with it its national union charter to organize farm workers. There were now, in effect, two AFL-CIO unions chartered to organize farm workers. Toward the end of the year, as the valley skid row shape-ups closed, Norman Smith shifted activities 550 miles south to the Imperial Valley, where he cooperated with the United Packinghouse Workers of America in a campaign to organize the lettuce harvesters and packers. With no organizational base in the valley, AWOC and UPWA set up picket lines at the lettuce packing sheds. Their strategy was to force the federal government to honor a statute on Public Law 78, which established the bracero program in 1951, prohibiting employment of braceros as strikebreakers. With a new liberal, democratic government about to take office in Washington, D.C, and believing they had the full support of organized labor, the two unions believed that the news secretary of Labor, former AFL-CIO General Consul Arthur Goldberg, would step in. But never during the strike did the government force growers to stop using braceros in the sheds and fields. In a desperate attempt to force the Mexican government to withdraw its laborers from the strike, some union members stashed dynamite in some bracero camps, making it appear that the men were in mortal danger. A few organizers also ran through bracero barracks assaulting men with their fists and hitting them with broom handles. As a result, the Mexican government promptly withdrew its citizens. But the episode merely provided pretext for Imperial valley law enforcement authorities and growers to arrest AWOC and UPWA members en masse Only after the strike was over, and all farm work had moved out of the Imperial Valley, did the United States government issue a meaningless order prohibiting Imperial Valley growers from employing braceros. A long series of investigations, hearings, and trials followed and ultimately, lead to nothing other than costing AWOC tens of thousands of dollars and driving it into insolvency. Without contracts, dues-paying members, or mechanism for preventing the use of bracero strikebreakers, AFL President George Meany became disillusioned with AWOC. Further complicating matters, former NAWU members complained that AWOC-UPWA had invaded their turf. "The prospect that there would be no end to the squabbling, coupled with the financial disasters of the lettuce strike, convinced Meany that the entire experiment in California was a failure," write Joan London and Henry Anderson in So Shall Ye Reap. "In June, 1961, he announced termination of all further AFL-CIO support for AWOC." The union struggled on, and in October, several young AWOC volunteers attempted to distribute handbills to braceros through the fence at a labor camp and were beaten by the proprietors and arrested by the San Joaquin County deputy sheriffs for disturbing the peace. Although defended by the American Civil Liberties Union, the volunteers were found guilty by a jury in Manteca, and the verdict later upheld by the state appellate court. Because the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn the case, the judgment still stands: agricultural workers housed in private labor camps do not have the right to freely receive communications or outside visitors. In December, AWOC held a conference at Strathmore, in Tulare County, first conference of its kind since the 1930s. Volunteers dispatched from the conference traveled to the national AFL-CIO convention in Miami, and in January, 1962, the AFL-CIO restored funding to AWOC, Norman Smith was demoted, an a new organizer, C Al Green, sent to direct activities in California. For most of 1962, the union did little more than attempt to drum up the vote for Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. In 1962, AWOC, unable to reach workers, adopted the absurd organizing tactic of concluding "contracts" with labor contractors, who deducted a month's dues from each worker's paycheck. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Early in April 1962, Cesar Chavez and his family moved to Delano. Born in Arizona, he had grown up in a large family of migrant field hands, attending over 30 different schools before dropping out of the seventh grade to work. Following service in the United States Navy, he became active in farm worker organizations. Since 1952, Chavez had worked with Fred Ross and the Community Service Organization, attempting to increase voter registration, raise community issues, help immigrants obtain citizenship, and develop grass roots political power in San Jose, Oxnard, and the San Joaquin Valley. At a CSO fundraiser in Oakland in 1956, he had met Dolores Huerta, an especially dynamic woman who was also gravitating to the cause of far labor activism. After rising to executive director of the CSO in 1959, Chavez began thinking about creating an independent farm worker union. After leaving CSO for Delano, Chavez spent six months building a grassroots group that would inspire farm workers to organize themselves and improve their lives through collective action. The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) was leading strikes in the Imperial Valley, but making little headway among Mexican-Americans. Fearing that the term "union" would be too provocative, Chavez decided to call his organization the National Farm Workers Association. With a staff of volunteers, members of the California Migrant Ministry, Chavez - now joined by Dolores Huerta who had quit AWOC - held their first convention at an old theater in Delano. Their program featured self-help, lobbying, and a life insurance plan. Looking for a union symbol, Chavez drew a picture of an eagle, like the one on the Mexican flag, but fearing that no one would be able to reproduce it, asked two graphic artists friends to come up with a better design. They came up with a black eagle, drawn with straight lines, on a red background. Unfolded for the first time at the convention, it became the symbol for the new organization, which immediately set out to lobby the governor's office for a $1.50 an hour minimum wage. The convention adopted the flag. "Viva la causa" became the union motto. With little money, NFWA survived for the next two years on donations and a bank loan using Cesar's brother's house as collateral. In 1964, Huerta moved from Stockton to Delano, subsisting on government surplus food, donations, and $30 a week in child support checks. Also working with Chavez was Gilbert Padilla, another CSO veteran, who in 1965 led a strike against increased rents in Tulare County that forced renovation of the facilities, and a number of key Anglo volunteers, among them Bill Esher, a member of the Catholic Workers Organization, and Doug Adair, a history graduate student at U.C. Berkeley, who became respectively editor and English language editor of the NFWA's plucky and irreverent newspaper, El Malcriado, which began publication in December, 1964. In March 1965, NFWA became involved in a strike by workers in the flower industry around Wasco, but Chavez felt the NFWA was still too weak to take on any grower. Without a larger membership, real victories were still at least three years in the future. -- Daniel A. Cornford
In December 1964, the federal government allowed the bracero labor program to expire, but when growers complained that a labor shortage would occur, President Lyndon B. Johnson allowed a small number of braceros to work during the summer of 1965 at a wage of $1.40 per hour. When grape growers in the Coachella Valley offered domestic workers $1.25, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee led Filipino workers in a ten-day strike that raised wages to $1.40 an hour. As the harvest moved north and growers lowered wages to $1 an hour, a series of rolling strikes developed. On September 8, Filipinos workers from nine labor camps near Delano walked out of the vineyards under leadership of AWOC's Larry Itliong. Realizing that the strike was doomed to fail if Mexican and Chicano workers could not be enlisted in the cause, Itliong appealed to Chavez, who called a mass meeting at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. After 2,700 grape pickers signed cards authorizing the NFWA to represent them, the association joined AWOC and struck 48 grape ranches. A prime target was the 4,500-acre vineyard owned by Schenley Industries, a national corporation with brand named products including Roma wines and Cutty Sark whiskey. Seeking to expand the area of conflict beyond Delano, and to devise other ways to pressure growers other than through strikes and picketing, Cesar Chavez welcomed large numbers of liberal volunteers, especially students from Los Angeles and Berkeley, as well as members of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), some of whom, fresh from the civil rights struggles in the south, quickly assumed key roles in the NFWA. As pickets were attacked on the picket lines, Chavez cautioned against violence, a position he never abandoned. Soon the Federal Bureau of Investigation was probing alleged communist infiltration into the union, particularly the presence People's World correspondent Sam Kushner. As police and deputies began arresting pickets for little more than using the word "Huelga" (strike) and a minister for reading Jack London's "Definition of a Strikebreaker" from the back of a flatbed truck, donations and volunteers poured into Delano, among them Luis Valdez, a drama student at San Jose State University, who established "E Teatro Campesino," which used irony and sarcasm to pump energy into the strike. Despite these efforts, by fall 1965, the strike was in trouble. As the harvest ended, there was little to picket and the NFWA was at a loss as to how to proceed. In December, the union attempted to widen the scene of battle and capitalize on its wide public support by launching a boycott of Schenley Industries. Shortly after Christmas, NFWA boycott volunteers departed for East Coast cities. Ironically, while boycotts were illegal for industrial workers under the National Labor relations Act, exclusion from farm workers from that law, which had long worked against them, now provided way for the NFWA to take the battle beyond the picket lines and vineyards in Delano and capitalize on a growing support among liberal groups around the country.
By fall 1966, the Delano strike was in trouble. Many workers had returned to Mexico, work was winding down, the boycott of Schenley Industries and DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation was sputtering, and even the most stalwart pickets were wilting in the bitter cold and fog. On December 16, United Auto Workers Union President Walter Reuther visited Delano, marching through the streets with Cesar Chavez. On March 14, Robert F. Kennedy arrived in Delano to hold hearings by the United States senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, during which Kennedy lectured Kern County Sheriff Roy Gaylen on the constitution. The following morning, a large group of farm workers and supporters, many of them carrying Catholic imagery, began walking 300 miles north from Delano to Sacramento. Stopping each night in a different community, they dramatized the six-month old grape strike, ending their march on Easter morning at a huge rally on the steps of the state capitol. Chavez called the march la peregrinación, or pilgrimage. Under pressure to meet Chavez and to call a special session of the state legislature to pass collective bargaining legislation for farm workers, Governor Edmund Pat Brown spent Easter weekend in Palm Springs, shadowed by a contingent of strikers. Attracting massive press coverage, the march forced Schenley Industries to sign a contract. Chavez announced the victory to excited marchers on the steps of the state capitol on Easter morning. Following violent confrontations between strikers and guards at DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation, Chavez turned the boycott on DiGiogrio Fruit Corporation and its S&W canned foods and TreeSweet brand of juices.
After obtaining a contract with Schenley Industries, the NFWA concentrate on its boycott of DiGiorgio Fruit Company. After DiGiorgio summarily called a worker's representation election, the Teamsters Union stepped into the picture. With a contract with Bud Antle, the world's largest lettuce grower, the Teamsters were seen as a safe alternative to the NFWA. Protesting the arrangement, Chavez was arrested with other NFWA members while trying to talk to workers at DiGiorgio's vineyards at Borrego Springs. In July, with the DiGiorgio election two weeks away, Chavez merged his union with AWOC. After changing the union's name to United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), Chavez received a $10,000 a month organizing budget from the AFL-CIO. After winning at DiGiorgio, UFWOC obtained a model contract, and set about extending it industry-wide. In July 1967, UFWOC won a representation election at Perelli-Minetti winery. Flush with success, Chavez then turned to Texas, opening an organizing campaign in the Rio Grande Valley. Meanwhile, the situation in Delano deteriorated. With violence against the union increasing, and scattered acts of sabotage against growers' crops and equipment throughout the summer of 1967, Chavez feared he might lose control. As tensions boiled over, Chavez decided to fast, and resolved not to break his fast until union members recommitted themselves to nonviolence. As the press rushed to Delano, Kern County authorities charged Chavez with contempt for violating an injunction against picketing at the Guimarra ranch near Delano and summoned Chavez to court on the thirteenth day of his fast, and he entered the courthouse between long lines of supporters kneeling in prayer. Concentrating on the boycott over the next two years, UFWOC also launched a campaign against pesticide use. By 1969, boycotters had significantly squeezed down sales of table grapes in Detroit, Chicago, New York, Boston Montreal, and Toronto. On April 7, 1970, Lionel Steinberg, owner of three of Coachella Valley's largest vineyards, signed a union contract. On July 29, all of the Delano growers followed. But the UFWOC had little time to rejoice. The Teamsters were active in the Salinas Valley, and the UFWOC, fearing more sweetheart contracts, scurried off to battle them. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Just as the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (FWOC) signed its breakthrough contracts with the Delano grape growers, Salinas Valley vegetable growers concluded "sweetheart agreements" with the Teamsters Union covering about 200 vegetable ranches. With violence mounting on all sides, the UFWOC managed to win a contract with InterHarvest, the valleys' largest lettuce grower. After the UFWOC launched a boycott against the remainder of the industry, Bud Antle lettuce obtained an injunction against the boycott. When Chavez refused to comply, a judge jailed him indefinitely in a Salinas jail cell. When Ethel Kennedy visited Chavez on December 6, a near riot occurred outside the jail. As the lettuce boycott dragged out, Chavez moved his headquarters from Delano to La Paz, in the Tehachapi Mountains, just as a plot to assassinate him was uncovered and vandals broke into union headquarters and stole documents. Toward the end of 1971, UFWOC joined the AFL-CIO, and changed its name to the United Farm Workers (UFW). As all of this was happening, the union was having trouble running its hiring hall. Yet, farm labor conditions were changing - water breaks, field toilets, and work breaks all became standard. During the spring of 1973, as the union struggled to administer contracts, grape growers refused to renew the contracts they had signed with the UFWOC three years earlier. After growers signed "sweetheart contracts" with the Teamsters, the UFWOC began massive picketing. The conflict erupted on the Guimarra ranch on July 29, when 130 pickets were arrested and several beaten badly. By August 1, about 3,000 pickets had been arrested. On August 14, Nagi Daifullah, a 24-year old UFWOC picket captain from Yemen, was killed in a scuffle with a deputy sheriff. The following day, Juan de la Cruz was shot through the chest while on a picket line near Arvin. Following the two funerals, Chavez reassessed the situation. With violence mounting, and only 12 of 150 grape contracts remaining, Chavez turned to a new tactic. Believing that boycotts and strikes alone would not overturn more than a century of subordination, Chavez turned to the political process and began lobbying the California legislature for a law that would bring collective bargaining rights to farm workers.
As a result of the massive arrests and violence of 1973, the UFW depleted its $1.6 million strike fund. With membership declining rapidly, the union intensified its massive boycott of not only of non-union table grapes and lettuce, but also the wines of Ernesto and Julia Gallo, two vintners who refused to negotiate with the union. Responding to the crisis, the UFW on March 22, 1975, led a massive march of supporters and unionists 110 miles from San Francisco to Gallo winery's Modesto headquarters, where on March 29, 1975, about 15,000 people gathered outside the winery headquarters. Capitalizing on the huge popular support, Cesar Chavez lobbied Governor Jerry Brown for a California version of the National Labor Relations Act. With help from Brown's key aide, former UFW staff member Leroy Chatfield, the California legislature passed the new law in May 1975, and Governor Brown signed it on June 5. The most significant attempt to provide organizing and collective bargaining rights to agricultural employees, the California State Agricultural Labor Relations Act (CSALRA) was a compromise that provided secret ballot elections, the right to boycott, and a board to administer the new law. Growers believed that the new law would bring peace to the fields and end the boycotts that had cost them millions of dollars. To publicize the new law, Cesar Chavez led a march from the U.S.-Mexico border 600 miles north to the San Joaquin Valley, covering about 10 miles a day, stopping each night in a barrio to speak about the upcoming elections. As this was transpiring, the Teamsters Union prepared to contest the UFW on virtually every farm.
On June 5, 1975, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California State Agricultural Labor Relations Act (CSALRA). The product of the massive violence set in motion by the grape and lettuce strikes and boycotts since August 1970, the CSALRA was the most significant attempt to provide organizing and collective bargaining rights to agricultural employees. Essentially a compromise, the law provided secrete ballot elections, the right to boycott, and a board to administer the new law. Growers believed that the new law would bring peace to the fields and end the boycotts that had cost them millions of dollars. It did neither. After the first election in Castroville, where 15 artichoke workers on the Molera Agricultural Group voted in the first election, growers claimed that the United Farm Workers had used voter fraud and intimidation to win the first victories. But after a month, election results were close - 74 victories for the UFW, 73 for the Teamsters, no votes for "no union." By the end of the year, however, the UFW had won 198 contracts covering 27,000 workers, and the Teamsters had won 115 contracts covering 12,000 workers. About 8 in 10 elections were challenged, and the UFW filed more than 1,000 complaints alleging violations of CSALRA election provisions. But with 500 to 600 organizers in the field, the UFW rapidly gained strength, and seemed on the way to unionizing the state's farm workers when funding ran out for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board which administered the law. The UFW responded by gathering more than 700,000 signatures in support of Proposition 14, an initiative to amend the state constitution to require funding of the ALRB. The initiative failed by a margin of two to one, largely because an ALRB regulation guaranteeing organizers the right to talk to workers on a farmer's property (a rule known as access) was presented as a flagrant disregard for the rights of private property. But defeat did not stop the UFW. By 1977, the teamsters were beaten, and pulled out of the fields. Dues paying membership in the UFW rose to 100,000 in 1978, and Chavez ended the grape and lettuce boycotts.
By the fall of 1979, the United Farm Workers had achieved a degree of unprecedented success. With 100,000 members, the union verged on doing what had never been done - developing a viable union of agricultural workers. Then everything fell apart. Many key staff members quit, most because of deep disagreements with UFW leader Cesar Chavez. Some had simply become burned out by the long hours and low pay; others left following a dispute over selection of union representatives from Salinas not in line with those of Chavez. After the Salinas unionists protested their dismissal from the union with a hunger strike, the UFW filed a $25 million libel suit against them. As these events were transpiring, the UFW was attempting to computerize and experiment with personal management techniques employed by Synanon, the drug rehabilitation program whose leader Charles Deidrick would soon turn out to be a cult figure. The union also expended considerable time and money in a bloody and losing political battle over selection of the speaker for the California Assembly. In the middle of all of this, the union's contracts expired with the lettuce industry, and after negotiations broke down, the UFW called a strike. As the harvest moved south from Salinas into the Imperial Valley, violence flared. Fistfights, rock-throwing incidents, sabotage and car clouting became daily occurrences. On February 10, the strike exploded. At the Mario Saikhon Inc. ranch near Holtville, Rufino Contreras, a 28-year old UFW striker, was shot in the face. He was the third Mexican killed in the Imperial Valley during a farm labor dispute. As the strike moved east to Blythe, and north to Oxnard and Salinas, the strike grew in scope. Property damage, sabotage of irrigation pumps, arson attempts on packing sheds, attacks on labor contractors supplying strikebreakers, vandalism at motels housing nonunion workers, as well as mass arrests of UFW members for trespassing and rock-throwing were widespread. On April 23, 1980, as the Imperial Valley lettuce harvest ended, a municipal court judge dismissed murder charges against the three Saikhon foremen arrested for murdering Contreras. After nearly 1,500 UFW pickets clashed with scabs and police along a 100-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in an editorial that the strike had become a "spreading stain that disfigures the important business that is agriculture." By late July, many labor reporters were writing off the UFW as a lost cause. As he had done so often in the past, Chavez started marching. Leading a march 150 miles north from San Ardo to Salinas, he marshaled 10,000 field hands in Salinas for the union's annual convention. By December, the union had won back half of its contracts with the lettuce industry. But a long and expensive legal battle with Bruce Church and its "Red Coach" label would drag out over the next thirteen years, and in 1991, would result in a $5.4 million judgment against the union for damages caused by its boycott. Coming on the heals of a $1.7 million judgment in favor the Maggio Inc., an Imperial Valley grower, the UFW in the early 1990s verged on bankruptcy. In April 1993, while in Arizona to testify in the union's appeal of the $5.4 million award to Bruce Church Inc., Chavez died in his sleep. His funeral in Delano on April 29 attracted between 100,000 and 35,000 people who followed his casket through the streets to a mass at the union's old headquarters at Forty Acres. -- Daniel A. Cornford
Born in Australia in 1901, Bridges went to sea in 1917 and began to work on the San Francisco docks in 1922. Emerging into prominence out of the long and violent coast-wide maritime strike in 1934, Bridges became president of the San Francisco local of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and then president of the ILA's Pacific Coast District. In 1937, he led the ILA's Pacific Coast District into the CIO as the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union and became its first president and western regional director for the CIO. In mid-1937, Time called him "the most conspicuous maritime labor leader in the U.S. today." Bridges publicly praised the Soviet Union and the Communist party (CP), but always denied being a CP member. Recent research, however, indicates that he was elected to the Central Committee of the CP of the United States in 1936. In 1938, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) charged that he was a Communist and initiated deportation proceedings. The evidence was flimsy, and a lengthy hearing in 1939 found no basis for deportation. A subsequent INS hearing and two federal trials dragged on until 1955, including two appeals to the Supreme Court, both decided in Bridges's favor. In 1960, Bridges led his union into a modernization and mechanization agreement that transformed the nature of longshore labor. By the 1960s, he was winning praise as a "labor statesman"‹an accolade he refused to accept. He retired from the ILWU presidency in 1977 and died in 1990. -- Robert W. Cherny
In 1937, the members of the Pacific Coast District of the International Longshoremen's Association voted to become a separate union, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Harry Bridges became its first president. ILWU headquarters have always been in San Francisco. In California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, and Hawaii, the ILWU forged a strong union among longshoremen and some warehouse workers. In Hawaii, the ILWU became the largest union and a powerful political force, representing a highly racially diverse work force in the longshore, warehouse, sugar, pineapple, transportation, and hotel industries. Throughout its history, the ILWU has remained on the left politically, espousing progressive causes. In 1950, the CIO expelled the ILWU on the grounds that it was communist-led, and it became an independent union. After a bitter, three-month strike in 1948, the ILWU built a stable working relationship with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representative of waterfront and shipping companies. The ILWU-PMA Modernization and Mechanization Agreement (M&M) of 1960 permitted companies to install advanced technology but guaranteed jobs for ILWU members and offered generous retirement benefits. Some ILWU members criticized the M&M for undermining the hiring hall by permitting employers to choose "steady men" for certain jobs; the steady-man issue fueled a four-month strike in 1971-1972. In 1988, the ILWU joined the AFL-CIO. A short lockout in 2002 was ended by a federal injunction, in a dispute over the replacement of ILWU ships clerks with technology. -- Robert W. Cherny
In 1934, the Pacific Coast District (California, Oregon, and Washington) of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) sought a union contract. Dock work was harsh and dangerous, and longshoremen were hired through the "shape-up," in which foremen hired men for a day at a time. The ILA demanded a union hiring hall (replacing the shape-up) and better wages and hours. When employers refused, 10-15,000 longshoremen walked out in every Pacific Coast port. The crews of ships entering struck ports quickly went on strike with issues of their own, adding more than 6,000 to the number on strike. In San Pedro on May 15, private guards killed two strikers. The strike focused on San Francisco, site of the largest ILA local and of many employers' headquarters. By late June, the Industrial Association took over direction of the employers' side of the strike and determined to reopen the Port of San Francisco using strikebreakers. On July 5, police killed two union members and injured hundreds more. Governor Frank Merriam dispatched the National Guard to patrol the San Francisco waterfront to prevent violence and to protect strikebreakers. On July 16-19, the San Francisco Labor Council coordinated a general strike that shut down the city in sympathy with the striking maritime workers. Never before and never since have American unions shut down a city as large as San Francisco through a general strike. By late July, all sides to the maritime strikes agreed to arbitration, and eventually the longshoremen secured nearly all their demands. -- Robert W. Cherny