By Arthur A. Almeida
Labor Historian, I.L.A. Local 13
Late 2002 brought yet another labor dispute to West Coast ports. Settled
amicably in January 2003, dock workers and shipping companies now have a new
six-year contract called a benchmark in health care, pensions and living
standards. It was approved by nearly 90 percent of the International
Longshore and Warehouse Union members. In stark contrast, Art Almeida, CCHS
past president, recalls the violence of the strike of 1934 when union
members gave their lives for what they believed were basic human rights.
The Longshore Strike was voted to begin on May 9, 1934. Tacoma, Portland,
Seattle, San Francisco, San Pedro and the smaller ports hit the bricks. The
I.L.A. had been rechartered in 1933 and we (Local 13) became I.L.A. 38-82.
Since the Local was quartered in San Pedro, we were known as the Pedro
Things didn’t look good after the strike
began. A dissident group called the Longshore Mutual Protective Association
was organized as a scab labor force to fink on the strikers. They numbered
about 300 members. These scabs caused much consternation by working the
ships in Los Angeles harbor almost at will. In addition to this, criticism
from other West Coast locals frustrated the 1300 members of the Pedro Local.
Portland had been shut down tight!
By the 14th of May, the situation would
explode. On that date, a large gathering of the I.L.A. 38-82 met at White
Point in San Pedro. The evening meeting coincided with a smaller group who
were shooting pool on 1st and Pacific Avenue at a pool hall. Gathered there
was longshoreman Dickie Parker, as told to the author by John Mathlin, a
longtime buddy of Parker. According to Mathlin, word came that a decision
had been made to raid the scab camp at Wilmington docks 142-143. Inspired by
the vote and with tension in the air, the two groups and others — about 300
men — made their way to Wilmington to attack the scabs at about 11:30 p.m.
Ironically, most of the members were home
in bed, including the officers. It can be said that the rank and file took
the desperate measure of storming the scab camp to offset the criticism of
other striking West Coast locals. From berths 142-143 to 146, two ships were
tied up along the docks as quarters and feeding stations for the scabs. A
barricade was built surrounding the encampment.
When the 300 members of the Pedro Local
arrived, a charge soon began as yelling and screaming striking longshoremen
stormed the fortifications. Strikers primarily, but scabs as well, fell as a
hail of bullets blasted toward the charging and enraged strikers. The sight
of their wounded and fallen brothers only seemed to ignite their fury more.
Tear gas shot at the strikers took a fortunate turn, as the wind blew the
tear gas back to the cops, guards and scabs. Fires were started and the camp
burned down. In the aftermath, one lay dead; another wounded striker would a
die a week later. Dozens more were seriously wounded.
Dickie Parker and John Knudsen were the
first of the 1934 strikers to make the supreme sacrifice of giving their
lives for the union. Both I.L.A. 38-82 members were our very own. Dickie
Parker was a San Pedro High School graduate and native. He was only 20 years
old. John Knudsen, 43, was from Lomita. The Pedro Local’s decisive action
garnered respect coastwise. Five others would later give up their lives
during the strike — two in Seattle, two in San Francisco and a young seaman
from Seattle who died from stab wounds by a scab in Hong Kong.
Known to be close to Parker during the
charge was Archie “Jumbo” Royal, later arrested for arson and inciting a
riot. He was one of the many legends on the docks, and had been at the White
Point meeting. Max Chavez, one of the pall bearers for Parker, remembered
the fray vividly. Other pall bearers were Knute Hansen, John Mathlin and
three other unidentified members. Dickie Parker died within one hour in the
arms of one of his union brothers. John Knudsen died a week later at Long
Beach Seaside Hospital.
The funeral march for brother Parker
began at 9th Street and continued north on Pacific Avenue toward Barton Hill
Elementary School, his alma mater. A solemn line of members walked silently
behind the black-draped coach. They were dressed in traditional black Frisco
jeans, white shirts, a black arm band, and the white cap known as the Harry
In 1959 to commemorate the 25th
anniversary of Bloody Thursday, 3000 traditionally clad longshoremen,
clerks, foremen and pensioners gathered at berth 146 in Wilmington to hear
speakers relate the historic victory. Tommy Parker, Dickie’s surviving
brother and member of Foreman’s Local 94, was called to speak. A hush
descended on the assembled brothers, their wives, families and the 1934
veterans. Tommy Parker arose and slowly walked to the microphone, but the
bitter remembrance was too much for him to bear. He was so overcome with
grief, he hardly spoke. Hundreds of eyes dampened along with Tommy’s as the
crowd witnessed the heart-rending effect of that long-ago memory.
Today though, the conditions of 1934 may
seem strange and remote. The younger brothers and sisters of the I.L.W.U.
should not forget that the struggle continues. We should not forget that
“first blood” of the 1934 strike was spilled here in the Los Angeles harbor.
Our job today as union members is to protect and save all that was won and
passed on to the present workforce.
Dickie Parker and John Knudsen were our
very own, and they as well as others met the task. On this July 5, 2002
Victory Celebration, let us remember that the “Bloody Monday” in L.A. harbor
is as important as all the many other fights that have been recorded in
American labor history.