Why we continue to honor “Bloody Thursday”

Local 10 Drill Team members salute co-workers killed by police on July 5, 1934 while striking in San Francisco and west coast ports for better wages, working conditions, and a democratic union that became today’s ILWU. At the “Bloody Thursday” memorial held this July in San Francisco, Local 10 President Richard Mead delivered the speech below. He began by thanking the pensioners and Bay Area Longshoremen’s Memorial Association (BALMA) which sponsors the annual “Bloody Thursday” event at the Local 10 union hall near Fisherman’s Wharf.

Bloody Thursday is more than a memorial to those who gave their lives in the 1934 maritime strike. Bloody Thursday is also a celebration of the victory of that strike. It’s a celebration of all that has come to pass as a result of the sacrifice of men like Nicholas Bordoise and Howard Sperry who gave their lives. It’s a celebration of things like this hiring hall in which we have gathered today to pay our respects.

It’s a celebration of the working conditions and benefits that we enjoy because of that hard fought victory and all of the many other battles along the way that the labor movement has endured to get us where we are today.

I would like to read you a quote from a man who witnessed the events of 1934. It’s a different perspective, but from someone who was just as much a participant as Harry Bridges or anyone else. The quote is from William H. Crocker, a prominent San Francisco banker during the time of the General Strike. He was a leader and strategist for the employers.

In fact, Crocker is one of the men whose interests the police were protecting when they gunned down Howard Sperry and Nicholas Bordoise. The words below are the words of the enemy, Brothers and Sisters, as they were spoken in the midst of the General Strike:

“This strike is the best thing that ever happened to San Francisco. It’s costing us money, certainly. We have lost millions on the waterfront in the last few months. But it’s a good investment, a marvelous investment. It’s solving the labor problem for years to come.

Mark my words. When this nonsense is out of the way and the men have been driven back to their jobs, we won’t have to worry about them anymore. They’ll have learned their lesson. Not only do I believe we’ll never have another general strike, but I don’t think we’ll have a strike of any kind in San Francisco during this generation. Labor is licked.”

Workers didn’t see things his way. As Crocker spoke these words, the longshoremen, sailors and others who were participating in the General Strike were learning important lessons about the strength of organized labor. These workers were seeing things differently. Not only did they return to work victorious, with their heads held high, but they saw a glimpse of a better world.

They saw the possibility of real change and a way out from under the oppressive rule of bankers and ship owners. They saw hope for themselves and future generations.

Harry Bridges had a different take on the events of 1934. Harry realized the “real fruit” of the General Strike wasn’t the winning of any particular demand, but the realization of anever expanding union.

And that’s what the longshoremen and workers of 1934 did.

They turned San Francisco into a union town. From our birth in 1934, the ILWU embarked upon the March Inland, an organizing drive that didn’t stop until it reached Baltimore on the East Coast. The ILWU went on to organize the entire state of Hawaii, and expanded into the western regions of Canada and Alaska.

Bloody Thursday is more than a memorial to those that came before us. As we assemble in the hiring hall that they built and died for, let us glimpse their vision. Let us see the awesome power of labor.

Let us embark on a journey to bring about the real change that comes from improving the lives of working people. Let’s fight for justice and peace. Let’s take the vision and labor movement of those who came before us and carry it as best we can towards the goal of organizing all working people and creating a better world.

When we look back at our history, it becomes clear that Bloody Thursday is bigger than us and this gathering today. Bloody Thursday is the rock solid solidarity of the 1948 strike that swept us to victory in opposition to the Taft- Hartley Act.

Bloody Thursday is joining the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and having Martin Luther King, Jr., speak from this very platform and become an honorary member of ILWU Local 10.

Bloody Thursday is taking a stand against Apartheid. And Bloody Thursday is uniting with our Longshore Brothers in Charleston, South Carolina and helping them see their way to victory.

Now it’s up to us, Brothers and Sisters, to continue on with Bloody Thursday. It’s up to us to fight for single-payer healthcare, the Employee Free Choice Act, and the rights of immigrants. Look around you today. Social Security is under attack, along with many of the other hard fought benefits that workers gained in the 1930’s.

Aren’t we back under the thumb of the bankers and Wall Street as they pillage our tax dollars and pensions? Bloody Thursday is not about death, Brothers and Sisters. It’s about life.

A new life. A better life. It’s about hope and change and renewing the vision of an ever expending union.

I’d like to close with another quote. Note from the employers or some banker, but from one of those workers who emerged victorious from the General Strike. A man who really understood what Blood Thursday was all about, who went on to do all he could to bring about an ever expanding Union. The quote is from Harry Bridges, and is one of his most famous lines:

“Anybody want to know where to put your faith for the future, for a good living? Put it in the labor movement, cause there ain’t no other place to put it.”

Let’s make sure that those of us in the ILWU and the labor movement will continue harvesting the real fruit of this momentous occasion, by dedicating ourselves to building a bigger union that helps more workers realize the dreams of a better world with more justice for all.

– Richard Mead

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