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Chapter 2

THE IMPACT OF LABOR STRIFE: St. Sure Begins a Career, 1934-1936 

    Suddenly bedlam broke over Stuart Street…. The air was filled with blinding gas. The howl of sirens. The low boom of the gas guns. The crack of pistol-fire. The whine of bullets. The shouts and curses of sweating men. Everywhere was a rhythmical waving of arms--like trees in the wind--swinging clubs, swinging fists, hurling rocks, hurling bombs. As police moved from one group to the next, men lay bloody, unconscious, or in convulsions--in the gutters, on the sidewalks, in the streets. . . . But an insane courage drove on the strikers. In the face of bullets, gas, clubs, horses' hoofs, death; against fast patrol cars and the radio, they fought back with rocks and bolts till the street was a mass of debris.

    Donald Mackenzie Brown
    Scribner's January 1935

"Bloody Thursday," one of the most violent days in labor's struggle for legitimacy, occurred during the 1934 San Francisco longshoremen's strike. On May 9, 1934, the Pacific Coast Branch of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) went out on strike. From Tacoma, Washington, to San Diego, California, 12,000 longshoremen walked off the job demanding a fifteen cent wage increase, a minimum six hour work day not to exceed thirty hours a week without overtime pay, and most important to San Francisco longshoremen, a union controlled hiring hall.1 It is with the unfolding of these events that Joseph Paul St. Sure stumbled onto what would become a career in industrial labor relations.

Turmoil on the Waterfront

Harry Renton Bridges, himself a San Francisco longshoreman, led his compatriots in their struggle to revive the defunct International Longshoremen's Association upon the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933. In September of 1933 the San Francisco District Recovery Board recognized the ILA's right to become the Pacific Coast longshoremen's collective bargaining representative after the Association filed a complaint against the "Blue Book Union," the Longshoremen's Association of the San Francisco and Bay District. The Longshoremen's Association was a company union, and membership in this "Blue Book Union" was a prerequisite of working on the docks. Longshoremen referred to the Longshoremen's Association as the "Blue Book Union" because of the blue books they were given by the union outlining the longshore contract.

Although the board granted the ILA recognition, the situation did not change and by March of 1934 the ILA filed a second complaint. The Waterfront Employer's Union, an amalgamation of the San Francisco ship operating companies and contracting stevedores, refused to acknowledge the union's demands of a fifteen cent wage increase, a shortened work day, and a union controlled hiring hall. The union controlled hiring hall was the most important change the longshoremen sought. With a hiring hall the longshoremen could end what had become known as the shape-up. The shape-up was the daily hiring ritual of the docks. Every morning hundreds of longshoremen would gather to compete for the jobs available on that given day. This competition led to an extensive system of corruption which included payoffs to the hiring foreman. As the Depression began to make increasingly large inroads into the general labor market, increasingly larger numbers of the unemployed ranks assembled for the morning shape-up. These increasingly large numbers added to the to what longshoremen called the modern day slave market.2

In light of the employer's refusal to bargain collectively with the ILA, the union called for a coast-wide strike vote. On March 23, 1934, longshoremen in all ports would go on strike if wage and hour demands were not met. President Franklin Roosevelt wired W.J. Lewis, President of the Pacific Coast branch of the ILA, to delay the strike until an independently appointed board could investigate the issues and recommend solutions. The union agreed to hold off the strike. As the days and weeks passed without progress, the ILA formally notified the Waterfront Employers Union that unless an agreement was reached by 8:00 p.m. May 7, all further negotiations would be halted and all Pacific Coast longshoremen would strike on May 9, 1934.3

Harry Bridges was born Alfred Renton Bryant Bridges in a middle class suburb of Melbourne, Australia, on July 28, 1901. Unhappy following in his father's footsteps into the real estate business and fascinated with Jack London's stories about the high seas Bridges, taking his favorite uncle's name, ran off to sea at age sixteen. At age twenty after a disagreement with a ship's captain Bridges jumped ship while it was docked in San Francisco. He immediately joined the Sailor's Union of the Pacific and for the next two years found work on the ships sailing the Pacific and Gulf Coasts. In 1922 he retired from sailing and became a longshoremen in San Francisco. Bridges entered the longshoring profession during one of its lowest points.

After the waterfront employers crushed the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union in 1919 they created the "Blue Book Union," the Longshoremen's Association of the San Francisco and Bay District, and effectively crushed longshore union activity in San Francisco. It was in this atmosphere that Bridges began his career as a longshoremen. As the corruption surrounding the shape-up worsened and the Depression rocked the United States economy Bridges began to investigate the possible directions that he and his fellow longshoremen could turn. He determined that the longshoremen needed their own voice, their own union. In 1933 he revived the defunct International Longshoremen's Association of the Pacific Coast.4

1934 Waterfront Strike

All members of the International Longshoremen's Association Pacific Coast Branch walked off the job at 8:00 a.m. May 9, 1934. The strike quickly erupted into a coast-wide maritime dispute as the Teamsters and International Seamen's Union, which included the sailors, firemen and oilers, and marine cooks and stewards, joined the ranks of striking longshoremen. Within a week all the Pacific Coast ports were paralyzed.

Despite this unprecedented show of strength and effectiveness the Water Front Employer's Union, with the support of the San Francisco Industrial Association and Chamber of Commerce, would not budge. In all the ports employers associations, following San Francisco's lead, prepared themselves for a long fight. Determined to crush the union at any cost, the employers dug in for the duration. Meeting the challenge posed by the employers, the strikers created the Joint Marine Strike Committee. The committee, composed of representatives from every involved union, elected Harry Bridges its leader.5

By the end of June tensions had risen to unprecedented levels. As the Industrial Association attempted to thwart local leadership by bargaining with the ILA's national President, Joseph Ryan, random violence rapidly increased. Ryan, "an old style Tammany politician," who would agree to anything that increased his financial standing, ignored the rank and file demands, and negotiated an end to strike with the Pacific Coast employers. The strikers refused to follow Ryan's directive and continued their walkout. Enraged, the Industrial Association announced that the port would reopen on July 3.6

Bloody Thursday

Prepared to stop the employers, hundreds of strikers gathered at San Francisco's Pier 38, the proposed field of battle. Hundreds of policemen and spectators also converged on the area. Shortly after lunch on July 3, the huge doors of Pier 38 opened and five loaded trucks escorted by eight police cars rolled out of the pier. Strikers, breaking through the police barricades, launched their arsenal of bricks, stones, and railroad spikes onto the procession of vehicles. Quickly retaliating, the police fired tear gas and riot guns into the oncoming strikers. Fighting between longshoremen and police went on for hours until the gas took its toll and the strikers retreated. The Industrial Association claimed victory. Fourth of July headlines throughout the Bay Area read, "The Port Is Open!" As a result of the Fourth of July holiday the employers decided to forego the movement of goods until Thursday, July 5.7

Precisely at 8:00 a.m. on July 5, the doors of Pier 38 rolled open and the strikers, back to their battle posts, again launched their arsenal on the convoy. The war between strikers and police raged on until lunch time when an unofficial truce occurred, only to have the battle intensify later in the afternoon.

    By three o'clock the strikers were surging down Mission Street . . . attempting to seize the waterfront just south of Market. This time it was no skirmish, it was a mass attack. . . . They [the strikers] were fighting desperately for something that seemed to be life for them. They came from everywhere with fresh loads of iron and stone.

    They swarmed onto the Embarcadero, outnumbering the police by enormous odds. The police answer to this was gas, and still more gas. . . . Volley after volley of these crashed into the closely packed mob, searing flesh, blinding and choking. Where the ranks broke, mounted officers drove in with clubs, trampling those who could not get out of the way. Again the sirens screamed, and carload after carload of officers and plainclothesmen armed with more tear gas and shotguns swung into action.8

Police, with technologically advanced weapons, gained control and cleared the waterfront by early evening. In the wake of this battle two strikers were shot and killed while countless scores of strikers, police, and even bystanders were injured. To curb further violence the governor ordered the National Guard to take control of the waterfront, and by evening they were in place.9

Headlines of the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune screamed "WAR!" Columns described, "Bloody Thursday" in vivid detail, and accused the strikers of attempting to start a revolution. The Joint Strike Committee, knowing that their cause was in serious jeopardy, called for a general strike. Over the weekend, unions up and down the Pacific Coast voted to participate in a general strike. In an incredible show of resolve thousands of Bay Area workers participated in the funeral march of the two fallen longshoremen. For hours an estimated 40,000 workers silently walked along the two mile stretch between the ILA hall and the funeral parlor. Paul Eliel described the funeral march and its impact as follows:

    The funeral cortege formed in the most orderly fashion. . . . The procession was orderly and quiet. Every marcher walked with head bared. Not a word was spoken. None smoked. The ranks were well formed and the cadence of the marcher's feet was set by the slow music of a Beethoven funeral march played by a single band. . . . Tens of thousands of spectators lined the streets as the files of strikers, extending for more than a mile and a half down Market Street, swung slowly past. . . . Not a police officer nor National Guardsmen was in evidence. . . .

Eliel, continued his account of the funeral march, by explaining its impact on the pending general strike. "It was one of the strangest and most dramatic spectacles that had ever moved along Market Street. Its passage marked the high tide of united labor action in San Francisco."10

The dramatic funeral procession created a tidal wave of support for the maritime strikers. The once threatened general strike became a reality. Through the course of the week many more unions voted to participate in the general strike scheduled for Monday July 16, 1934. The reality of a general strike terrified employer groups throughout the Pacific Coast, and they all scrambled to suppress it. 11

The Oakland Chamber of Commerce employed Joseph Paul St. Sure as secretary of the East Bay Defense Association for Business and Labor. This association, conceived under the authorization of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, was created to combat the spread of the General Strike. Employed as a liaison between the public agencies of Oakland and the San Francisco Industrial Association, St. Sure's primary purpose was to keep the Oakland business interests abreast of the activity in San Francisco.12

The General Strike

Hysteria gripped the Bay Area business community in the days prior to the start of the General Strike. In the face of this general panic the conservative newspaper interests, especially those of William Randolph Hearst--owner of the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle--took over the direction of business response to the impending strike. They developed a strategy to break the back of the strikers: fabricate a Red Scare, thus rallying all levels of government behind their call to smash the strike.13

St. Sure described the East Bay Defense Association as a volunteer organization that, "on a telephone notice, would all rush down to the Hotel Oakland ballroom and listen to someone make a speech about what was happening and what was going to happen and how the revolution was at hand and the Communists were on the march." Following these often dramatic speeches St. Sure would apprise the Association of the reality of the situation. He advised them that they were not in the midst of a Communist takeover and that the best course of action was to sit tight and not become involved any more than necessary in guaranteeing the smooth operations of their respective businesses.14

The general strike partially in effect by Thursday, July 14, when the Teamsters shut down transportation in and out of San Francisco, became fully effective by Saturday night prior to the strike's official start, as union members all over the city walked off the job with the close of business that evening. Over the course of the weekend the mayor of San Francisco, Angelo Rossi, the governors of Washington, Oregon, and California and the well respected United States Senator from California, Hiram Johnson sent urgent appeals to the White House, demanding intervention. Roosevelt, vacationing in the Caribbean, communicated by wire with Francis Perkins, the Secretary of Labor, regarding the situation on the Pacific Coast. The President and Perkins were cautious not to succumb to the hysteria, opting instead to let the strike play itself out.

All the Bay Area papers ran front page editorials on Sunday, July 15, with the intention of discouraging workers from striking. Describing the British government's successful triumph over labor in the aftermath of Britain's 1926 General Strike, the publishers warned labor to seriously consider their actions. The barrage of negative reporting, St. Sure recalled, did not effect the labor movement in San Francisco or Oakland. At 8:00 a.m. Monday, July 16, 1934, the remaining union workers walked out. The long feared General Strike had peacefully begun. Although molded in the wake of intense violence the General Strike would not be marred by more of the same as so many had feared.

The General Strike began to deteriorate as rapidly as it had begun. By early Wednesday, July 18, the transportation systems in the Bay Area had been restored and by the afternoon the Joint Strike Committee permitted union restaurants and stores to resume business. The following afternoon the labor union delegates involved in the strike voted to discontinue the strike.15

This, however left the original dispute between longshoremen and their employers unsettled. Under the direction of General Hugh Johnson, director of the National Recovery Administration, the International Longshoremen's Association and the Waterfront Employer's Union agreed to submit their grievances to arbitration. Over the next three months the newly created Longshoremen Board heard testimony from all sides regarding the problematic issues found in the maritime industry. The Board announced its decisions on October 12, 1934. The employers were endowed with the right "to introduce labor saving devices and to institute such methods of discharging and loading cargo as he considers best suited to the conduct of his business." To the longshoremen the Board granted a ten cent wage increase, a five day--thirty hour work week, but most importantly a jointly run hiring hall in which the union would name the dispatcher.16

The 1934 General Strike changed labor management relations not only in the Bay Area but throughout the nation. St. Sure stated:

    Unions obviously had demonstrated convincingly that by unified concerted action even with limited organization, they could paralyze an entire community. Employers learned of the tremendous pressures that unions could apply in any situation involving a conflict between management and labor.17

The 1934 General Strike was St. Sure's first experience with labor relations. St. Sure recalled that the series of events that culminated in the general strike made him, "acutely aware of the great areas of potential social conflict which I had not realized existed. Personally, these events changed the course of my professional life." From this point on in his career St. Sure committed himself to labor management negotiations. He came to the understanding that labor was important to the industrial process. By accepting labor, employers would be able to control the industrial process to a greater extent. As a rapidly developing sophisticated conservative, St. Sure saw unionism as a counter force to the radical over throw of the employer class.18

Perpetuating the East Bay Defense Association

In the aftermath of the upheaval in San Francisco some of the more prominent Oakland business men suggested the continuation of the East Bay Defense Association. Retaining St. Sure as the sole staff member, the association sought to "impartially analyze the issues and perhaps formulate the opinion of the community,…and help settle disputes. . . . defending, . . . against interruption of business." Although the impartial analysis sounded naïve, St. Sure said he attempted to apprise the association of both sides of the issue they were discussing.19

Designated as the leader of the East Bay Defense Association, St. Sure was thrust before large gatherings of employers, who knew less than he about the labor movement. As a result many of them began coming to him for advice on an individual basis and as St. Sure's involvement in labor relations grew, he recalled the advice Ezra Decoto, his elder partner gave him:

    This entire labor business was a flash in the pan, this was something that was a result of an emergency strike situation in San Francisco, that the whole thing would quiet down and be forgotten in six months, that I was very foolish to devote too much time to it, as it was something that was purely temporary. The thing would get back to normal and stay normal; there wouldn't be any particular problem in connection with labor matters that should interest a lawyer.20

St. Sure, however continued his involvement with the association. He described their meetings as being similar to a town meeting. Unlike their San Francisco counterpart, the Industrial Association, which actively sought to maintain open-shop business in the city, the Defense Association merely discussed issues pertinent to the East Bay community.21 A year following the General Strike, the East Bay Defense Association led by St. Sure faced its most pertinent issue, one that would concern the business community to an even greater extent than that of a general strike. It was the passage of the National Labor Relations Act which threatened to change the face of traditional collective bargaining by raising labor onto an equal plane with management. The Oakland and entire East Bay business community, consisting primarily of industrial and manufacturing enterprises, faced an entirely new labor management relationship.

The National Labor Relations Act

In May of 1935 the National Industrial Recovery Act was abandoned by the federal government. The Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional. All, except labor, happily accepted the court's ruling. Business rejoiced that they no longer had to cater to labor's demands in the conduct of their business activities. Consumers bearing the financial burden of the coding system were relieved to see the act outlawed.

Labor, finally achieving some tangible success under Section 7(a) of the NIRA, was disappointed with the court's decision. However, labor's safeguards were not completely swept away. Eleven days prior to the Supreme Court's decision a bill guaranteeing the rights of labor was passed by the United States Senate. Within a month, Senator Robert Wagner, the bill's author, won the support of the House of Representatives and President Roosevelt signed it into law on July 5, 1935.22

The National Labor Relations Act, often referred to as the Wagner Act, was immediately hailed as labor's Magna Carta, a charter for the newly emerging labor movement. Unlike Section 7(a), the Wagner Act included the machinery necessary to enforce compliance. The provisions of the act stated that workers had the right to freely engage in collective bargaining activities. These activities included the right to actively petition for unionization, freely elect a bargaining representative of their choice, the right to protest unfair labor practices, and the right to redress their grievances, all without employer intervention or coercion.

Specifics of the act defined unfair labor practices and established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as the agency to administer the Wagner Act. The NLRB guaranteed secret ballot elections for the determination of an appropriate collective bargaining agency. The board was also empowered to issue cease and desist orders against companies that conducted unfair labor practice. Such practices include the restriction of employee's rights to organize by threatening them with layoffs or demotions. Employers were also forbidden to support, especially financially, any one union over the other. This effectively outlawed the company or blue book union. All of the unfair labor practices defined in the act pertained to management, the act defined no sanctions against workers for exerting their rights. For the first time the Federal Government openly supported and encouraged unionization, an unprecedented move that resulted in far reaching changes in the power balance between labor and management.

The business community criticized the government for enacting, what they perceived to be such one sided legislation, they vowed to ignore the provisions it promised labor. Many in the management community, including St. Sure, were of the opinion that the Wagner Act was "just another piece of New Deal legislation." They believed that this legislation, like its predecessor the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), would be declared unconstitutional. With this attitude management designed policies that would test the act's constitutionality. Others simply ignored it and continued to resist all forms of labor organization.23

Management would not accept the Wagner Act as valid legislation until the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality, and then they would only grudgingly accept it. Two years after its April 1937 enactment, the Supreme Court affirmed the National Labor Relations Act's constitutionality in, National Labor Relations Board vs. Jones and Laughlin Steel Company , a case involving unionization drives in the steel industry. However, this decision did not settle the question. Employers in the San Francisco Bay Area felt that the act's scope of enforcement would not apply to small local companies as it had to the nationally based Jones & Laughlin Steel Company.24

In a case involving the Santa Cruz Fruit Packing Company, headquartered in Oakland, St. Sure under the auspices of the East Bay Defense Association, represented management in the first complaint case to be brought before the National Labor Relations Board, 20th District. Union organizers of the International Longshoremen's Association filed unfair labor practices with the NLRB after the company "farmed out" its packing business, effectively neutralizing the union's effort to organize the company's warehouse workers.

Standing on what they thought to be a sound theory, St. Sure recalled that he and management had no other defense except to challenge the Act's scope of enforcement. St. Sure argued that the company's actions did not "affect commerce," because "the fruits and vegetables were all grown in California. They were all packed in California. They were sold to brokers in California." Thus the company's actions did not constitute any unfair labor practice by restraining trade. Shocked by a guilty verdict, St. Sure and the Santa Cruz Fruit Packing Company with the financial assistance of the East Bay Defense Association appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court.25

This case became St. Sure's first Supreme Court experience. Even though St. Sure and the Oakland management community made a tremendous effort in trying to override the act, the Supreme Court upheld the earlier court's decision, and the Santa Cruz Fruit Packing Company was found guilty of unfair labor practices. The Supreme Court continued to interpret the Wagner Act allowing it to have a wide range of enforcement. With this failure, Bay Area management had to recognize and bargain with organized labor. For many companies this was a first time experience.

St. Sure said that the structure of the labor movement changed as a result of the Wagner Act. During this period the Committee for Industrial Organizations (CIO), later to be called the Congress of Industrial Organizations, emerged from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The CIO, with a new form of labor organization, pursued industrial organization over the traditional craft organization that the AFL pursued. Organizing attempts created many jurisdictional challenges between the two organizations.26 As a result, management had a variety of reactions, and two major forms of resistance emerged. First, employers tried to convince workers that labor organization was unimportant. Management felt labor organization created problems instead of solving them. However the Wagner Act severely limited employer's influence. The second form of resistance to the AFL or CIO unions was to create independent unions within the company. These independent unions were of course company controlled.27

In 1937 St. Sure dissolved his law partnership with Ezra Decoto. As a result of his increasing devotion to industrial labor relations, he decided that a half-hearted continuation with the firm would be unfair to his partner and to their clients. Although unsuccessful with the Supreme Court challenge to the Wagner Act, the Santa Cruz Fruit Packing Company retained him as their labor counsel. Many other businesses, including the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the California Processors and Growers Association, and the California Milk Products Association also asked him to become their labor counsel.28

From this point on in his career, St. Sure remained active. He advised many employers on the requirements of the Wagner Act, especially the requirements dealing with the coercion of unionization activities by management. He recalled that "on several occasions I advised disbelieving managements that their encouragement of inside unions amounted to a violation of the law."29 Reflecting on these turbulent Depression years St. Sure said:

    This was a period when Oakland was beginning to burgeon out. Alameda County and Santa Clara County were experiencing factory growth. There hadn't been much labor organization…. There were the basic crafts. . . . But there was no general organization of production workers or factory workers. . . . Then the '34 strike suddenly brought into focus the conflict in attitudes of management and labor. . . . Then came the Wagner Act; and the New Deal administration of that time gave aid to labor and encouragement to organize. All of these things combined to bring about a rather complete change in the relationship between management and labor and certainly brought about a very real organizing drive on the part of unions. From that day forward the whole character of the relationship between the worker and management of that community was changed.30

From 1937 until his appointment as President and Chief Negotiator for the Pacific Maritime Association in 1952, St. Sure counseled and collectively bargained for numerous companies and trade associations: he had discovered his career.