Anniversary Post: Bloody Thursday

Mission and SteuartBloody Thursday occurred on this day in 1934. It was part of the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike. The result of that strike was good: it caused all of the west coast ports to become unionized. But Bloody Thursday was typical of the kind of thing that workers have had to live through in order to organize unions. Historically, the levers of official government power have been used to stop unions — most especially the courts. But on the front lines, it has been police departments.

On the day after the Fourth of July, the Industrial Association tried to get the San Francisco port working more despite the strike. And who was there to help them? Why the police department, of course. As will happen whenever the police get a tiny bit scared, officers eventually started firing into crowds of workers, killing two men. Afterward, workers put out flowers on the corner of Mission and Steuart. And the police came by and removed them. The workers put more flowers there. Eventually, police started firing into the International Longshoremen’s Association hall, but no one was killed.

The state sent in the National Guard. And federal troops were at the ready. Bloody Thursday resulted in a general strike — you know, the kind of thing that is now illegal in the “freedom loving” United States. And there was a good overall result for the workers. But I’m always struck by the fact that most people associate labor unions with violence. Well, yeah. But why is that?! The labor movement has been consistently attacked both politically and physically. So yeah, sometimes things get violent like when those heartless workers got in the way of those police bullets.

I’m afraid those days are coming back. The rich have been too greedy. Increasingly, workers have nothing to lose. And the rights that workers gained during the first half of the 20th century are being chipped away. They will have to be fought for all over again. And the rich really should hope that we succeed. Because America is doomed if we don’t.

We mark Bloody Thursday on this day 81 years ago.

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