Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
The March Inland: Origins of the ILWU Warehouse Division, 1934-1938. By Harvey Schwartz. Los Angeles: Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, Monograph No. 19, 1978. Bibliography. 262 pages. No price given.
Reviewed by Edward D. Beechert, Professor of Labor History, University of Hawaii, author of Racial Divisions and Agricultural Labor Organizing (1976) and Writing Trade Union History (1968).
“The March Inland” is the colorful term that came to be used for the effort of the San Francisco longshoremen to protect their hard won gains from the 1934 strike. The maritime industry had come close to defeating the longshoremen by the use of waterfront warehousemen and the state-owned railroad. Faced with the growing intransigence of the maritime industry in 1935, the members of ILA local 38-79 determined to plug this “leak” by organizing the warehousemen. Conditions in that industry certainly warranted organization. Descriptions of warehouse working conditions in this period are still chilling; imagine “high piling” sugar sacks 43 high, or hand trucking six 100 lb. bags at a trot.
One of the outcomes of the 1934 strike was an industry definition of the work of longshoring — a definition which tended to exclude warehousemen and resulted in the revival of an old AF of L charter in the form of ILA local 38-44 for warehousemen as a means of closing this employer exit.
Schwartz has described in meticulous detail the organizing campaign launched in this move inland from the waterfront. Organizing the unorganized is an often heard slogan, both in and out of labor. Seldom do we have a chance to follow the actual strategy from the informal, exhortation stage to the negotiation strategy and finally to the contract stage. The author has skillfully blended union documents, newspapers, employer sources, and above all, oral history. The oral history memoirs are used here in a manner too seldom encountered. The details supplied by participants from all sides add color and life to the documentary material. The result is a vivid account of a significant piece of labor history.
The author clearly shows the importance of understanding the structure of the industry in developing organizing plans. The skill of the leaders, Bridges, Goldblatt, and Robertson, in adapting their strategy to take advantage of employer weakness, poor working conditions, and problems of labor unity is clearly delineated here. A key element in the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILA until 1937, thereafter, ILWU) has always been a basic reliance on rank and file participation in policy decisions. This shows clearly in the story of the warehouse division.
An element in the 1934 success of the San Francisco longshoremen was the willingness of the San Francisco Teamsters’ union members to defy their leaders and support this working class unity over the years with varying degrees of success. The projected March Inland had been intended to cover the Coast. The entrenched Teamsters were able to keep the longshoremen out of the warehouses in Seattle and the warehouse industry of Southern California, with the exception of the drug store warehouses. The changing nature of the Teamster industry, reflected in the passing from the scene of such as Mike Casey and the arrival of Dave Beck, marked a new era in intra-union conflict. Beck launched a massive assault on the Bay Area warehouse union. How this was defeated and how the gradual emergence of joint ILWU-Teamster warehouse negotiations were developed is an instructive piece of modern labor history.
The success of the ILWU in organizing the warehouse industry owed little to the Wagner Act. That the National Labor Relations Act proved to be no substitute for sound organizing is convincingly demonstrated here. The law has always been available to employers to use as a tool to thwart or obstruct organizing efforts. It is instructive to read of the Santa Cruz Fruit Packing Co. decisions and the tangled legal history of the meaningless union victories. This case crawled through the legal maze from 1936 to 1940. The workers of J.P. Stevens would do well to read this book.
Finally, the author has shed some light on why the ILWU is and has been considered a radical union. The story of the conversion of the employer strategy of a master contract for the Bay Area warehouses into a union gain is a marvelous example of flexibility and keeping the main goal of improved conditions in sight. The frustration of the employer community is self-evident in the name calling. The March Inland was both a radical innovation and eminently sound trade union strategy.