ILWU Labor leader Harry Bridges’ big victory

ILWU Labor leader Harry Bridges’ big victory
By Tim O’Rourke
December 30, 2016 Updated: December 30, 2016 12:05am

Photo: The Chronicle 1939The Chronicle’s front page from Dec. 30, 1939, covers San Francisco labor leader Harry Bridges’ deportation case victory.

He was one of the labor movement’s most important figures, but was he a Communist?

The Chronicle’s front page from Dec. 30, 1939, covers the culmination of one of the deportation cases against San Francisco labor leader Harry Bridges.

“James M. Landis, Harvard Law School dean, acting as a special Labor Department examiner, submitted to Secretary (Frances) Perkins today a finding that Harry Bridges, West Coast CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) leader, is neither a member nor affiliated with the Communist party,” the story read.

Bridges was an Australian-born union man who was one of the forces behind the 1934 San Francisco General Strike, which helped lead to the unionization of all the West Coast ports. “Bloody Thursday,” one of the defining events of the labor movement, came a few months after the walkout’s start, with police and longshoremen clashing in broad daylight.

Two strikers were killed. Riots followed.

Bridges became a powerful figure in the International Longshoremen’s Association and the leader of the newly formed International Longshore and Warehouse Union. He would hold sway for decades in the city, and the U.S. government would try to force him from the country on multiple occasions, including through the 1939 case.

Bridges’ response to this day’s victory was printed on the front page:

“Naturally, I am very happy tonight to learn that after a fair hearing this constant charge of membership in the Communist party has been cleared up and that Dean Landis has not recommended deportation from a country I happen to want to live in just as much as those luckily born here.

“I intend to continue to do whatever I can to improve the condition of the working class in this country, and I hope that now this red herring has been worn out by its frequent dragging across the trail.”

Chronicle Covers is a yearlong project that will highlight one classic Chronicle newspaper page from our archive every day for 366 days. Library director Bill Van Niekerken and producers Kimberly Chua, Alexandra Irving and Jillian Sullivan contributed to the project. Tim O’Rourke is the executive producer and editor of Email: Twitter: @TimothyORourke