The articles excerpted on this site report on the state of the industry as seen by mainstream media, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the officers of the ILWU Coast Longshore Division.

Talking with … Harvey Schwartz, a historian who supports workers

Labor historian Harvey Schwartz

Labor historian Harvey Schwartz

Excerpts from J Weekly’s interview with Harvey Schwartz, labor historian and honorary curator at the ILWU International Library:

J Weekly: What’s the importance of the ILWU to the Bay Area?

Harvey Schwartz: After unions were suppressed nationally in the 1920s, it was longshoremen who turned that around in the ’30s and ’40s, leading the way to show that workers’ rights could be won. Despite the many trials of ILWU leader Harry Bridges regarding his suspected communist affiliations, black workers in this area know that Bridges insisted on including them in the union. Today, African Americans comprise more than 50 percent of ILWU Local 10 membership. It’s been a democratizing force.

Jobs in labor history are not exactly plentiful; how have you put your skills to use?

Solidarity StoriesBuilding the GGB

I’ve researched and written many papers, articles and books on the role of unions in West Coast life, including 54 full-length oral history interviews of ILWU members and leaders in the union paper the Dispatcher. My book “Solidarity Stories: An Oral History of the ILWU” (2009) was named best book in American labor history by the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. I’ve been hired to interview subjects for major oral history projects at the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University. One of those projects, in 1987, planted the seeds of my most recent book, “Building the Golden Gate Bridge: A Workers’ Oral History” (2015). And since 2000 I’ve been an honorary curator at the ILWU International Library in San Francisco.

We’re coming up on Labor Day, and the Bay Area is flush with tech workers and others who have never had a union experience. What would you like to convey in terms of public awareness?

I still feel that the best hope for the great majority of the working people in the United States lies with the labor movement. Who else has the power to serve as the party of humanity for the vast majority of us? Certainly not the great corporations or their political spokespersons. “Solidarity Stories” was aimed at informing people about the ILWU and letting them know what a clean, democratic, militant union could do for them. That’s the sort of public awareness I’d like to encourage.

Read the full interview at J Weekly


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