Finding Aid to the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union Records, 1906-1919
Prepared by Labor Archives and Research Center staff.
Labor Archives and Research Center
San Francisco State University
1630 Holloway Ave
San Francisco, CA, 94132-1722
Title: Riggers' and Stevedores' Union records
Date (inclusive): 1906-1919
Riggers' and Stevedores' Union (San Francisco, Calif.)
Collection number: larc.ms.0097
Accession number: 1995/017
Extent: 1.25 cubic feet (1 carton)
Labor Archives and Research Center
J. Paul Leonard Library, Room 460
San Francisco State University
1630 Holloway Ave
San Francisco, CA 94132-1722
Languages represented in the collection:
Abstract: The Riggers' and Stevedores' Union Records include nine bound volumes of minutes from meetings from the years 1906-1919, and
four folders of loose items from the years 1906-1918.
Location: Collection is available onsite.
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the Labor Archives and Research Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote
from materials must be submitted in writing to the Director of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf
of the Labor Archives and Research Center as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission
of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Riggers' and Stevedores' Union Records, larc.ms.0097, Labor Archives and Research Center,
San Francisco State University.
The collection was processed in the summer and fall of 2001 by Conor Casey.
These records were donated by Ottilie Markholt, a maritime historian who used them in writing her book on waterfront unionism,
Maritime Solidarity: Pacific Coast Unionism 1929-1938; accession number 1995/017.
The first evidence of labor action by longshoremen in San Francisco was recounted in the newspaper
Alta California in May 1851, when dock workers struck for $6.00 a day in a struggle to maintain their standard of living as prices rose precipitously
due to the inflation typical of the early Gold Rush economy (Selvin,
A Terrible Anger, 20).
In 1853, with the California economy recovering and growing, longshoremen struck for $6.00 a day, a 9-hour day, and $1.00
an hour overtime (Cross, 22). In the wake of this successful strike, the Riggers' and Stevedores' Association was organized
from the ranks of skilled dockworkers on July 25, 1853. By 1854, the union had a membership of 350 (ILWU, 4). Newspaper reported
strikes for increased wages in August of 1855 and July of 1856.
Throughout the 1860's, the Riggers' and Stevedores' attempted to maintain their wages in the rapidly developing economy of
California. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 opened the West up to national and international markets
and exposed California's economy to the cheaper labor and manufacturing costs of the East, Midwest, and abroad. An influx
of foreign and domestic immigrants inflated the workforce, deflated wages, and made it hard to maintain closed shop conditions
A Terrible Anger, 22).
Using a strategy that employed high initiation fees and the restriction of membership, the Riggers' and Stevedores' union
tried to control and limit the longshore labor market in San Francisco. Part of this strategy was forming alliances with other
labor organizations. The successful drive for an 8-hour day, which the Riggers' and Stevedores' won briefly in 1867, demonstrates
the growing effort to forge alliances between Californian labor organizations, as "Eight Hour Leagues" pushed to reduce the
workday (ILWU, 6; Cross, 43, 52).
In the 1880's, in the midst of a growing trend toward longshore organization in San Francisco, membership in the Riggers'
and Stevedores' was surpassed by other longshore unions due to its exclusion of unskilled longshoremen, its high $100 initiation
fee, and the union's less - than - zealous attempts to organize the unorganized. By 1886, the Riggers' were one of three waterfront
unions in San Francisco (ILWU, 6).
The growing interest of the Riggers' in labor solidarity and alliances is evident in their role in the formation of The Federated
Council of Wharf and Wave Unions in 1888 and the City Front Labor Council in 1891 (Cross, 198, 207). Both of these alliances
were short-lived, but the support of the City Front helped the Riggers' in their successful strike for a wage increase in
1891 (ILWU, 6).
By the turn of the century, San Francisco's longshore unions were affiliated with the International Longshoremen's Association
(ILA)- a member of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The Riggers' were among the unions who helped to form the City
Front Federation, an alliance between teamsters, longshore, and seafaring unions that were established in 1901. After the
Draymen's Association locked out 6,500 Teamsters who refused to drive non-union handled baggage, 13,000 members of the City
Front Federation went out in a sympathy strike (Selvin,
A Terrible Anger, 22). The employers, who had formed their own alliance to combat labor called the Employer's Association, decided to attempt
to crush the young Teamster's Union in an effort to institute the open shop in San Francisco. When Governor George Gage forced
both sides to end the strike after more than two months of bitter and violent conflict, the demands of the union remained
unmet and the employers proved unable to crush the unions and institute open shop conditions. The fact that the unions survived
such a long and bloody strike at all was seen as a victory for labor (Selvin,
Sky Full of Storm, 21-26).
In the aftermath of the strike, the Union Labor Party was formed and San Francisco's first labor mayor - Eugene Schmitz, a
union musician - was elected (Cross, 246). Labor used the unity forged in the strike to consolidate inter and intra-union
bonds, and to organize the unorganized. The Riggers' and Stevedores', along with other San Francisco unions, experienced an
upsurge in membership. The Riggers' were strong at this time, enjoying wages 30 to 40 percent higher than longshoremen in
New York. For the next several years, San Francisco enjoyed a relatively favorable labor climate and became an almost completely
closed-shop city (ILWU, 7-8).
During its history, the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union withdrew and then rejoined the ILA several times. This pattern illustrates
the tension between the union's urge for industrial alliances and its inclination towards union independence and its desire
to form an industry-wide federation of unions. Attempts at a coast wide alliance between maritime unions was discussed frequently
in these years, but no serious attempt was made until 1914, when the Riggers' were involved in creating a local Waterfront
Worker's Federation. In the same year, they also re-affiliated with the District 38 of the ILA. By the beginning of 1916,
the Riggers' had withdrawn from the ILA again, preferring to spend the cost of affiliation on organizing and creating their
own federation. This effort was unsuccessful because they encountered opposition in their plans to form "one big union" from
members of the San Francisco Labor Council and the Waterfront Worker's Federation.
At the ILA District 38 convention in May of 1916, longshoremen discussed unsatisfactory negotiations with employers relating
to the closed shop, coastwide standard wages and practices, and a lockout in Vancouver. They felt that the increase in profits
the shipping companies were reaping from the war in Europe and the opening of the Panama Canal to commercial traffic during
August 1915 should be passed on to the workers in the form of higher wages. The union locals also demanded a coastwide closed
shop. The convention voted to go out on strike on June 1, 1916 if their demands were not negotiated, giving the employers
a month's notice. (Note: For an excellent and comprehensive examination of the decline of the Riggers' and Stevedore's Union
and in the conditions underlying the strikes, see Mary Renfro, "The Decline and Fall of the San Francisco Riggers' and Stevedores'
Union: A History of the years 1916 to 1919."(Senior Thesis, San Francisco State, 1995), Labor Archives and Research Center.
Renfro's discussion of the causes of the strike and the reaction of the labor community help explain why the strikes failed.)
Employers in San Francisco claimed they had only been given two weeks notice and called it a violation of their contract with
the unions, which demanded two months notice before a strike. The Waterfront Workers Federation used this contractual violation
to back away from the Riggers', which more conservative members thought was becoming too radical in its attempts to form an
amalgamated maritime union. To some observers at the time, the Riggers' seemed to be influenced by the ideas of the Industrial
Workers of the World (IWW), a union that advocated radical social change. On June 1, 1916, 10,000 longshore workers went
out in the first coastwide strike of longshoremen in the West. The Riggers' and Stevedores' went out on strike with the ILA
unions. The employers agreed to negotiate, and the strikers went back to work on June 9 with the assurance that strikebreakers
would be dismissed if they did so. When the employers refused to dismiss the strikebreakers despite the adamant protests of
the unions, the longshoremen walked out again on June 22. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which until this time had
claimed neutrality in labor disputes, announced it would try to maintain the open shop on the waterfront and to defeat the
closed shop in San Francisco (Cross, 249). A "Law & Order Committee" was created that promptly raised a fund of a million
dollars to aid the employer's cause. After another violent period of strike, the Riggers' agreed to the employer's offer of
a return to work under pre-strike conditions and returned on July 17, 1916. When they returned to work, San Francisco's longshoremen
broke the coastwide solidarity of the other ILA unions still on strike. The 1916 strike proved to be a defeat for the unions
A bomb exploded on July 22, 1916 at the corner of Steuart and Market Streets during a World War I "Preparedness Day" Parade
organized by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. The explosion killed 10 and injured 40 people, and labor was blamed for
being responsible for the bombing. The flames of public opinion against unions were fanned by the employers and the Law and
Order Committee. Within a short time, a group of people including two labor leaders, Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, was charged
with the bombing. In the anti-labor backlash that followed, an ordinance was passed that made picketing illegal in San Francisco.
The tide was turning against the labor-friendly climate on the waterfront and of the dominance of the closed shop in San Francisco
Sky Full of Storm, 37-41).
The Riggers' attempted another strike in 1919. They demanded higher wages to keep pace with a rising cost of living. To combat
the increasing pace of work resulting from mechanization of longshore equipment, they demanded improved safety conditions,
an increase in the number of men on work gangs, and limits on loads longshoremen had to handle (ILWU, 9). Among the more
radical demands of the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union were for 25% stock ownership in each steamship company, and seats on
the board of directors - but the strike was essentially a protest against the increase of the speed and amount of work for
longshoremen, and the unsafe conditions that resulted. On September 15, the longshoremen walked out, having failed to reach
an agreement with employers. The Waterfront Employer's Union refused to negotiate and began a public campaign against the
longshoremen's "radical" union leadership (ILWU, 9). Thirteen hundred strikebreakers were brought into San Francisco to work
the docks, and seafaring and teamster unions continued to haul and ship cargo for the employers (ILWU, 9; Cross 251; Cross
gives the number of strikebreakers as 1,000). By December, the Longshoremen's Association of San Francisco and the Bay District
was formed by gang bosses who split with the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union. The new union was without any of the radical
ideology of the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union (ILWU, 11). In a short time, 1,000 longshoremen enrolled in the new union:
25% of the waterfront workforce (Markholt, 30). The employers quickly signed a five-year contract with the new union and
refused to recognize or deal with any other unions. Individual longshoremen were forced to carry the blue due books of the
Longshoremen's Association of San Francisco and the Bay District - the so-called "Blue Book" union - to gain employment on
Though not technically a "company union", the Blue Book was dominated by the employers and showed no signs of independence-
refusing to enforce its own rules pertaining to the rights of employees. In this way, what appeared to be a bona fide trade
union on paper in reality did little to protect its members. In an attempt to regroup after the failed strike, the Riggers'
once again re-affiliated with the ILA in December as Local 38-33, but within months, their power and membership had faded.
By 1923, the ILA had canceled the Riggers' charter for nonpayment (Markholt, 32).
The Riggers' and Stevedores' struggled to reorganize throughout of the 1920's. In 1923, Lee Holman, later a president of the
San Francisco ILA local, attempted to organize again and was blacklisted from the Blue Book. In 1924, 400 longshoremen marched
up Market Street under the banner of the Riggers' and Stevedores' Union - most of them were blacklisted by employers who didn't
like the idea of a truly independent union or competition to the Blue Book's monopoly on the waterfront. In 1925, Holman successfully
reorganized the Riggers' as Local 38-69. In 1927, the Riggers' local joined the San Francisco Labor Council to block the
Blue Book union's bid for membership. Nevertheless, in 1929, the Riggers' and Stevedores' - one of San Francisco's oldest
and continually existing unions - were unseated from San Francisco Labor Council and the Blue Book was admitted in its stead
Cross, Ira B.
A History of the Labor Movement in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1935.
International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union.
The ILWU Story: Two Decades of Militant Unionism. San Francisco: ILWU, 1955.
Maritime Solidarity: Pacific Coast Unionism 1929-1938. Tacoma: Pacific Coast Maritime History Committee, 1998.
The Decline and Fall of the San Francisco Riggers' and Stevedores' Union: A History of the years 1916 to 1919. Senior Thesis, San Francisco State University, 1995.
Sky Full of Storm (Revised). San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1975.
A Terrible Anger: The 1934 Waterfront and General Strikes in San Francisco. Chicago: Wayne State University Press, 1996.
Scope and Contents
The Riggers' and Stevedores' Union Records include nine bound volumes of minutes from meetings from the years 1906-1919, and
four folders of loose items from the years 1906-1918. Listed below are the sections contained in a typical entry, and the
information that is usually contained in each type of entry. Please note that the order of the sections varies with time.
The type of information contained within each section also varies slightly over time:
- A passage stating whether this was a regular or special meeting of the union and the date and location of the meeting.
- Password taken up
- Roll call of officers and absentees noted.
- Minutes of previous meeting read.
- Communications Read: contains information on contemporary events, the contact between unions, correspondence from employers,
and the ILA, the San Francisco Labor Council and the Waterfront Worker's Federation.
- Bills to be Paid: bills, expenses, salary of union officers, affiliation fees to different associations to which the Riggers'
belonged (ILA, Waterfront Workers Federation, the Japanese Exclusion League, etc.).
- Applications for Membership: Names of applicants and names of their sponsors within the union.
- Initiated: Applicants who were approved and initiated into the union.
- Report of Committees: Information on the progress of different committees in the union.
- Unfinished Business: Motions and issues carried over from another meeting. Mainly relates to motions or proposals, but sometimes
also relates to disputes between union members.
- New Business: Motions and legislation pertaining to work rules, union rules, and other issues are usually raised here. Often
full of motions, amendments, and counter motions as well as records of how the members voted on specific motions.
- Business Agent's Report: In this section, work grievances, job conditions, job actions taken by the union or individual longshoremen,
and negotiations with employers are frequently discussed. This section often mentions working conditions, work-related deaths
and injuries, and the amount of work the Riggers' were getting on the waterfront.
- Financial Secretary's Report: Contains information on the amount of money the union had, what banks it was in, and the total
wealth of the union at that time.
Elections were generally held quarterly and the Financial Secretary's Report was recorded quarterly. The Financial Secretary's
Report contains information on the wealth of the union and on the membership of the union in some cases. Election results
are also often reported within the minutes every three months. Typically, they show the names of the candidates for office,
the number of votes they received, and who won. Also listed are the results of propositions on the ballots relating to union
actions or policies.
Labor unions--Longshoremen--United States.
Labor unions--Organizing--United States.
Labor unions--United States--History--20th century.
Stevedores--Labor unions--United States.
Strikes and lockouts--California--San Francisco.
Carton 1, Folder 1
1906 January 22-1907 December 26
Items of interest include: evidence that the Riggers' were members of the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League [pp 2,13, 33];
a February 5th, 1906 vote to rejoin the City Front Federation [p 8]; evidence that there were 1200 members of the union as
of February 26, 1906 [p 17]; a quarterly financial report, including information on the total wealth of the union, the number
of new members who had joined during the quarter, expenses, and income [pp 35-38]; mention of an effort to give financial
aid to affiliated unions following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake [p 50]; election results [pp 66, 172, 269]; 1907 quarterly
financial statement [p 177];evidence that the initiation fee in 1907 was more than $25.00 [p 177]; mention a treasurer who
disappeared with union funds [pp 257-262]; mention of an internal, secret "Black Hand" organization within the Riggers' that
was accused of discriminating against other members of the union [pp 317-318, 321].
Carton 1, Folder 2
1908 January 9-1909 July 27
Items of interest include: election results [pp 3, 93, 195-196, 274]; evidence of a continuing pattern of the union aiding
other unions strike [p 28]; report of the auditing committee [p 50]; mention of a "wildcat" strike- a strike unsanctioned
by union leaders [p 72]; treasurer's report [pp 152-153, 159-160]; transcript of a letter from Samuel Gompers, President of
the American Federation of Labor (AFL) [p 191]; transcript of a letter from John Mitchell, described as the second vice president
of the AFL relating to a Supreme Court Case: Supreme Court of Columbia v. AFL [p 192]; a transcript of a letter from Frank
Morrison, Secretary of the AFL, in which he mentions the Sherman Anti-Trust Law, and the Pearri Anti-Injunction Bill that
pertained to freedom of speech and freedom of the press [pp 192-193].
Carton 1, Folder 3
1909 August 2-1910 December 19
Items of interest include: evidence that as of December 22, 1909, the Riggers' were not a part of the ILA [pp 82-83]; On January
10, 1910, the Riggers' voted to affiliate with the ILA [p 147]; this affiliation was defeated in a special meeting of the
union, and there is some evidence about the conflict within the union about affiliating with the ILA [pp 82-83, 139, 147,
177]; evidence that by 1910, the initiation fee was $13.00 [p 292]; as of December 29, 1908, the membership of the union was
2,044 [p 292]; election results [pp 186-187].
Carton 1, Folder 4
1911 January 9-1912 June 24
Of interest: election results [pp 4-5, 112, 271, 302]; information about wealth and membership of union as of January 9, 1911
[pp 8-13]; amalgamation with Longshore Lumbermen's Union discussed [pp 183, 202]; more discussion of amalgamation [p 206];
evidence that the Riggers' voted against amalgamation with the Alameda Lumber Clerks [p 157]; evidence that the union voted
against a proposal that called for the exchange of minutes between longshore unions and system of initiative and referendum
between unions, 356 to 388 [p 157]; defeat of a proposal to affiliate with the ILA, 333 to 231 [p 157]; the acceptance of
a proposal to amalgamate the maritime unions of the West Coast, and to form "one big powerful union", 451 to 340 [p 158];
a vote for an eight hour day with overtime [p 158]; a vote to organize a maritime federation [p 158]; the passage of a motion
to make the first and third meeting of every month "propaganda meetings" to promote the labor movement, including discussion
sessions and speakers [p 190]; evidence that the Riggers' were still considered joining the ILA as of March 3, 1913 [pp 205,
208]; vote against joining the ILA [p 271]; mention of a jurisdictional conflict over organizing the lumberyards [p 275].
Carton 1, Folder 5
1912 July 1-1913 June 2
Items of interest include: the results of an election held on July 8, 1912 [p 8]; a vote for amalgamation with the Longshore
Lumberman's and Clerk's Association, 215 to 214 [p 9]; an example of the union's working rules in this period [pp 32-33];
evidence that the Riggers' passed a proposal to "try to amalgamate all our crafts on the Pacific Coast" and to attempt to
amalgamate "all maritime transport workers" [p 77]; evidence of when the Riggers' withdrew fro the Asiatic Exclusion League
[p 78]; a passage that states "there is a decided aversion in this Union to Affiliate with the International Association of
Longshoremen [p 109].
Carton 1, Folder 6
1913 June 9-1914 July 13
Items of interest include: the results of a quarterly elections [pp 30-31, 165, 167]; a vote to join the ILA on August 18,
1913 "with the understanding that dues shall not be raised for this purpose", 286 to 116 [p 63]; a mention on September 22,
1913 that the "Clerks" had amalgamated [p 84]; the wage scale that was to go into effect as of November 1, 1913 [p 96]; mention
of a communication from the President of the Pacific Convention, presumably of the ILA, that forbade IWW delegates in the
convention [p 228].
Carton 1, Folder 7
1914 July 27-1915 September 27
Points of interest in Book VII include: a mention of the "Ludlow Massacre" [p 23]; election results [p 131]; evidence that
the "Crockett local" was amalgamated on July 9, 1915 [p 213]; an amendment to the union constitutions that limited membership
to "white citizens of the United States"[p 297]; a record that the Riggers' Protective Union amalgamated on November 1, 1915
Carton 1, Folder 8
1915 October 4-1916 December 18
Points of interest include: quarterly election results [pp 76, 79]; evidence that as of January 16, 1916, the Riggers' had
a $30.00 initiation fee [p 79]; proposal that the Riggers' withdraw from the ILA and spend their money to amalgamate the Pacific
Coast into "one big union" and that they present this resolution at the Pacific Coast District Convention of the ILA [ p 79];
the Riggers' voted along with the San Francisco Labor Council against "militarism" [p 110]; a letter from T.V. O'Connor condemning
the union's actions in trying to amalgamate other unions [p 124]; evidence of a special election that "rescinded" the proposal
to amalgamate the Pacific coast, by a vote of 436 to 212 [ p 79]; mention of a meeting on May 31, 1916 relating to a strike
[p 178]; the unions voted to rescind their "resolution regarding prohibition" [p 236]; record of the vote on November 21,
1916 in which the Riggers' voted to end the strike and return to work [p 255].
Carton 1, Folder 9
1917 January 8-1919 January 20
Points of interest in Book IX include: election results [pp 3, 279]; the mention of the establishment of a maximum load amount
[p 12]; a mention a letter from the San Francisco Labor Council requesting financial assistance, to which the Riggers' replied
that they were "in no position to financially assist them"[p 25]; a reversal of the constitutional policy that only white
citizens could join the union. Instead, all "men of good moral character...capable of performing the work of loading and unloading
vessels" would be eligible for membership [p 34]; record that the meetings of the union were made bimonthly as opposed to
weekly [p 35]; minutes from a special meeting of the union to address the issue of members refusing to work unless given an
increase in wages [p 55]; a resolution calling for an 8 hour day, $6.00 per day, 75 cents an hour straight time, $1.25 overtime
[p 55]; evidence of member of the Riggers independently quitting work and refusing to return to work [p 59]; a mention of
a motion to refuse to handle non-union handled cargo that was rescinded "at the request of the Employer's Union and the Waterfront
Workers Federation" [pp 59-60]; a vote not to amalgamate with the Riggers of Alameda [p 61]; a new wage scale proposed by
the employer on June 1, 1917 [p 62]; an attempt by the Riggers' to institute a new wage scale of 65 cents per hour straight
time and $1.00 overtime [p 84]; evidence of very large amount of applicants for membership [pp 86-87, 92-95, 100-101,107-108];
mention of a meeting to organize the unorganized and to increase the wage scale [p 96].
Carton 1, Folder 10
Items from Minute Books,
Contents of this folder include: Printed materials relating to internal union business, typed minutes of a session of the
City Front Federation, handwritten memos and notes, notes written on printed notices. Essentially, the contents are ephemera
that reflect the day to day business of the union.
Carton 1, Folder 11
Items from Minute Books,
1912 July 1-1912 December 31
This folder consists of printed materials and handwritten notes relating to the business of the union. Of particular interest
is a typewritten notice dated November 18, 1912 stating an aversion on the part of the Riggers' to affiliation with the ILA
and the intent of the Riggers' to establish a "coastwide system of referendum and initiative" for longshoremen regarding wages,
hours and working conditions. This folder also contains a note on the Riggers' letterhead that verifies that it was founded
on July 25, 1853 (see note above in HISTORY section). The folder contains: a list of members of the Amalgamation Committee
(June 10,1912 July 8, 1912); proposed working rules for August 5, 1912. Many of the documents in this folder mention the Riggers'
attempts to amalgamate the maritime unions of the Pacific Coast.
Carton 1, Folder 12
Items from Minute Books,
This folder contains handwritten notes and printed materials including: a printed card advertising the Third Grand Ball given
by the "Moose Drum Corps"; handwritten notes relating to the resolutions and motions of the union as recorded in the minutes;
a tally of the results of a special election on April 28, 1913 deciding the Riggers' affiliation with the ILA (192 against,
141 for affiliation); and an agreement between the Riggers' and the Sailor's Union of the Pacific settling jurisdictional
disputes dated January 18, 1915.
Carton 1, Folder 13
Items from Minute Books,
Contents of this folder include: a copy ballot and the results of a referendum on July 15, 1916 deciding if the Riggers' would
go back to work or on July 17 or continue to strike (the vote was 1186 for to 549 against returning); a resolution stating
the Riggers' opposition to the Chamber of Commerce's drive to change the office of police judge from an elected to an appointed
office; a timeline on the negotiations of wages between unions and employers dated May 26, 1917; a letter form the International
Workers' Defense Fund about the Mooney Billings case; a resolution from July 31, 1916 which endorsed the prohibition of consumption
and manufacturing of alcohol. The Riggers' reasoned that since some of the members of the Chamber of Commerce made money from
producing and selling alcoholic beverages, they would be hurt if prohibition was enacted. The Chamber of Commerce, which had
announced its intentions to crush unions and institute the open shop in San Francisco, would theoretically suffer financially
because of prohibition. Finally, the contents of this folder include a list of unions affiliated with the Waterfront Workers'
Federation as of May 3, 1917.