‘I.W.W. Longshoremen Tie Up Water Front in Philadelphia’ by E.F. Doree from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 2 No. 7. July, 1920.

Veteran wobbly organizer and local union leader gives a detail report on the strike of Marine Transport Workers Local 8, among the strongest and most successful early inter-racial unions, on the Philadelphia docks in 1920.

‘I.W.W. Longshoremen Tie Up Water Front in Philadelphia’ by E.F. Doree from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 2 No. 7. July, 1920.

Strike starts.

“Order! Order! I will now put the motion,” thundered Chairman White to the assembled I.W.W. longshoremen of the port of Philadelphia. There is silence. The air is tense with excitement and expectation. The next words of our colored chairman fell like hammer blows. “The motion is, ‘Shall we go on strike immediately’. We shall take a rising vote. All those in favor will stand up.” The silence of a moment before is broken by deafening cheers as the entire body rose to its feet. Cheers followed cheers. Hats went into the air. Pandemonium reigned supreme for several moments. Doubts and uncertainties of a moment before were swept away. All are happy. All are enthusiastic.

Some, thinking business over, start for the door. “Order, order,” ‘Fellow Worker Chairman,” ‘“Order,” “Fellow Worker Chairman, what are we going to do with the night gangs who are now working.” And. from every corner of the large hall come cries, “Pull ’em out, pull ’em out” and “Knock ’em off, Knock ’em off, NOW!” The chairman announces that the meeting stands adjourned and suggests that everybody go to the docks.

The strike is on.

And the enthusiasm of that night has grown each day since. The strike started on May 26th and now, nearly a month later not ONE man has broken from the ranks. The solidarity is remarkable. It is 100 per cent, the kind of 100 per cent that we like.

The strike started over the refusal of the Employing Stevedore and Shipping Interests of the Port of Philadelphia to grant an increase in wages. The longshoremen on foreign trade shipping demanded $1.00 an hour in the place of the 80c. that they were receiving.

History of the strike.

To those who doubt the growing solidarity, let them read what follows and read it well, for here is told exactly just what has actually happened. It is history, the history of but yesterday and not the wild dream of a fanatical soap-boxer. It is the dream come true.

The strike was called 10:30 o’clock on the night of May 26th and immediately covered 3,700 members of the I.W.W. employed almost entirely on the loading and unloading of foreign trade ships.

At midnight all members were off the job.

The following morning the non-union docks at Spreckel’s Sugar Refinery and the American Line Piers were tied up tight. Members commence to pour into the union. By night more than a thousand had filled in application blanks and the foreign trade shipping was shut down with not a man working.

Two things happened on the first day of the strike to show the wonderfully fine growing solidarity of the workers. The first was when the delegates of the Marine Firemen advised our secretary that the firemen will not produce steam for scabs. The second was the fine action of the crew of the British freighter Haverford, at Pier 53. These fellow workers refused to handle scab cargo or coal, and when a couple of scab gangs were secured, they turned off the steam on the ship making it impossible for the scabs to work.

When the ship left the following day without a full cargo, the Ship Delegate assured us that they would not permit the ship to be taken out into the stream and there loaded. In appreciation of their fine action, the following letter was given the crew:

“We would feel negligent in our duty if we failed to extend our word of thanks to the crew of the S.S. Haverford for refusing to handle cargo or coal while members of the Marine Transport Workers’ Industrial Union, No. 8, of the Industrial Workers of the World, were on strike.

“Fellow Worker John Gannon, Ship Delegate, and his gallant crew have welded another link in the chain of solidarity which is bringing the workers of land and sea closer together into the ONE BIG UNION of the Workers of the World.”

Crew of the Haverford in 1919.

Shop Stewards of England support strike.

After the ship left port, the following cablegram was sent away: “Shop Stewards’ and Workers’ Committee. “10 Tudor Street, London, C.F. 4. “Industrial Workers of the World completely tie up waterfront Philadelphia. Crew British Freighter Haverford organized. Shop Stewards refused handle cargo or supply steam. Magnificent international solidarity. Congratulations. Marine Transport Workers, Industrial Workers World.”

The loading and unloading of ships came to a complete stop when the coast-wise longshoremen joined in the strike on May 28th.

On the next day they presented, to their employers, demands calling for 80c. an hour for straight time of eight hours a day and for time and one-half time for all overtime, Sundays and holidays.

The coastwise men surely had reason to strike. All during the war they were paid 65 cents an hour, but no sooner had the armistice been signed than the bosses rewarded them by cutting their wages to 54 cents an hour. Needless to say, they were unorganized. They have learned their lesson./

Olaf Carl Malmquist’s bas-relief, Marine Fireman’s Union hall, at 240 Second Street, San Francisco, CA.

On the 29th, the American firemen faced the test and were found not wanting. A few scabs had been secured at Pier 46. The delegate of the Marine Firemen, Oilers and Watertenders’ Union was notified. In half an hour the steam was cut from the winches. As we say now—“no steam—no scabs.”

Scabs hard to get.

May 31st, the Merchants & Miners Company started a free taxicab line. It wasn’t exactly what they intended, but it is really what happened. This concern sent men about town and to the several employment agencies to pick up men to scab. The intended strike-breakers were then brought to the dock in taxis, where they met the pickets. None went to work, but as it was close to the hall a good many went up and joined.

On June 2nd, the firemen on the sugar ship at Spreckels’ refinery cut off the steam from about forty scabs. Steam was then brought from the power house of the refinery to the ship through a large hose. Scabs were reported to be eating on the ship. Cooks and stewards were notified, and the scabs did not eat. That afternoon the scabs were paid off.

Finding that they could not get scabs, the employers made their first big attempt to break the ranks of the strikers by sending a circular letter to the homes of almost all those on strike. It is a mess of misstatements and carries with it their threat. A portion of the letter reads as follows:

“…The steamship and stevedore interests feel quite sure that the calling of this strike was due largely to outside influences, and that the majority of the longshoremen are not in sympathy with this strike, and that if they knew the true conditions they would return to work.

“There is in effect at the present time an agreement between the steamship and stevedore interests and the longshoremen of the port of Philadelphia which does not expire till September 30, 1920, which guarantees to you the same basic wage as is now being paid at other North Atlantic ports for stevedore work.

“Practically all the steamers in port have been idle for a week. This situation cannot continue, and unless work is resumed by the regular longshoremen on or before Monday, June 7th, in addition to the steamers already diverted, every possible steamer in port and to arrive will be sent to other ports, and steps will be taken immediately to work the remaining steamers to the best advantage…”

To this letter the strikers answered in the following language in their strike bulletin, which they issue every four or five days:

“Outside influence? Never was there a strike more local in influence. The strike was called by a general meeting of longshoremen, at which no one was admitted except a member in good standing in Branch 1, M.T.W.I.U. No. 8, I.W.W. Since the strike has been on, no one other than longshoremen, except the delegates from the S.S. Haverford, have addressed a meeting of longshoremen nor done any publicity for them. The strike was started and is handled absolutely by longshoremen employed on the water front of Philadelphia. The strike vote was unanimous. No strike-breaker has been mistreated.

“The Marine Transport Workers’ Industrial Union No. 8, Branch 1, has never signed an agreement with anyone for any period of time. The union is willing to pay $10,000 reward for anyone locating any agreement between Branch 1, M.T.W.I.U., No. 8, and any stevedore. Come, Mr. Boss, whoever you be, and show us that agreement. We are, indeed, surprised to learn that we possess such a thing as an agreement…”

On June 3rd, a captain from a ship at Pier 98 came to the hall and wanted men to unload his ship. He said he was willing to pay the price demanded. He was referred to the office of the stevedoring companies. The members refused to work one ship unless it is so settled that we work all ships.

The second British crew refused to accept cargo or coal from scabs. They are the crew of the freighter Henderson. These fellow workers are organized in the Shop Stewards and Workers’ Committee in England, which has recently joined hands with the I.W.W.

On the same day a company wanted “to pay any price” to get 4,000 cases of lemons unloaded. Matter put up to membership. Unanimously decided to let the lemons stay there till the strike was settled.

On June 7th the delegate from the Marine Firemen notified us that the firemen have officially gone on record against furnishing steam on any vessel where a strike is on. On the following day a committee from the longshoremen went to their meeting and extended the word of thanks to their members.

June 8th, the White Star Dominion Liner “Virginia,” of Liverpool, arrived in port at the American Line piers. After the crew stood examination at the quarantine station, and had docked, they were denied shore passes. The crew were told that they would have to be examined by another doctor.

They saw, however, that something was wrong, as the cargo was not worked as usual. They inquired if a strike was on, and were informed that they might expect one in a few days.

Two firemen went ashore that night and located the union hall, and there learned that a strike was on. They refused to furnish steam.

Foreign workers refuse to betray.

At the Spreckels sugar refinery the firemen have refused to furnish steam to strike-breakers. The Spreckels company has now laid steam pipes along the edge of the dock, and are running hoses from these pipes to the winches. The hoses stand a pressure of about forty-five pounds. This amount of steam will lift about two bags at a time. The ordinary draft is eight bags. An Italian ship at Pier 19 is unloading lemons with scabs. Having no steam, these scabs are passing the cases from one to another from the hold to the doek. At the rate that they are going it will take them a week to dispose of the lemons.

Having failed to coax the workers back with their circular letter, the bosses tried out the nationality game, with absolutely the same success.

On June 9th, the bosses went to the Polish workers offering them booze and telling them that if they returned that they would employ only Polish workers. The fellow workers saw through their game in a moment, and none went scabbing.

Negroes cannot be lured.

Other foremen went to the Negroes and urged them to return to work, with the solemn promise that the stevedores would employ none other than Negroes, because they had always done the best work and were the most desirable workers. The colored boys had met up with this game before, and there was nothing doing.

On the same day, other bosses went to the Italians and offered them $1.20 an hour if they would scab. They refused, to a man.

Local 8 leader Ben Fletcher was in federal prison during the strike.

Fellow Worker murdered by lone scab.

Then came the tragedy of the strike. Fellow Worker Stanley Pavzlack was murdered by an armed scab, shot through the heart. Our fellow worker was standing in front of his home with his wife and two children when he heard shooting. Seeing that danger was coming in his direction, he attempted to get his family to a place of safety. While thus engaged he was murdered.

The trouble started when Louis Townsend and two companions were leaving the dock where they had been scabbing. Leaving Delaware avenue, they walked up Queen street to Front street, where pickets attempted to talk to them. The scabs did not seem to be in a talking mood and continued down Front street. After going on a few steps, onlookers believe that Townsend went mad. He stopped suddenly, pulled his gun and, wheeling around, fired a shot at the union men standing on the corner. He then broke and ran up Front street, followed by his comrades, shooting at everyone in sight.

His first victims were Edward Tarcyloski, 12 years old, and his brother, Louis, 3 years old, who were seated on the steps in front of their home when the three scabs passed. Stopping momentarily, Townsend fired three shots at the children. The elder of the children was struck in the thigh and the younger had his abdomen grazed by a bullet.

Further along Front street the crazed scab encountered Joseph Carcrewski, who had just come out of a barber shop. Before the man had time to duck he was dropped by the scab with a bullet in his leg.

Continuing his wild career, Townsend made his way to Front and Pemberton, where he killed Fellow Worker Pavzlack.

The shooting took place within a block of the Longshoremen’s Hall, at 121 Catherine street, and in a section where hundreds of our members live. During the whole murderfest not a shot was fired at the scabs, bent upon “cleaning up” the whole South Side. Scores of persons attempted to catch them and Townsend was finally captured at Front and South streets, four blocks from where the shooting started. A gun and forty-two cartridges were found on Townsend when he was searched at the station house.

Strikers demand law and order.

The day after the murder the union issued and distributed thousands of the following notices:

“Employing Stevedores, Attention!, Disarm the scabs!!! Cut out the booze!! Shootings must stop. There is no room for drunken men or armed men in a strike situation. It is reported that scabs are armed by bosses. This must stop! Bosses are offering to buy booze for strikers if they will scab. This must stop! The bosses want violence—the union does not!!! The practice of strike-breakers shooting down union men and their families must stop!!! And stop at once!!!

“This is a strike—not a war. Workers have a legal right to strike. Strike-breakers have a legal right to scab. Neither have a legal right to kill or carry concealed weapons.

“The law is enforced against the strikers—enforce it against the scabs. The I.W.W. is doing all in its power to keep violence off the waterfront.”

Fellow Worker Pavzlack was buried on Saturday, June 12. Hundreds of his fellow workers were present at the funeral services, where they paid their last solemn respects to the fallen battler in the class war. Fellow Worker Pavzlack is the second member of the I.W.W. murdered on the water front of Philadelphia. Three years ago Fellow Worker Martin Petkus was shot to death at Front and Reed streets while picketing in the sugar strike.

Employers seeking negotiations.

The first attempt to bring the strike to an end failed. The strikers were notified by one of the employing stevedores, Mr. Joseph Mooney, that the bosses wanted to see a committee on June 14th. The strikers chose a committee of fifteen, representing the longshoremen on foreign trade, the longshoremen on coastwise trade, the checkers and the grain ceilers, all of whom were on strike, most of them having lined up since the strike started. The employers stated that they could see only the representatives from the longshoremen on foreign trade and that they had nothing to do with the others. The committee refused to deal in sections, so the employers with whom the union has formerly dealt will try to get together all bosses on the river front so that they can deal with all the strikers at one time.

The committee presented their argument to the employers in written form. A portion of it, that part dealing with the increased cost of living, is quoted below:

“Your recent reply to our original request for increased wages states that it is your belief that the cost of living has already started to decline; therefore, we come now, armed with the figures and facts compiled by Uncle Sam.

“Unfortunately, the Monthly Labor Review of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor is seldom complete. For instance, on retail prices of food, it lists only twenty-two articles, these being about two-thirds of all the staple articles ordinarily consumed by a working class family.

“They are: sirloin steak, round steak, rib roast, chuck roast, plate beef, pork chops, bacon, ham, lard, hens, eggs, cheese, milk, bread, flour, corn meal, rice, potatoes, sugar, coffee, tea and butter.

“The figures show…that the total increase in the price of the above-named articles, from Nov. 15, 1919, to Feb. 15, 1920, was 8 per cent. For March, 1920, we have no figures.

“We would like to have them, as we are sure that they would show an increase in food costs. From March 15th to April 15th, 1920 retail food prices soared upward 5 per cent.

“This makes a total increase in retail food prices of 13 per cent from Nov. 15, 1919, to April 15, 1920, with figures lacking for the period of Feb. 15th to March 15th.

“No figures are available on rents, but surely no one will hold that they are on the decline in the city of Philadelphia. Indications are that they will continue to go up.

“No retail figures are available for clothing, etc. Wholesale figures, however, are complete…From these figures we find that for the period Nov. 15th, 1919, to Feb. 15th, 1920:

“Farm products declined 1.25 per cent, Foods increased 11.4 percent, Clothing went up 9.6 per cent. Fuel and light jumped 4.5 percent, House furnishings soared 10 percent: from March 15th to April 15th, 1920, the wholesale prices on foods increased 4.75 per cent, thus making the total increase in wholesale food prices for four of the past six months, namely, December, January, February and April, more than 15 per cent over what they were in November, 1919.

“Further, a perusal of the financial pages of the daily press forces us to believe that prices are not destined to come down.”

The day following this parley, the secretary was called up and informed the committee was wanted by a member of the U.S. Shipping Board. The committee went and they were asked to request the members to unload five ships laden with flour at Pier 98. They would work directly for the steamship company and not for the men against whom they were striking. Matter taken up. It was decided to unload the flour after the strike was over.

Another day passed, and the stevedores asked to see the committee again. Same trouble as before. No settlement in sight. As this is being written these messages are coming to strike headquarters:

The last news

“The British Red Star Line S.S. “Makinaw” was moved from Pier 55 to Richmond. No scabs. No steam. No work. All’s O.K. Firemen aboard her threatened with arrest if they did not furnish steam. No steam. No arrests.

“Grain elevator men at Girard Point have refused to scab on longshoremen. Will not handle grain in the hold of the ship.

“Harbor boatmen refuse to haul scabs from Chestnut street pier.

“Three coal hoisters quit giving coal for scabs to work with.

“The following message has just gone to England: Dock Workers Union, Corner Lamb, off Commercial Road, Liverpool, England.

S.S. “Regina” lying at American Line Piers, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.A. Grain being loaded in Hatch No. 3 by scabs (blacklegs). Firemen have refused to furnish steam. Interview firemen on arrival at Liverpool. Firemen members of N.S. & F.U.”

At this time there are over 150 ships listed in the harbor. All are idle. Not a ship is working, and the strikers have made it plain that not a ship will work till the strike is over.

The high points of the strike

The high points of the strike may be summed up in these words:

Edward F. Doree in Leavenworth, 1918.

The strike is nearly a month old. Not a ship has been loaded or unloaded in that time.

Every one of the 3,700 members of the I.W.W. walked out on call. Not one has returned.

Every unorganized longshoreman in the port of Philadelphia came off when requested. Not one of them has broken ranks.

Over 5,000 members lined up in three weeks.

With the exception of the scab running amuck and killing Fellow Worker Pavznack, there has been practically no violence. Until that murder there was not even a fist fight. Less than a score have been arrested to date.

Union firemen aboard ship have refused steam to scabs.

Union cooks and stewards have refused to feed scabs.

Union boatmen have refused to work with scabs.

Union coal hoisters have refused to supply coal to ships loaded with scab cargo.

British crews organized in the Shop Stewards movement of Great Britain have refused to accept coal or cargo from scabs.

The Grain Ceilers’ Branch, M.T.W.I.U. No. 8 I.W.W., presented demands for $10 a day, with double time for overtime. They are on strike.

Four hundred unorganized sugar house men quit before they would take the places on the sugar docks.

All the checkers on the water front of Philadelphia have lined up in the I.W.W.

The foremen, with the miserable exception of three or four, have refused to boss scabs. The vast majority of them have notified their employers that they will not return to work even if some of the original strikers break ranks, unless the strike is settled through the union.

We have assurances that ships which may be loaded here by scabs will not be unloaded if their destination is Liverpool, Buenos Aires or Rosario. A great deal of Philadelphia shipping goes to these ports.

So stands the strike, the greatest in the history of this coast.

One Big Union Monthly was a magazine published in Chicago by the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1919 until 1938, with a break from February, 1921 until September, 1926 when Industrial Pioneer was produced.

Link to PDF of full issue: https://archive.org/download/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1920-08_2_8/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1920-08_2_8.pdf

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