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The Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

August 1, 2014 at 7:48 PM

Union leader left legacy on the waterfront

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Sketched July 30, 2014

July 28 was Harry Bridges Day down on the waterfront. That name may not be familiar to some, but it means a lot to West Coast dockworkers like Genevieve Herrera. She is one of about 800 local members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which Bridges started in San Francisco in the 1930s.

The Seattle crane operator said longshore workers owe the good pay and benefits that come with the job today to more than four decades of activism by Bridges, a San Francisco dockworker (born July 28, 1901) who stood up to ship owners back when longshoremen still used hooks and worked 24-hour shifts with no sleep.

The legacy of Bridges (who died in 1990) is closely tied to Seattle, said Kurt Harriage, a union member I met at the offices of ILWU Local 19 in Sodo. The labor leader visited many times, and the University of Washington now has a Chair named after him: Tthe Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies.

Down at the union hall in Sodo, the reverence for Bridges was the most palpable, embodied by retired longshore workers like Bill Proctor, who greeted me with: “You are shaking a hand that shook Harry’s hand.”

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Talk about scale. The giant cranes and towering stacks of containers make you feel insignificant when you enter the Port of Seattle terminals. Harriage, the longshore worker who drove me here, said it was a slow day, but the operators were surely working fast. The truck in this sketch took less than 10 minutes to move nearly a dozen “cans” from a stack four-containers high. I had to draw fast!

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Talking to retired longshore workers at the union hall was a highlight of my visit. They recalled the industry transition from “break bulk cargo” to containers in the early 1960s. Break bulk cargo means the longshore workers had to haul individual items. Imagine carrying boxes of bananas of or horse carcasses one by one. These guys make sure the values of solidarity and equality transmitted by Harry Bridges get passed to the next generations of longshore workers, said Harriage. His motto was: “An injury to one, is an injury to all.”

See more sketches from the Port of Seattle here.

Comments | More in Industry | Topics: Port of Seattle, Sodo

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