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Longshoremen strike the Tacoma Mill Company on March 22, 1886.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5064 : Printer-Friendly Format

On March 22, 1886, longshoremen on the Tacoma waterfront cease loading lumber onto ships, and demand a 10-cent-an-hour raise. The strike continues for five days while employers attempt but fail to hire strikebreakers. The strikers win their raise and go back to work as members of a new union, the Stevedores, Longshoremen and Riggers' Union of Puget Sound.

Typically the Tacoma waterfront was a busy place. Tall-masted ships and steam-powered schooners arrived to unload tea from the Far East (more than $500,000 worth in 1885), and to take on lumber, coal, and wheat for export to other places. Locomotives chugged along tracks and horse-drawn carts clattered back and forth along dirt roads.

Loading By Hand

A major business of the Tacoma docks was exporting lumber cut by the sawmills. To load the lumber onto ships, longshoremen first measured and counted boards and stacked the exact number of each size in separate stacks. Then horses dragged the stacks to skids set at the sterns of the ships anchored at the docks. Other longshoremen dragged these skids to the ship's hatches. There men carried the boards, one at a time, to the forward hold where they stacked the lumber into tiers.

On March 22, these workers ceased performing these tasks. Dock employers sent a message to Tacoma Mayor R. Jacob Weisbach: "A mob in charge of our wharf will not allow our men to work. Can you give us protection?" About 40 men had ceased working, and another 50 men who had been at the waterfront waiting for work, now refused to work and joined the strike.

They Stay Away From Tacoma

Immediately the stevedoring firm (the firm contracting with shipping firms to load and unload the ships) sent the steamer Biz to Seattle to hire strikebreakers. The strikers then sent telegrams to Seattle and to every other port on Puget Sound telling longshoremen to stay away from Tacoma. The longshoremen did stay away. No strikebreakers could be found.

The stevedore company (DeLion and Company of Port Townsend) granted the wage increase and at 12 noon on March 26, 1886, the men went back to work.

Sources:
Ronald Magden and A. D. Martinon, The Working Waterfront: The Story of Tacoma's Ships and Men (Tacoma: International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Local 23 and Port of Tacoma, 1982), v-vi.


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Related Topics: Maritime | Labor |

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Sailing vessels loading lumber, Tacoma waterfront, ca. 1887
Photo by E. A. Lynn, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg.UW5367)


 
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