From the Docks to the Killing Floors

James Matles and Harry Bridges. (United Electrical Workers Archives)

From the Docks to the Killing Floors

“You had a slogan, ‘Workers of the World Unite!’ It’s still a good slogan. It’s an old Marxist slogan. Still use it. And that’s how simple it was, workers of the world unite, you got nothing to lose but your chains. Still as good as the day it was said. We still try to operate by it, at least I try to.” So said Harry Bridges, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) from 1937 to 1977, in an interview with Bill Moyers.

The ILWU is one of the unions featured in the sixth episode of Organize the Unorganized: The Rise of the CIO, along with the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC), and the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC). There were many other unions that formed the CIO — unions in oil, printing, transport, and retail — but the four that are covered in this episode were four of the biggest and most influential.

Highlights of the episode include archival speeches from UE director of organization James Matles, more from Moyers’s interview with Bridges, and part of an oral history with ILWU Local 10 president Cleophas Williams.

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