Bloody Thursday Commemoration Date in the current year: July 5, 2024

Bloody Thursday Commemoration Bloody Thursday is an annual remembrance day observed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on July 5 to commemorate the 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike.

The 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike, alternatively known as the West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike, was an eighty-three-day strike of longshoremen in each and every port of the United States West Coast. It was organized by a group of activists who disagreed with the conservative leadership of the International Longshoremen Union that was primarily based on the East Coast.

On May 9, 1934, longshoremen in each West Coast port walked out because they were dissatisfied with their working conditions. They were joined by sailors several days later. Employers tried to continue operations by recruiting strikebreakers, but strikers attacked the moored ships and compounds where streabreakers were housed, which led to violent clashes with the police.

The Roosevelt administration tried to end the strike by brokering a deal with strikers, but they didn’t agree to the terms of the deal brought to them by their leadership. In early July, after almost two months of strike, the employers decided to reopen the port of San Francisco by making a show of force.

The first fights between strikers and police in San Francisco broke out on July 3. The Fourth of July was quiet, but the next day the employers tried to open the port again. The clashes between strikers and police on Thursday, July 5, were so violent that the day went down in history as Bloody Thursday.

The police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas and then launched a mounted police attack. Strikers retaliated by throwing rocks and tear gas canisters back at the police. After a short break, hostilities resumed, and the events took a truly violent turn. Although eyewitness accounts of the events of that afternoon are contradictory, there is no arguing that two protesters, Howard Sperry and Nicholas Bordoise, were killed by the police.

Their funeral was held the next day. Several thousand strikers and sympathizers came to pay their respects, but the police were notably absent. Due to the huge impact of Bloody Thursday and the funeral march that followed, dozens of labor unions in the Bay Area voted to call a general strike, which began on July 16.

The strike involved over 150,000 workers and lasted for four days. Although some of the employers saw the eventual denouement of the strike as a victory, spontaneous strikes erupted even as longshoremen returned to their jobs, and in many cases, employers ended up meeting their conditions. Three years after the strike, the West Coast district of the International Longshoremen’s Association split to form a new labor organization that is now known as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

To commemorate the anniversary of Bloody Thursday, the ILWU and other longshoremen’s professional associations host memorial ceremonies in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the 1934 strike. The ceremonies also serve to highlight the achievements of the labor movement that has come a long way since the strike but still has a long way to go.

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Bloody Thursday, professional observances, remembrance days, memorial days, 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike