HARRY BRIDGES: The Rise and Fall of Radical Labor in the United States by Charles P. Larrowe

HARRY BRIDGES: The Rise and Fall of Radical Labor in the United States

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Bridges, the longtime and very mighty head of the International Longshoremen's Union, refused to have anything to do with the writing of his biography, and then, true to his blunt form, pronounced the manuscript ""hardly more than a series of distortions, half-truths, and, in many cases, outright lies."" Several of Bridges' union mates, however, read it and found it ""balanced but on the whole, sympathetic."" The latter judgment is much closer to the mark. Professor Larrowe (Economics, Michigan State Univ.), relying on personal interviews (sans the subject himself of course) and appropriate archives, steadily traces Bridges' ascent from Australian immigrant seaman to radical labor dissident to his role in the 130-day San Francisco strike of 1934, an old-fashioned labor-management donnybrook -- the Battle of Rincon Hill still lives in the hearts and scars of old-timers -- which made Bridges I.L.W.U. chief. Much of the remainder of the book centers on U.S. Government efforts to pin the Communist tag on Bridges -- the Justice Department had a go or two (the FBI's Hoover stated flatly, ""Bridges is a Red"") and three times the Immigration Service attempted to have him deported, proceedings which became, says Larrowe, ""drearily deja vu."" Each time the country's top longshoreman survived, inspiring Woody Guthrie to sing "". . . we won't let them send Harry over-the-seas/ We'll fight for Harry Bridges and build the CIO"" and prompting Larrowe to opine ""he was on trial because he was an effective union leader. In fact, the union itself was on trial."" But these tribulations have passed. Bridges is now a ""labor statesman"" who accepts mechanization as ineluctable, who is a ""warm supporter"" of such centrist politicians as Mayor Alioto and Hubert Humphrey, and who has ""stayed on in office longer, perhaps, than he should."" Notwithstanding, Bridges must ""be ranked with the labor giants"" -- Gompers, Lewis, Debs, Haywood. Possibly.

Pub Date: Dec. 11th, 1972
Publisher: Lawrence Hill