International Longshore and Warehouse Union

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The International Longshore and Warehouse Union


The ILWU was formerly the Pacific Coast Division, District 38, of the International Longshore Association which was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The leadership of the AFL was dominated by craft unions that believed workers should belong to separate unions based on their skill or trade (such as carpenters, printers, boiler makers, etc.) and the best way to improve their conditions was to limit and control the number of skilled workers.

A group of unions within the American Federation of Labor proposed a different strategy. they believed that mass production and the growing factory system required a new kind of union that organized all workers, skilled and unskilled, into a single organization. The AFL disagreed and insisted that only the skilled workers should be organized into separate unions even when they worked in the same factory.

In 1935, the unions that favored industrial organizing formed the Committee of Industrial Organizations to work within the AFL. The CIO went on to successfully organize tens of thousands of workers in the steel and auto industry, then left the AFL in 1938 and renamed itself the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

The Pacific Coast Division of the ILA favored the CIO program of building democratic, industrial unions. A coastwise vote of rank-and-file longshore members in California, Oregon, and Washington overwhelmingly favored affiliating with the CIO. The ILA immediately expelled all West Coast locals from the ILA on August 9, 1937.

Thus the ILWU was born in August 1937 as a democratic, rank-and-file industrial union. In October 1937, three Hawaii locals received their official ILWU charters--Local 35 Port Allen and Ahukini on Kauai, Local 36 Port of Hilo, and Local 37 Port of Honolulu.

From the waterfront, ILWU longshore members moved inland to help organize thousands of workers in the sugar and pineapple industries in the 1940s. When the tourism industry expanded to the neighbor islands in the 1960s, the ILWU organized hotels and tour drivers. The ILWU organized anywhere workers needed and wanted a union--supermakerts, hospitals, credit unions, trucking, memorial parks, restaurants, golf courses, and many more.

Organizing workers into unions continues to be a priority of the ILWU. Last December, workers at the Princeville Sheraton Hotel on Kauai voted to join the ILWU. They are now negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.[1]


ILWU Key Leaders, Members and Family Members

  • Harry Bridges - Many times identified as a member of the CPUSA, and of the Australian Communist Party. Revealed to be a top covert leader of the CPUSA's "Central Committee" as far back as 1934, according to Communist International Comintern documents found in the Soviet Union archives.[2]


  1. ILWU 142 website: History
  2. Labor History, issue of Summer 1994, Volume 35, No. 3, "Communists and the CIO: From the Soviet Archives", Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, pp. 442-446. esp. 445-446