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Slowdown at Western Ports a Throwback

(Justin Fox – Bloomberg News)

The labor struggle brewing at the West Coast’s ports feels like an episode from another time. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 13,600 workers at 29 ports in California, Oregon and Washington, is the product of a famous 1934 strike that shut down San Francisco and resulted in one of the landmark labor triumphs of the New Deal era. Its members have some of the country’s last great blue-collar jobs – well-paid, secure, with solid pensions. Plus, they’re longshoremen (and women). How retro is that?

If the ILWU is a dinosaur, though, it’s a little like that smart, genetically modified one coming soon to movie screens in “Jurassic World” (Hey, Chris Pratt – look out!). In the early 1960s, longtime ILWU leader Harry Bridges decided to embrace the productivity revolution that container shipping offered, Marc Levinson writes in “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.” Perhaps alone among U.S. labor leaders, Bridges pushed for more mechanization and automation, not less. “The days of sweating on these jobs should be gone,” he told management negotiators in 1963. Click here to read more.