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The San Francisco Dock Strike 1934
On May 9, 1934, maritime workers of San Francisco went on strike against the shipping industry in protest against what were described as poor working conditions, unfair hiring practices and the refusal of the ship owners to recognize other than company unions. The effect of this strike was to effectively block the movement of all commodities to and from the Embarcadero, with its 5 -1/2 miles of piers and warehouses. The positioning of pickets was designed to physically impede the goings and comings of the. strikebreakers. As time passed, the situation deteriorated with more and more violence building to a level that the Acting Governor, Frank C. Merriam, ordered " a partial mobilization of the California National Guard.

This call to duty, to preserve order and to protect State property along the waterfront in San Francisco,' was issued at 1:00 p.m., July 5, 1934. By daybreak on July 6th, 700 Guardsmen, under the provisional command of Col. R. E. Mittelstaedt, had established full military control of the area. The Chief of Police, W. J. Quinn, had agreed to the relief of his officers from this area by the Guard for duty elsewhere in the strike worn city. In effect, martial rule was established along the Embarcadero within the area controlled by the National Guard. Although violence and bloodshed had become routine previously, with control of the area passing to the military, order was restored and maintained. No standing groups were permitted; pickets on duty were ordered to "keep walking," and those who refused were placed under arrest.

Despite the fact that order had been restored along the waterfront, the strike built up in its intensity until the climax was reached on July 16, 1934, when a general strike was declared. As the tempo of the strike increased, The Adjutant General, Seth Howard, realized that more troops would be needed so he ordered to duty additional troops of the 40th Division. Major General David P. Barrows, Commanding General of the 40th Division, was placed in command of the augmented Port Command which now included the First Provisional Brigade, commanded by Col Mittelstaedt, consisting of the 159th Infantry Regiment and the 250th Coast Artillery Regiment, the 79th Brigade comprised of the 185th Infantry Regiment and elements of the 184th Infantry Regiment and commanded by 'Brigadier General Wallace A. Mason; and the Reserve commanded by Colonel Harcourt Hervey, 160th Infantry Regiment, which consisted of the 160th Infantry Regiment less one battalion, and the 40th Tank Company. Colonel Otto E. Sandman commanded the East Bay Command which included elements of the 143d Field Artillery Regiment, 160th and 184th Infantry Regiments.

The general strike began to disintegrate with the return to work by the Teamsters on July 20th and, on the 21st, the strike collapsed completely. During the entire period of the strike,
martial law, although never invoked, was provided for with detailed plans covering the military occupation of the city, developed for implementation upon receipt of the Governor's
order. Fortunately, the, situation never became so severe that civil authority had to e superseded by the military.

The vital role played by the Guard in this monumental labor dispute was to protect life and property which, in turn, permitted a more stable atmosphere in which the negotiators could
meet. In truth, a retrospective evaluation of the Guard's call to duty during this emergency would 'be that it was welcomed by both labor and employers alike.

Posted 18 November 2010

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