The history of protest in San Francisco is a hippie thing, right? Age of Aquarius, war demonstrations, flowers stuck into the ends of soldiers' rifles, stuff like that? Guess again. It started in the 19th century with organized labor protests and continued from there. One good example of S.F. sticking it to the Man is the waterfront dispute known as the Big Strike of 1934, ground zero for a battle that included ports along the whole West Coast. It's one of the things covered in Saturday's Labor Bike Tour, part of LaborFest 2011.
Striking unions demanded to have a say in hiring, better pay, and a contract. After almost two months -- with the help of the S.F. police and mayor -- the companies took back the port and established a "safety lane" of rail cars and police vehicles near Pier 38 to move materials from ships to trains. Clashes resulted. Hundreds were injured, and three were killed. A public funeral procession was attended by 40,000.
Later, National Guard troops with machine guns were set up along the Embarcadero with orders to shoot to kill. Police raided union halls, homes, and other meeting places for days on end. Newspapers backed them. Other unions eventually joined the dock workers in a general strike of 150,000.
The dispute ended in a compromise in which neither side could claim total victory, but it was a big advance for organized labor. And here's a fact San Francisco can be proud of: Among the striking workers was a young Harry Hay, who went on to become a pioneer in the LGBT rights movement.
On the Labor Bike Tour, learn facts such as these and visit the sites where they happened. It's part of LaborFest and led by Chris Carlsson. It's a four-hour excursion, so be prepared for an extensive ride in addition to a thorough education.