ILWU Union Pin, 1971

ILWU Union Pin, 1971

Usage conditions apply
This gold colored pin features a raised fist holding a cargo hook, the combination of symbols that became associated with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in 1971. The cargo hook is the traditional tool associated with longshoremen—the laborers who load and unload ships—and evokes the rough work of moving heavy cargoes prior to the mechanization of waterfront work. In a nod to their occupational roots, the ILWU longshoremen adopted the fist and cargo hook symbol when they voted to strike in 1971, a strike that centered on their opposition and resistance to elements of a labor contract regarding mechanization.
The 1971 strike grew out of the tumult of the 1960s, when both the ILWU and the shipping companies, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), recognized that new technologies would drastically cut the number of cargo-handling jobs. With the introduction of standardized shipping containers and innovations in global communications technologies, the need for gangs of longshoremen to handle individual bags, boxes, pallets, and crates was significantly reduced. While the shipping companies were anxious to adopt containerization with its intermodal capabilities—the same container could be carried by ship, rail, and tractor trailer—the longshoremen were wary of giving any ground on the basic requirement that only members of the ILWU could handle cargo in West Coast ports.
By 1971, general unrest boiled over into a strike that lasted 130 days and affected all commercial ports along the coast. One of the key issues proposed changes in work practices that would allow shipping companies to employ certain longshoremen trained as container crane operators on a permanent basis. Shipping companies had invested heavily in container ships, cranes, and other shoreside facilities, and they wanted to select and train the men who would operate the costly machines, essentially employing them regularly as “steady men.” From the union’s perspective, this proposal would create elite workers within the union, effectively blocking jobs from some members. Union members believed this special treatment violated a core value of the union, which had always stood for the strict rotation of all waterfront jobs among members.
This pin was worn by Local 10 (San Francisco) ILWU longshoreman Herb Mills, who was a strong supporter of the coastwide strike in 1971. The strike resulted in some gains for the shipping companies on the “steady man” issue, but upheld the requirement that all cargoes, including containers, would still be loaded and unloaded in West Coast ports by members of the ILWU.
Object Name
date made
ca 1971
used date
ca 1971-2001
Associated Place
United States: California, San Francisco
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
overall: 4 cm x 1.5 cm x 1 cm; 1 9/16 in x 9/16 in x 3/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Herb Mills
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
America on the Move
America On The Move
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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