Opening the closed shop: the Galveston Longshoremen's Strike, 1920-1921

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Abel, Joseph Anthony
Texas A&M University
Texas history; Galveston history; Labor history; Longshoremen; Martial Law; Race relations in early twentieth century
book description
Beginning in March of 1920, the Galveston coastwise longshoremen’s strike against the Morgan-Southern Pacific and Mallory steamship lines was a pivotal moment in the history of organized labor in Texas. Local and statewide business interests proved their willingness to use the state apparatus by calling on Governor William P. Hobby and the Texas National Guard to open the Port of Galveston. Despite this, the striking dockworkers maintained the moral support of many local citizens from a variety of social classes, including small merchants and officials of the Galveston municipal government. By February of 1921, however, the segregated locals representing the striking longshoremen had fallen victim to the divisive racial tactics of the shipping companies, who implemented the open-shop policy of non-discrimination in hiring on their docks. Further demonstrating the capital-state alliance, the Texas legislature passed Governor Hobby’s notorious Open Port Law in October 1920, making it virtually illegal for dockworkers and others to engage in strikes deemed harmful to commerce. This legislation and the nearly yearlong strike not only destroyed the coastwise longshore unions in Galveston, but ushered in a decade of repression from which Texas’s organized labor movement did not recover for many years.