Lange, Dorothea, photographer. Longshoremen's lunch hour. San Francisco waterfront. California. San Francisco County San Francisco San Francisco United States California San Francisco County, 1937. Feb. Photograph.

The longshoremen by themselves, or another thing about 1934

A poem about Bloody Thursday.

i. The shape up

If to eat you unloaded ships: 

the shape up. Dawn

line up at the docks, 

whatever the foreman

felt like, who moved loads

fastest, paid him off, made

least trouble. In any year 

the longshoremen by themselves


if they said no, were nothing. 

But the teamsters, it was 1934



ii. For instance

Shelby, Fall River, piecers

& dyers, Trion. & sewers,

Augusta, for instance. 

Running rundown pickups

mill to milltown, flying their giant 

strike across states. Honea Path

for instance, sheriff & guard

gunfire, Woonsocket,

a lot like war, imagine

when people can’t be pushed


any farther. Akron

Ohio, they threw the big switches,

Goodyear, sat down

at their boilers splicing drums

Firestone they sat down



iii. The teamsters 

Saying no more shape up

San Francisco’s longshoremen

would be nothing to knock back down, 

in 1934 there were so many

so hungry, everywhere. But the teamsters

called mass meetings, yelled down

decades of Mike Casey.

Who in our towers of one

& zero can picture it?


Done with the shape up,

let us run our own hiring hall,

& they struck. Billy club, 

tear gas police came to break

their line but the teamsters, 

in my lifetime a word

like someone’s bones in cement,

teamsters refused to haul

what strikebreakers unloaded.

Peach crates rotting,

reams of denim, imagine



iv. Bloody Thursday

Bay lapping stilled hulls. From

their ships walked the sailors,

cooks, stewards, marine firemen.

Through lumber for hundreds of miles

saw blades not spinning. Flies

swarming apricots, millions

of eggs caught in Petaluma, I try

to imagine, coffee beans

weighed how many tons of dark

in their sacks. Worry percolated

through Piedmont, from Los Altos 

grand homes, phone calls.

The Embarcadero armor-car’d,

barbwired. The port 

would be forced open, tear gas

riot gun on brick 

or two-by-four. Thursday

police shot two



v. Market Street

Where in our days windows,

windows never stop glowing,

two caskets were borne

by they say forty thousand 

down Market Street. Can I 

imagine the teamsters, sailors

joined the line, then butchers 


left the slaughterhouse,

streetcar drivers, the cleaners

dyers, pressers, boilermakers walked 

out of 60 shops. Bartenders, waiters,

cooks put on their one good suit

& strolled where they lived,

welding torch, jackhammer

toolboxed, taxis parked.

Grocery doors “closed until

the boys win,” wet piles 

of hotel towels, movie popcorn 

kerneled & cold, nightclub 

lights out. Four days in July


from clocktower to Lotta’s fountain

pigeons clicked lines in the quiet