Bill Moyers Journal; 205; Harry Bridges
The prosecuting attorney then was that he was representing the immigration department. He was a very fine person, an old ball player, and later on I've seen him. He didn't feel good about the whole trial, but he, towards the end of the conference so that he, as the trial was ending, and we'd been talking about the Constitution and write some of the Constitution and what was wrong with it and a few things too. And so he finally said, well, look, Mr. Bees, I suppose that you, you know, of course I was an alien, remember, being tried for un-American notions. He said, you probably might have a few ideas as to how we might improve the Constitution about countries. Isn't that so I suggest? I think so. Oh, ho, ho. He said. Now I asked what they may be. I said, well, you can start off by letting the American Indians have the vote. The majority of states, they're barred from having a vote and into the federal elections. So he denied that that was true, and I've done it a bit of a hassle, Dean Mannes, who's a lawyer, a professor straight and a satis, says, oh, you're kind of both right. We've got over that, and then he says, well, any more bring your ideas like that?
I says, well, I do have a couple here. What are they? I said, well, I start by nothing on the right to vote. I'd let soldiers and sailors and members of the armed forces have a right to vote right now. The state Constitution is the various states that determine the eligibility of votes. There's soldiers, the people that are barred from voting. Exconvicts, prostitutes, soldiers, sailors, members of the armed forces, and people like that. I said, that's the Constitution. I said, I had to change that. And of course, later on World War II, Mr. Dewey was running against Mr. Roseville, but remember there's a big fuss there about soldiers and sailors having a right to vote? So I thought there was a good change. So that's about the try just about in it. I think we've had enough of this. This is the port of San Francisco, in the late afternoon on a bright day, as beautiful as spectacle as the continent has left. It's hard to realize now what stormy and violent conflicts once raged here in the struggle of American workers for wages, rights, respect, and power.
But to this seemingly tranquil harbor 50 years ago, he met Seaman with the unlikely name of Alfred Bryant, Rinton Bridges, and San Francisco and the American labor movement were never again the same. He became the bogeyman of the Pacific to his enemies. Congress tried to drive him out of the country. Other labor leaders sought to oust him from his position, and some prominent citizens of San Francisco even considered having him murdered. But Harry Bridges wouldn't buckle to threats, tribes, or force. He remained a hero to his men, and in time he became a pillar of San Francisco and a statesman of labor. Only once in the last few decades has he given an interview to a journalist, and that was to the obituary editor of the New York Times. And Harry Bridges is very much alive, as you'll see in the next half hour. Harry Bridges was born in Australia in 1900.
His prosperous conservative Catholic parents hoped he would carry on the family business, but young Harry Bridges wanted adventure, so at the age of 17, he went to sea. The more he traveled the world's ports, the more he went that the poverty and grueling life of common people. In 1922, he settled in San Francisco to work as a dockside steel handler for $10 or less a week. The rest is the legend of Harry Bridges, from the bloody battle of Rincon Hill in the 1934 General Strike, to the forging of a powerful union of longshoremen on the Pacific coast. He was radical, some called him a communist, and uncompromising, but he was also an authentic voice of the rank and file, and he was incorruptible. For 20 years, the government, spurred by ship owners, reactionary politicians, and the American Legion, tried to deport him. It was one of the longest inquisitions of our history, and only the Supreme Court thwarted it.
But Harry Bridges endured, his union grew, times changed, and today he's an officer of the San Francisco Port Authority, respected by the establishment, a friend of mayors, and it said a symbol of how labor in general has mellowed. We talked in his office on Franklin Street. He was a South Sea Island traitor, she originally been a mission ship, there was two or three of them, I was on two or three, and this one, run up from the South Sea Islands with a lower culprits in what they call the hurricane, or that's the cyclone season, the summer months south of the line, these terrible summer circular storms developing was no place for that thing to be cruising around down there. So we picked up a load of culprits in the islands, and we came up here in the spring of 1920 and I got off her, and at this country legally luckily as it happened, even paid my eight dollar head tax, and if I hadn't done that, the uncle Sam would have got rid of me. So if I came off her in 1920 as a sailor into San Francisco, do you remember what went through your mind when you got here?
I wanted to see San Francisco, I wanted to visit the United, I didn't come up either way in my great home. Well I planned to go back home, but this was the famous town of San Francisco, I had a complete library at Jack London, I'd bet all about that. Of Jack London? Oh sure. So I just wanted to come ashore and look around here. It's a long way from that schooner arriving here to becoming a member of the establishment which some people have called you. Is it true what we read that Harry Bridges is a statement of labor? Oh I'm glad you said what you read, I'll tell you that's that press that you don't trust, that's what you read. Press it. I don't know how to explain that. I'm here, the same as always wise, all that's happened wise and many, many of the things that sound are so terrible and revolutionary here in this man's town and not too many years ago, they're all coming place now, but in those days there were chances it gives me for deportation, fighting for self security was at my communism in those days. I'm talking about old age pens and unemployment insurance, things that have been gone for
many, many years in Australia. So in 1933, 32, I was chairman of what we call the National Rankin File Committee, AFL Rankin File Committee, for old age pens is not in unemployment insurance, pretty radical. Well a landee, a man named Landee introduced a billage to Roosevelt was four, the Covenants Party was four, the labor movement was opposed to it. That's why we call ourselves the Rankin File Committee. The Secretary of Committee was a wonderful man, an official communist, Duke Darwin, Strong and New York, his name was Louis Weinstein. He was the head of the New York Painters Council, Elma Brown, the former president of the Prindes Union, was another leading figure in it. So I was the chairman of this national, how fit Louis was international, was national secretary and official communist, and this made it a communist plot. So Roosevelt was four, Communist Party was four, the labor movement was opposed to AFL Val. They changed in 1935.
What got you indignant, Mr. Bridges, as you were a young man traveling from port to port looking at the working conditions in this country, where did you get your sense of outrage? I wouldn't say it was a matter of being indignant or outrageous, it was, I was taking care of myself, to take care of myself, I had to line up with other people and to help take care of them, one of those things, well you had a slogan, workers of the world, you died, it's still a good slogan, it's an all Marxist slogan, I still use it, and that's how simple it was, workers of the world unite, you got nothing to lose but your change, still as good as the day it was said, we still operate by it, at least I try to. What was the old wobbly quote? Same thing. An injury to one? An injury to one, an injury to one. That's still good today, that's still one of our stones that we use. What is there to be radical about today? Well, that's a good question, I don't know, I really don't know, many other things that were, as I say, were so radical yesterday and that's where you're supposed to get mellow
and you're not the, of course that is they've become accepted, but what then becomes the role of a labor union in these afternoon days? The role of this labor union in this country, it's got one good role to make sure that everybody that wants a job has it, at good wages, that's not been achieved yet. In this country is richest we are, where the richest country in the world, right? People have gone through school and colleagues and they want to go to work, there's no work for them and something must be done. What about all those American who are outside the labor, the trade union movement, the poor in the cities, the people, folks down on the farms of the south where I come from? So what about them, they are the, well I'm about our third generation of people on welfare, some of the place like the Appalachians and around here, there's people now going through their entire life and that, going to work, no I don't, you don't go along with these ideas of these welfare people, they're on there deliberately, they want to get by and
they have more kids and especially the non-wife people, that's a lot of belonging, we know better than that. But the fact of the matter is, we've already tried to accept that a figure of say five percent of the nation being unemployed, that's not too bad, that's not the case, we know there will be some unemployed, but just take one simple thing and that's got to be cured, that's radical enough, how can we guarantee in this country that everybody wants to work as a job for them, and we've taken one big step because said everybody doesn't work or can't work, he's going to be supported on welfare, can you imagine what this country was like when there was no welfare, no one employment insurance, we'll go back a little further, no work as compensation, these things are all relatively new, welfare and employment insurance, food stamps, when you go out of job and the old days which is not too long ago, you know, you're just what are you going to do, what, you didn't watch it just stop to death in the United States of America.
Do you think that labor still has a sense of passion about its mission? Yes, I don't, never mind, well aware of all the digs and the thrusts of labor is getting fat, it's not true, it's really not true, and I'm a real critic of the labor movement as to many and some of these ideas, but here's the way it's to look at it, there's only one labor movement in this country, far as I'm concerned, and that's it, and if I can't put my faith there for the future, or any other worker in this country can't put his faith for the future in that labor movement, I don't know where else to put it, it all seems so much more tame today, the labor movement, in a sense that's true, it's time, the labor movement is legal today, a lot of times it wasn't, organization is legal, unionism is legal, strikes a legal, not too many years ago, that wasn't the case, the right to observe pickleize, we have to fight like hell around here. Did you get accustomed to being called foul names, did it make you bitter? No, why, waste of time, makes you hold, in addition to being a dirty old man, then
they become a mean bit of dirty old man, it's a waste of time, I'm not going to waste time that much. I noticed just recently that Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butts had called you a selfish, arrogant, public-be-damned labor leader. I didn't know that, that's when I missed, well a hell with Butts, so that's his appearance, he's entitled to these full of prunes, I'd say. How can a man who wears a suit, sits beside a behind a big desk, makes speeches to large dinners, moves in the right circles, how can that man speak for the rank and file today? Because he said, well, I'll speak for them as long as they elect me. So I have to run, I do in the union, as long as they want to keep on re-electing me, and I'm pretty all now, I want to get out, over 72, that's my job, and that's what I'm elected for, and that's what they pay me for to speak for the rank and file, not only of this union, but I'm entitled to speak for the rank and file of all other unions, obviously, they don't like it, they say, send me your wife, say, you're off the beat,
which they do. So because I'm a worker, I'm a part of the working class, because our union doesn't happen to be affiliated with the FVIL CIO, that's still a part of the working class of this country, and that's the way we look at it, and a battle of the, any union, the rank and file of any union, the FVIL, affiliate or otherwise, is our fight, and we join in. You and other unions do the same thing? You want to talk about a socialist America, how do you feel about that term now? Well, it's a way over do, but we're getting to it bit by bit, next thing was coming around, there's a, take one simple thing, a national health plan, it's not a way over do, it's a way over do, that's disgraceful, this country, although it's wealth, you see, but that's where they say the old people are moving along, at least the old people have many care, there's just around the corner for my money, and that's the number one job of the labor move, and of course they recognize that job, a national health plan, if I had my way, I'd just organize a few days holiday where nobody would work until we had a national health
plan, that's the one thing that works and that's understood, just down tools and get going. What's your opinion toward the young radicals today who've been pressing the establishment for change? Well, they're right, some of the ways they do and some of the changes they want, I'm not so interested to where the part of legaliser a few things like that, but they're young radicals, you can't change young radicals, they mean well, and they learn over the long pull, that goes to my own kids, you see, they're not going to listen to me and say, hey, don't give me that belonging dad, that was 30, 40 years ago, it's a different world and they're right, there's a different world, they'll be a part of fight, they'll make their mistakes and learn the hard way so they don't bother me. And what I think of them, they're pressing for change, they've made a lot of changes, but I just noticed the other day, Jerry Rubens being a terrible, same thing, same criticism of Jerry Rubenay, how do you feel, used to be a great flaming radical, now you're all
in mellow, same thing, a few years ago, being against the war was a pretty radical idea, a legalised plot, pretty radical, abortion laws, they were all considered pretty radical, and Jerry Rubenay was crazy, now they're nothing, must have peace and eliminate the draft to have this gone. Who are Labour's adversaries today, as you look around you see a lot of collusion and collaboration between Labour leaders and the establishment. That's, there is a certain amount of that and it's wrong, and even though in many cases the people think they're doing a job that's good for the rank and file, in many cases, the rank and file worker supports, and he thinks the same thing too, that's a good way that maybe strikes a rat law, let's do a nice respectable job and get in there with economists and lawyers and have a nice set of negotiations, that's a lot of belonging. Because you've got to be, and that's the big fuss about strikes, the workers and the organised workers, the unified workers, you know they have one weapon that they only possess
and nobody else does, that's the strike weapon, that order has to be there at all times to be used, and all these attempts to outlaw or to modify and this and that, and including these respectable meanies on top of negotiations, they don't produce as much for the workers even though they produce a lot. As in my opinion, the use or the threat of the use of the strike weapon, it's a terrible thing, it's only to be used the last resort, it's very dangerous, and when you start to use it better know what you're doing, but I'm still belong to the school, where you say to an employer, look, you're a nice guy, but has the price, if you don't pay, you're going to get shut down, because I've never met an employer yet in all my experience. You go in there and an extra penny of wages is one penny, less of profits, so we have to get around that, so I remember when the employers used to sit down and argue with me, these shibons around about it, it took us years to straighten them out, that they was
really in business to give us jobs, they gave me that kind of a line, to get on your own side of the cock-eyed table, I represent the workers, you're in business to make money. When we agree on that, then we'll take it from there, after many, many years they finally got around of that, it was called a new look here, and a great man was heading the employees at that time, Jay Paul sent sure he's dead now, but he was a great man on the other side of the fence. That was the new look when they agreed with us, that their number one job was making money. And many, many years are trying to kid me that their number one job is to try to take care of me. You once talked about the possibility of one big union of dock workers, truckers, railroad workers, airline workers, with the muscle to bring the whole economy to a stop, like the coal miners in for that, it's a way overdue, but of course it's looked upon, that's looked upon as pretty radical too, but that is what's badly needed today.
Is it realistic? Sure, it's realistic, but before we get around, what's overdue now in the country talking about that, way overdue. One layer, we should have one labor movement. Now I'm well aware of all the feelings towards Mr. Meen, the FLCL. I think all the years ought to get in there, and what's wrong with it, straighten it out. And I think the labor movement just demonstrated how important it was. I think it passed unnoticed, but there was just that convention down there, where the Senator from Hawaii spoke down in your way, you see. But the resolution on resign, Mr. President, if not, we ought to take steps to impeach it. The importance of that was not the political aspect, but that served notice on Mr. President and anybody else that had any notions that there wouldn't be no time. Remember there was a discussion in the press here about the possibility of the President of Commander-in-Chief, given all the Pentagon, from over and around the Congressmen, there was speculation in the press.
You don't believe that, though, do you? Of course I don't. But I felt better when I saw the labor movement take that position, because if I'm going to follow the history, and I was around and went through the other countries, the so-called fascism or military dictatorship, whatever you want to call those things, only works successfully when a large section of the work is in a country that are convinced or sold on the idea, it's for their best, it's for their own good. Happened in Germany, happened in Italy. What was the importance of that statement? I thought the importance of it was leaving aside the politics, and without me withdrawing any of the criticisms or opinions I have about a lot of things that the F.O.V.L.C.I. does, Mr. Meeney, but I thought the importance of that unanimous action, one of the circumstances of demanding that the President of the United States resign, and calling for impeachment, serve, notice any elements in this country that had any notions.
This was the time for a move to take over and dump the Constitution a few other things, which has happened in other countries. That's serve, notice on them, count us out, or count us as your enemies if you're trying anything like that. That was the big thing, I thought. Some people have said that Mr. Meeney and the F.O.V.L.C.I.O officials were actually playing too much footsie with the Nixon administration. In some respects, that's true. I certainly think so. I think it's wrong for Mr. In view of what they said, it doesn't go along with Mr. Meeney and even Woodcock, and Fitzsimons sitting on that advisory committee for that C.O.L.C. What's that? You've got advisory. They used to be represented on the Coastal Living Council, see? Now you've got a Coastal Living Council, and they're there in Mr. Meeney, and others are there in an advisory capacity. You think that's too much collusion? They ought to get the hell off the dare. They can't be sitting there and pointing to the presence, they get out, quit your job, and then sitting on that advisory committee to put over one of the worst parts of his
program, naming that, what's wrong with this country is that the workers are too well off. That's belonging. The workers of this country are making too much money. That's news to me. I know it's not so. How do you explain the fact, Mr. Bridges, that in the last few years, many workers have become quite conservative, particularly on social issues. They supported Mr. Nixon in 1972. That's true. They did. How do you explain that? Well, the workers, they feel that they've got a right to vote as they say, and it's true, in that sense, you're saying, critically conservative. Now some of those workers you think, and they are, are particularly conservative, make your hands down on them to hear them talk about certain other things about their rights to a job and certain, and the rights and how much money they should be making, how much pensions they should be making and things, the way they talk to me and the union, G, which sounds like I'm selling them out every day. Are they the same kind of workers that, particularly, might have these conservative notions, say, they're going to exercise their own downright to make up their own minds, particularly. Well, you try to advise them.
But the right, I'm not kidding myself, there's a big section of the rank and file, but I represented not vote for Mr. Nixon, I know they did. Why do you think they did? That's a long way from what you were in the early 1930s. Well, there's reasons, there was a lot of, I didn't, I have read somewhere recently in some of these investigations that Mr. Nixon, his campaign, people had a lot of money to spend, they didn't quite worry where they got from, and of course you must say they did have the media somewhere in their corner, and there's no doubt about, with all due respect to Mr. McGuffin, he made a few serious fumbles, when I sat and listened to him in a debate in the contest between him and Mr. Humphrey in this state, I heard him, and I thought that that's a lot of wacky starter offer, in a way, I kind of like the principal, he was going to go to everybody, every member of a family of $1,000 a year for life, and without figuring out what that bill came to, I didn't quite mind that, but I don't think it's a progressive program as, as guaranteeing jobs, everybody's got to go to work and go to work, and then they've got to, and this is the program, we have to put people to work.
I guess what I'm getting at is, once the worker gets a good hold on a good life, does he become selfish about holding on to it and keeping it, and does he feel other people are a threat to it? No, not in my experience, no, we've got to work as, we've got to work as every day, and say put your job on the line to help Joe blow over there, our workers have never failed, they've always done it, and you put it to a vote, I'll give you a good example now, not even in this country, that little thing in Chile, there's four Chilanian dock worker leaders to come here, union leaders in jail. I'll kind of go to the rank of fire, I'd represent and say tell that Chilanian government lay off those people, otherwise, we'll take action up here, and that action can have a serious effect on their jobs, I have no doubt that the decision of those workers in the United States is, will be, they recognize their responsibility of those dock worker leaders, the union leaders in Chile.
What would be their reaction if you asked them to open up their membership to more blacks here at home? Well, well, one of my own local union down here, they're 70% black, what have you been doing that for years? They are all for that. I know that the IOW has been a leader in civilized work. Many unions are sticky, many unions are backman and sticky on that question, prejudice is the word, yes, they've got to learn, you have to keep on plugging along, they've got to learn. There's no doubt about it, I'm not kidding myself, many of the unions are prejudiced, of course, of color, race, religion, what are things, we still have to plug along after all, so was the, so was the country when it was first born, things developed, have to keep on working. One of the new phenomenons of our time, which didn't exist when you first were active in the labor movement in this country, is the multinational corporation, the huge conglomerate that goes beyond national boundaries, how are the unions going to deal with that? I don't, well, as well as when I say we, one union out union, we're trying to figure
that out, I don't quite know, I don't quite know, it's easy to say let's have something maybe come out of it, we could put together say a conference of all the trade unions of all the countries, if you don't stop there, if you're trying to think of something else I can't think, that's a tough enough job to try to get a national, international conference of all the trade unions of all those land, you see, so let's put our head together and ask ourselves the question you just asked me, now what are we going to do about these multinational corporations, because they go away from here and the United States they go down Latin America elsewhere, and they certainly go on there because labor is cheap and they exploit the labor if they can use the government to put a stop for unions, organizing or striking they do that too, I don't know what the answer is at the moment, but there's no one, there's one thing I do know, I'm only the workers in the world, organizers otherwise I've got to find that answer somewhere along the line.
But if an American company goes to a place like the Philippines, doesn't it help raise the standard of living for the workers there? Yes, that's a true, some extent, if there's solidarity of the workers then can you complain too much about multinational corporations going to other countries? No, I think you have to, I'm not going to give them credit for that because I don't know, well they're going over there for profits, you see, but that's a side effect you might say, that small group of workers do get a better standard of living, I can't deny that. But still it's at our expense going over there, they're going to go over there and leave workers and we don't want you to trade unions, that the trade unions don't guard against that, the workers being left unemployed here with a factory moves out or industry moves out and goes somewhere else, it's our job to find out what's going to happen to those workers. So although it does help the workers there and that's fine, it does raid their standard of living, not only the workers directly involved but other workers around there, it's still with the expensive workers here in this country, that's a fact. It's an economic simple, pretty good fact.
What to do about it at this stage of the end, I don't really know. The way you say the word, workers, I mean all kinds of workers, including members of the work in press, even including maybe union members that are working on this setup you got here, running those cameras and things, I mean their workers too. That's why. You don't hear that term though much like that anymore. Why not? Well because workers are thought of as having become part of the middle classes, not just create all the wealth of this country, any other country. Workers create all the wealth of this country, nobody's kidding me. That gold in the ground isn't worth a damn until some worker comes along and digs it out. So gold and other things, when you add the labor of workers then it becomes valuable, otherwise it's not worth a damn. So all the wealth of the United States is great as it is, created by workers. I remember seeing a picture of you and Teddy Gleason at your 1971 convention when you introduce Mr. Gleason to your workers. Mr. Gleason used to be as far as you were to the left. Did this represent some change on the attitude of those I used to be?
Oh God, I mean Teddy's over there still. Some of the things that's gone on, but of course Teddy's still a member of the trade during the movement scene. So I can reserve the right to be critical of Teddy and say so and he's the same with me because we're all in the one family despite this disagreement scene. But when it's a question of tackling the employer, there's no basic disagreement between us. We get together. And so in the meantime we reserve the right to call each other names and disagree on policy. I think that he's got a boycott of Russian ships on the east coast. I think he's nuts. So we have disagreements on these things. How do you feel about using your strength as a union to affect foreign policy that way? That's what unions are for, to help make foreign policy. In the interest of the majority of the people in this country, certainly I'm all for that. We try to make a lot of foreign policy in years gone by. That's recognized now that we were kind of right.
We were tying up ships around here many, many years ago, trying to stop the elimination of trade unions in Germany in the march of Hitler. I was getting telegrams here and letters smuggle letters and the labor leaders in the concentration camp in Germany and in Italy. And there was the question, we, we, nobody questions it now. When we shut down ships and we refused to ship oil and scrap line at Japan when it invaded China, there was a very radical revolution. I've got a telegram from Mr. Rose, we'll say a quick interfering in the good diplomatic relationships between two nations, but we still shut down the ships. And we said at the time, that scrap line is going to come back on the heads of American boys. It did it, Pearl Harbor. What you're doing when you do that is to interfere with the foreign policy of your country. Sure. That's our job. That's our privilege. And that's our right. That's our duty, right. How do you, how can you be sure that that isn't simply your personal ideology as opposed
to what the rank and file want? It could be in some of those cases, but the way I make sure as they go down and ask the rank and file, and they take a vote on them. And they have a vote, and they have, and furthermore, they have something else. They have a reek, we have a, in our urine, I've put it in there many years ago. Any officer can be recalled by a 15% vote of the membership petition. The members sign a petition, say, get rid of the guys, lose us too long. That gets rid of me 15%, even though I have to be elected by a majority secret power. That's the 15% recall. Do you feel any stirrings down in the ranks of the younger members in particular about you and about the fact that you're 73 years old and the fact that you've been around a long time? Are you feeling any pressures from them? Oh, sure. They say the same thing as the place you saw, mallowed, the man he used to be, used to be a good man once upon a time, but all those things are there, hey. That's why they say that.
That's their privilege too. So I got a simple question, oh, what's your idea? What should we do? Let's sit down and talk it over. But that's their right and privilege, and many of the younger people say that in this year, in the every other year, no, you're right, I'm 72 years old, it's the time I cut the hell out of the business, I know that. Were you? My well on my way. Did you ever change your mind about this country during the midst of that hounding by the government? No. No. I didn't, I figured it all work out, and well, I don't like to give these things of faith and all the rest, it was a pretty simple thing to me. I knew the Constitution would work somewhere along the line, I had those guys with not a stick around to see if it didn't put it that way. I figured it would, but if I legally speaking, if I couldn't depend on that, I didn't have much else to depend upon except my union, but the rank and file state solid, and if the worst had it come to the worst, they had put me on the ship at Uncle Sam's expense, and I got a big welcome, a big send-off from our guys and going back to Australia.
That wasn't such a big happening, it wasn't, you know, it's worth things that could happen, I could always figure that. So I really had nothing to lose, I really had nothing to lose, and all the way through it, I was exactly, you know, victimized in any way. All kinds of people, millions of people in the last few years have suffered all over the world in concentration campsite and everything. I had an easy, it was a breeze. Do you really feel that you've won the big battles you were fighting for over the last 30 years? No, no, no, no, too much to be done. If, look, I've given you a few examples, I won't consider the battle once I know that everybody that wants to work, my kids' kids growing up, they've got a job to go to, and they're going to be able to work, and not to get rich, but work in that job for life. They'll have housing, they'll have good health, be education if they want it, see, they'll have to work for it. I'm wonderful, that's it. So we've got a long way to go, and that's just in this country. One is the question of eliminating a few other things, there's been a lot of tremendous
progress, you've seen, but we still have a lot of racial discrimination in this town, well, well, well, well, well, well, please, other conforms of discrimination. We do have the responsibility of it. One of the great things that made the United States, no, I don't want to be, you know, start waving only flame. One of the great things that did make the United States great and got its reputation, it was supposed to give a helping hand to other countries, where they call it foreign aid or the martial play, in many ways it did, you know, and there's still a lot of unfinished business, that we shouldn't address ourselves to, until it gets mixed up and allows you wars like Vietnam and a few other places, and try to dump the government in Chile, that's a disgrace, I think, but it's probably an unfinished business. How do you feel now about those tumultuous events of the 30s here in San Francisco, which you were such an integral part? How do you look back on them now? They were wonderful, they were stirring historical days. Time and money and effort were spent, I think, and so we moved ahead, and all how people would agree on that, so they moved ahead, and they, they, things were better for them,
they made a better tale, everybody would agree now that they made a better city of this despite the outcry at the time, and what they did benefit themselves as well as a lot of other people, I think very, very few people would deny that now, well, what looks like I'm suffering for, because some of these things that come to pass now all down the drain as it were, see, well, what's the two mellows or whatever you want to call them? You keep coming back to that, I think you're sensitive about being called mellows. I'm a little sensitive about it, I'm a little sensitive about it, but I can't help it. What are the contradictions that, that, that devil me is that here's a man who was one of America's best known radicals, called a communist in his early days, the government tried to hound you out of the country who's a registered Republican. That's true, I registered a Republican many years ago as a protest or a former protest, one against Truman is, his cock-eyed policies are of conquering the world by force of arms in one Churchill, and second, that I wanted to demonstrate that labels are meaningless,
and I still think that way, the democratic label, the Republican label are meaningless, but now I think it's time for a change, if I'm going to, I'm a champion of mayor of San Cisco, he's going to be, I hope the new governor of California, and the least, I can't say vote for him in the primary, and I can't vote for him myself because I'm a Republican. The one thing I'm going to do is to change my registration now. So I changed years ago, I couldn't register, there was no communist party, they put that out of business temporarily. I didn't want to say decline to state, and at least at that time the Republicans did have the name of, you know, a bit of a reputation of being a peace party. If the old label is no longer applied, what is meaningful? How do you describe yourself? I'm a trade unionist, I'm a worker, I'm a trade unionist, and that's my job, my number one job, and if I do that job well, the good effects will flop over and elsewhere in my period, and I might be wrong, this is my faith, what's good for the workers I think will have a beneficial effect on all other people in the country.
Any regrets about this life? No, just that I maybe it didn't do enough. I don't want to imply that I think this is the end, but are you going to write your memoirs? No plans yet, but now I'm against the last convention I union in the early this year, by unanimous vote ordered me to write a book, I don't like writing books, and that's one of the reasons is I used to spend a lot of time with John Lewis, especially towards the end. John Lewis? John Lewis, yeah. One of the last conversations I'd go to Washington, John used to sit there towards the end he'd love to talk, especially about old times, and I went there once, say John, I heard you're going to write a book, huh? He said, no, more gossip, why is it loud? We used to talk, roll out the Samores, you know, these publishers come around and others come around, they'll give me writers, they'll give me royally, write a book, can't do it.
I used to want, he just can't tell the truth. And he went on and saying, you know, and of course he'd love to think about in the old days and those dark, turbulent 30s, he says, you know, we had a lot of work to do. Me, you, when John Lewis appointed me in the early days of the CIO, was the director, the CIO director of the 11 Western States, you know, that's what he was referring to. You know, we had to sit down and we had to work out a lot of things with all kinds of people, many of them, the accepted enemies of the workers and others. And when we made agreements and we gave our work, he says, far as I was concerned, I didn't say as long as I live, I said for all time, he says, what did you do? I thought you did the same, so he told me, I said, well, we did, he said, well, that's why we can't write a book. That's one reason. He says, well, we were going to write a book. We couldn't tell the truth about a lot of happenings, right? First nobody would believe us and we'd be breaking our words, so he said, there's not
going to be any books and there never was. He says, and I can't write a book because I can't tell the truth, he says, neither can you. Well, I kind of thought the same way. How do you feel about the way the press has treated you over the years? Well, the press has allowed you, but they've got a job to do. The press doesn't represent work as they represent the establishment. So I don't trust the press, but that doesn't say anything against the work of members of the press. That's been my experience there with the establishment. And I can give you a simple thing, a simple test that you can't ignore and it's true. In all the years I've been around here doing business, I've never yet saw a leading newspaper in a capital city. Not really, not never support a strike, but say a good word about a strike. In all the last 40, 50 years, there must have been some time when the workers were right in a strike. I've never heard a newspaper admit that. So I think they're kind of prejudiced when it comes down to unions and worker struggles.
So that's my answer. When you were being represented as a communist, a scoundrel, a bogeyman, the scourge of the port, that didn't bother you? No. How did you hold on to what you knew yourself to be? I had a bunch of guys down below that I represented. If I made a mistake and I made plenty and led with my chin, they'd throw me back into the ring and I think it could back in there, you stupid fool and duck next to it. I had something gone for me that way a lot of other people didn't. I always had a rank of file down below. I knew I could always throw a back under their arms. I made a mistake and explain it that way. They understood. So that's where I was. Better off than other people. Look, there's different kinds of hatred. I'd say in the labor struggles or political struggles, left wing radicals, after all, with all the cases the government had against me, all the evidence they introduced was 95% true.
It was always what they said was true, but the struggle was gilly as all hell. There's the 5%, that little 5% that they got hung up on. That is, was I ever remember the Communist Party? When that got dumped by the High Court, then they changed the law, passed a special law, and changed the meaning of the law to affiliate with. So when they, a membership went down the drain, then I had to come along with this business affiliation. But the truth of the matter is that all the evidence introduced against me and those trials by the government was 95% true. The technical point of being a member of one of them there. So this is where a lot of this stuff comes from. What do you mean it was true? Were you sympathetic to communist causes? Certainly. Were you a member? No. That's the point. That's the technical point. What do you mean you still are sympathetic? Well, give me a, what's the communist cause? What about the Soviet Union? A champion of the Soviet Union always have been, but that revolution occurred that with the year I went to work.
So two big things happened in the 70s. I went to work and the Russian, we had the Russian revolution. How can a man who has fought as hard as you have and as effective as you have for the rights of the common man say, I'm for the government or the nation that was known for its brutality and its tyranny? Where? In the Soviet Union? Yes. I went over there to find that out. I found out after the contrary. I came back, made my report of the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, got subpoenaed before the Un-American Committee spent four hours before the Un-American Committee, Mr. Waller was in command then, told my story, way I saw it, but I come back. I checked it out daily with the United States Embassy in Moscow. They didn't contradict me. But if you went today, you wouldn't be able to see Sohan instant. Why should I waste my time on people like that? I agree with the people that right have the right to distance, so far. Why is everybody here? Why are there some interested in a couple of people over there like that? They just want, they just want those people to know what they're doing. They just want to take the skills and the training of those people in their ability and use them against the welfare of that country.
I'm not being fooled by that kind of jump. Which is the better system in your judgment? Well, both systems have, I say, their good parts and bad parts, see? But there's a few little things that come through to me that I've just told you. Whatever the reasons are, there's no one employment in Russia, but at what price? What are you seeing? What price and what way? In terms of human liberty, personal values? Well, well, well, no, all those things are relevant for human liberty, personal values. Human liberty and personal values, you've got the right and this kind of thing. You're going to use them to stop the death of that, not so darn good. You're going to use them to be sick and you can't be taken care of. There's plenty of weakness. I was highly critical when I went to the Soviet Union. They sat down and discussed things with me, as I checked things out one by one. I went up to the United States Embassy and said, look, this is what I think, is that true? And finally, they came around a minute, I was right. So look, plenty of weaknesses, but never mind the Soviet Union. We're talking about the United States, here's where I belong, and says, well, I care
my choice. And I reserve the right to criticize and I reserve the right to support them, which is all I've done. And same is true of China and the other place. That's a part of our right here in this country, to support another country and to do something effective about it. I thought that was what the United States was all about. Well, if 95% of what the government introduced as evidence when it was trying to deport you was right, were they right to try to deport you? No. No. Finally, the court said that. What I say, 95% they... Isn't it true that isn't it true that you went down to your work as they don't ship, tie up those ships and don't ship that scrap line to Japan? There was a crime as part of the charges. Isn't it true that you served on a national committee with a known commoners, Louis Weinstein advocating unemployment insurance in this country? And old age pensions, yeah. Is it true that you advocated industrial unionism and rank and file control? Is it true that you advocated a labor party, dedicated to the ownership and control to
the means of production? I said, yeah, damn right. Just like the post office. So, in all these things, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty. Did you ever advocate the overthrow of the government? No. But that's not the whole question. The question was always posed by force and violence. People in the citizens of the United States have a right. It's in the constitution. It's in prison, the constitution, nor less in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. When the government doesn't serve the people, they have a right to dump and get rid of it and get another government. But the thing that the zinger that was added, always was added in my case. That was a challenge by force and violence. Not guilty. You're a paradox, Harry Bridges. You're a registered Republican with a picture of FDR on his wall. You're a radical who flirted with communism who's greeted in the best club with a cheery greeting. You're a paradox. How do you explain it? I want to remind you, the 1936 Mr. Rosefeld had to take to the airways in one of his fireside chats to what, to defend himself against charges of communism.
And he did a beautiful job, an eloquent job. He laughed, says, well, well, well, things. Never changed it. He says, you know, somebody's always tried to drag red herrings across the table. He says, you know, not to long ago it was French. Then it was British. Today it's Russian. He says, we've been talking about a few simple things. He says, like I said, one-third of the nation, remember that thing? Some jobs, some housing, some clothes. He says that's communism. That's what they're saying. In 1936, defending himself against the charge of communism. Do you remember the press of this country, the Daily Media, had a rule, never mentioned his name, that man on the White House? Things have changed. They sure have. In that sense, I agree. Now, everybody's mentioned he missed a mix. One of his critics once said of Harry Bridges that the first thing he does in the morning is to brush his teeth and sharpen his tongue.
Bridges put it another way. If you want to fool the politicians in the press, he told me, all you have to do is speak the truth, and they'll never believe you. Because Harry Bridges is such an unusual man, and his public appearance is so rare, we continued the conversation well into the second half of this hour. In the remaining minutes, I'd like to share with you some of the mail that's been pouring across my desk since the series began last October. Literally thousands of people have written, most of you having written favorably for which I'm grateful. But this evening, I want to read you some excerpts, some letters that were quite critical. Let's begin with two excerpts from the programs that triggered this avalanche of response. If the president could authorize a covert break in, and you don't know exactly where that power would be limited, you don't think it could include murder, other crimes beyond covert break ends, do you? Oh, I don't know where the line is, Senator. There in brief is the Watergate Morality embedded in the Nixon White House, belief in the
total rightness of the official view of reality and an arrogant disregard for the rule of law, the triumph of executive decree overdue process. By arbitrarily and secretly invoking the national security, the president or his men can nullify the Bill of Rights and turn the Constitution into a license for illegitimate conduct. The president is set above ordinary standards of right or wrong. What's right is what works, and he alone decides what that is. One man, in effect, becomes the state. It was close. It almost worked, and it would have changed things for keeps. The public conscience smothered, the Congress intimidated, the press isolated, and the political process rigged. The president would have been free to dictate the popular morality for his own ends, and we would have been at the mercy of unbridled, capricious, and arbitrary rule. Theodore Roosevelt called the presidency a bully puppet.
Franklin Roosevelt called it pre-eminently a place of moral leadership, and surely one of the president's greatest resources is the moral authority of his office. It's time we restored that authority. It's time we used it once again to its fullest potential, to rally the people, to define those moral imperities which are the cement of a civilized society. But as time went on, Richard Nixon made it hard to believe, and following a long train of unblushing deceptions, incredible contradictions, and admittedly criminal acts done in his behalf by the men he chose to serve him, those words today seem hollow. I for one am convinced that Mr. Nixon not only has failed to provide the moral leadership he pledged in that speech, but that he has fostered a lawless extension of power throughout this government, and that he has systematically robbed the country of its ability and willingness to trust the president. After the first program on Watergate, I received this letter from a man in Blytheville, Arkansas.
Bill Moyer's journal was biased and unjust. Moyer's attitudes and morality are more to be questioned in the so-called political scandal he examines. Mr. Moyer surely can come up with another essay on corruption and scandal he was aware of during his experience as a special assistant to President Johnson. Failures of policy I was well aware of during the Johnson administration, Vietnam for one, our extravagant ambitions for the war on poverty, but corruption I never saw any. We did have our problems with credibility. When I said good morning at my daily press briefings, Dan Rather would call the weather bureau just to make sure. But perjury, breaking and entering, using tax audits to harass individual citizens, running a secret police from the basement of the White House, secretly taping all the president's conversations, no, I never was aware of these things. The Nixon people have run the government the last five years with the full powers of the Justice Department and the FBI available to them.
If there were any skullnuggery, they could have exposed in the administrations that preceded them. I think men like Charles Colson and his colleagues would have had a field day. Instead, they keep saying everybody's done it. We've only been following precedent. That brings to mind a letter or speech that Ann Abraham Lincoln made once in response to the repeated charges that the Republican Party was behind John Brown's raid on Harper's ferry. Lincoln said this, if any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not know it. If you do know it, you're inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it, and especially for persisting in the assertion after you have tried and failed to make the proof. Here's a letter from a viewer in Lone Pine, California. Your honest and sincere face is disarming and will probably convince many of your listeners that indeed what you try to convey to the public is true, but it is not the truth.
It is only the truth as you want to believe it to be. You want the president to look bad, you want to get the president. Mr. Nixon and his friends almost succeeded in making the American people believe that the press was out to get him, that somehow the press had some independent self-serving reason to malign the president. Fortunately, they failed. No one I know in the press is out to get Mr. Nixon. Reporters I know consider themselves your surrogate. They're not trying to get the president, they're trying to get the truth about water gate. Here's a letter that makes much the same argument. Why this talk of whether or not the president should be impeached? He is impeached every day by reporters who think their press cards give them the right to pass judgment on everything that happens. They do not, of course. The cards give only the right to record the news. Well, it isn't a press card that gives reporters the right to try to find out what's going on.
It's the first amendment. A lady writes from Willis Springs, Illinois, let you condemn Joseph McCarthy, that great American patriot for his vigilance against our nation's traitors, says Eddie Rickenbacker, someday when the American people wake up, they will erect a great statute to Joseph McCarthy. Perhaps. But in the meantime, Senator McCarthy left his own monument, broken reputations, ruined careers, unfounded charges, and the poisoned wells of politics. Another on the press from Washington, D.C., we're now in the embrace of the news media's capricious, immoral, untruthful force in reporting. You failed in not mentioning the destruction of the votes in Cook County, Illinois, in Texas, which made Jack Kennedy president of the United States. And here's a letter that didn't have a return address. Please be advised that until indictments are drawn, presented, and voted up or down, and judgements forthcoming from the proper tribunal, you can take your place among the legion
of the vindictive, who so overwhelmingly smothered the public sensibilities with as yet unproven charges. I'm constantly amused in this business by the fact that viewers listen with the same degree of prejudice they attribute to those of us who do the talking on the media. They simply tune out what they don't want to hear. Last week in the special program on impeachment, I made exactly the point, the author of that letter made, that the president is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that impeachment, in fact, is exactly that, a function that serves to dispel the charges and doubts or to confirm them. Finally, here's a letter that takes a slightly different tack from a viewer in Chicago. One man, and a cheap self-serving hustler at that, is stealing your country. Where is your rage? Your passion? Don't you care? How can you be so cool and objective? Well every normal man is tempted at times, as Nick and said, to spit on his hands, hoist
the black flag, and start slitting throats. But those are the passions Western man has been trying for centuries to subdue. Watergate does anger me. They did try to steal the country. They tried to subvert the best traditions of the country I love. And more outrageously, they thought so little of the American people as to believe they could get away with it. My first program on Watergate, in fact, was triggered by a deep-seated fear and disgust I felt last April that they might be able, after all, to pull it off. But I've never believed in journalism, infighting fire with fire. I come from a part of the country where due process too often became in the past six feet of rope dangling from a tall magnolia tree. I prefer the quiet working of due process, even against the most extreme offense to the rage of a lynch mob. I hope you'll keep riding from time to time, I'll try to answer some of your letters. I'm Bill Moyers, until next week, good night.
- Bill Moyers Journal
- Episode Number
- Harry Bridges
- Contributing Organization
- Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group (New York, New York)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- In this rare television interview, Bill Moyers talks with the veteran labor titan Harry Bridges, long-time president of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union. They look back at the turbulent early days of unionism in the United States and the current state of the working man.
- Series Description
- BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, a weekly current affairs program that covers a diverse range of topic including economics, history, literature, religion, philosophy, science, and politics.
- Broadcast Date
- Asset type
- Talk Show
- Copyright Holder: WNET
- Media type
- Moving Image
: McCarthy, Betsy
: Varas, Larry
: Campbell, Marrie
: Karnes, Beth
Associate Producer: Dennis, Margaret
Director: Sameth, Jack
Editor: Moyers, Bill
Executive Producer: Toobin, Jerome
Producer: Sameth, Jack
Production Manager: Hill, Randall
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Public Affairs Television
Identifier: cpb-aacip-b89ada5740f (Filename)
Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group
Identifier: cpb-aacip-10cbc8049cb (Filename)
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- Chicago: “Bill Moyers Journal; 205; Harry Bridges,” 1974-01-29, Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 1, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-48bb4675477.
- MLA: “Bill Moyers Journal; 205; Harry Bridges.” 1974-01-29. Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 1, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-48bb4675477>.
- APA: Bill Moyers Journal; 205; Harry Bridges. Boston, MA: Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-48bb4675477
- Supplemental Materials