Labor under Siege
Big Bob McEllrath and the ILWU’s Fight for Organized Labor in an Anti-Union Era
- PUBLISHED: August 2022
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / Western History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 320 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 17 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295750330
At six feet four inches and with a powerful speaking style, Big Bob—Robert McEllrath's waterfront handle—was heralded for his charisma, unifying vision, and negotiating prowess. President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) for twelve eventful years, McEllrath retired in 2018 after nearly forty years as a union officer. More than a biography of a storied career, Labor under Siege explores how the influential union persisted in an era when the US labor movement was under attack and seemingly in retreat.
In the face of grave dangers since the 1980s, including threats from corporations, government authorities, law enforcement agents, and even other labor unions, the ILWU has persevered and retained its vibrancy. Offering insight into Big Bob's leadership and a close-up view of how decision-making and policy were carried out to ensure the union's survival, Labor under Siege shows how union officers and rank-and-file members shaped ILWU strategy and furthered the union's legacy of advocating for workers' rights, democracy, and justice.
Authors & Contributors
Harvey Schwartz is curator of the Oral History Collection for the ILWU Library in San Francisco. He is the author of Building the Golden Gate Bridge: A Workers' Oral History and Solidarity Stories: An Oral History of the ILWU. Ronald E. Magden (1926–2018) is the author of several books, including A History of Seattle Waterfront Workers, 1884–1934 and two accounts of longshore unionism in Tacoma.
A model of oral history. The ILWU is such a fascinating union with its militant past that bleeds into the present, making Labor under Siege all the more compelling.- Erik Loomis, author of A History of America in Ten Strikes
Robert McEllrath steered the legendary, militant West Coast dockworkers union through some of its most tumultuous waters. Schwartz, a consummate oral historian, lets the voices of "Big" Bob and those around him describe those stormy seas.- Peter Cole, author of Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area
More than a biography, Labor Under Siege details the post-1980s multipronged attacks on unions by aggressive employers, anti-labor government officials, weakened labor laws, and mechanization. As labor reasserts itself, it can learn from those who recall the importance of effective leadership, maintaining solidarity locally and internationally, supporting social justice causes, and upholding the ILWU motto, "an injury to one is an injury to all."- Laurie Mercier, author of Speaking History: Oral Histories of the American Past, 1865–Present