Labor under Siege
Big Bob McEllrath and the ILWU’s Fight for Organized Labor in an Anti-Union Era
- PUBLISHED: October 2022
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / Western History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 320 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 17 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295750330
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
Big Bob—six-feet-four Robert McEllrath's waterfront handle—was heralded for his powerful speaking style, 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 just a telling 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 meticulous contribution to the oral history of an important sector of the US working class centered around the accounts of Big Bob and influential activists within the ILWU during a crucial period for organized labor.- New York Labor History Association
In Labor Under Siege, historians Harvey Schwartz and his colleague, the late Ron Magden, have crafted an extraordinary volume of labor history and biography through skilled and meticulous use of oral history interviews...While [the book] is clearly about "Big Bob" McEllrath and why he matters in the constellation of the Union, it also serves as a useful guide to the contours of the history of the ILWU since the 1990's and how its legacy has endured.- The Dispatcher - ILWU
The strength of Labor under Siege lies in what the author calls an oral history-based “view of how decisions were taken and policy carried out to ensure the ILWU’s sustainability during a challenging time for all of labor.”- Beyond Chron
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
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