The biggest opposition to the Coast Guard program came from the International Longshoreman Workers Union (ILWU). ILWU-one of the strongest unions on the West Coast, if not the nation-had entered history during the San Francisco General Strike of 1936 under the leadership of an Australian-born dockworker and sailor named Harry Bridges. Bridges, who first arrived in San Francisco in 1920, created a coalition between the numerous maritime unions, the American Federal of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Unions (the CIO). African Americans-once excluded from waterfront unions or restricted to segregated unions-served in ILWU leadership positions soon after Bridges reorganized the union.
During the 1930s, he supported the nascent farm workers union (comprised mainly white Dust Bowl migrants at that time), telling his union to let fruit rot on the dock until farmers improved working conditions for the field workers. Bridge's union was also the only one to protest Japanese internment during World War II. This union had backbone, and it was no secret that many of its leaders were influenced by socialist and Marxist ideas.
But the political atmosphere in 1951 was very different than in 1939. Truman issued this order at the height of the Cold War. The federal government was reeling with shock and fear following three major international events in the late 1940s. First, between 1947 and 1949, communist insurgents led by Chairman Mao Tse-tung expelled Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, effectively establishing communist rule in China. Next, in September 1949 the Soviet Union created its own atomic bomb.. Finally, the North Korean army crossed the border with the help of the Chinese to invade South Korea.
The shameful chapter of the postwar Red Scare had begun. In Congress, the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) investigated the loyalty of prominent figures working in the arts, theater, and Hollywood, demanding that actors, writers, and artists explain and justify their political philosophy and supply the names of anyone they suspected of being a communist or a Party sympathizer. In 1949, the University of California made professors sign a loyalty oath to keep their job. The notion of "innocent until proven guilty" was set upon its head. Innuendo and suspicion rather than proof and evidence got people in trouble. Many of the questioned and accused were appalled, and refused to cooperate. They soon found themselves out of work, and their names were circulated on a blacklist. If your name appeared on this list, no other companies or institutions would hire you.
The ILWU protested the Coast Guard program. They called it blacklisting and argued that screening was unnecessary. The union asserted that in its history there had never been an act of sabotage. In April 1951, the organization condemned the screening program, declaring, "Screening is blacklisting. Blacklisting is union-busting."
The program was fought in court as well, but unlike during the 1939 case against Harry Bridges, the Federal Court of Appeals now ruled that certain freedoms had to be rescinded in times of national security. Many historians now say this program gave the government a chance to bust what it believed were renegade left-wing unions. Whether or not that was the motivation, unions in the postwar era never again regained the clout they had during the 1930s and'40s, after the Red Scare had purged so many members from its ranks.
- Students analyze the different explanations for the Great Depression and how the New Deal fundamentally changed the role of the federal government. (11.6.5)