The Mechanization and Modernization Agreement  

In January 1961, an agreement between the International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) changed the nature of work on the waterfront from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego in Southern California.

The agreement allowed ship owners and stevedoring contractors to be "freed of restrictions on the introduction of labor-saving devices, relieved of the use of unnecessary men and assured of the elimination of work practices which impede the free flow of cargo or ship turnaround. The guarantees to industry are in exchange for a series of benefits for the workers to protect them against the impact of the machines on their daily work or on their job security."

Long before the Agreement, mechanization in handling cargo began to make longshore work easier: rope slings attached to booms on the ship lifted heavy loads both on and off the ship, taking sacks, boxes and barrels off the longshoreman's back. Four wheel dollies and eventually forklifts moved cargo around on the dock and in the ship's hold. Once in the ship, cargo was stowed by hand to take advantage of all the nooks and crannies. A tight stow maximized the use of space, prevented cargo from shifting during the voyage, and
was the pride of the skilled longshoreman.

By the 1940s, new forms of mechanization began to significantly reduce the number of men required to do a particular task. For example, when raw sugar was shipped in bags, stowed by hand and discharged sack by sack, it required seven 10-hour shifts for five gangs of longshoremen to unload the vessel--a total of 6,650 man hours. In 1942, sugar began to be shipped in bulk, moving on and off the ship in huge bins on conveyor belts. It took only 1,000 man hours to unload the ship. And in the warehouse, 600 men were needed to handle sacks of sugar; only 200 were needed to tend to the bulk sugar.

The Mechanization and Modernization Agreement paved the way for new forms of mechanization, like containerization of cargo which dropped the need for longshore work on a ship from 11,088 hours to about 850 hours. Writers of the Agreement realized that their approach to the inevitable loss of jobs to machines was revolutionary. While they took care of the longshoremen then working, they didn't have all the answers for the future. Those answers, addressing jobs and the economy of our city, are up to us, their children.

From Otto Hagel and Louis Goldblatt, Men and Machines

Oakland Museum of California Logo  "Walk Along the Water"
  Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.

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