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Back to 1916 Tacoma: Remembering shots fired and a bloody, failed strike

Bronze artist Paul Michaels, left, reads Thursday from a paper proof of the bronze plaque that will be installed on the Murray Morgan Bridge to commemorate the bloody 1916 Longshore strike. Listening to Michaels are, from left, Mike Jagielski, president of Tacoma Pensioners; Dean McGrath, president of ILWU, Local 23 Tacoma; James Norton, pensioner; and Ronald Magden, Local 23 honoree member.
Bronze artist Paul Michaels, left, reads Thursday from a paper proof of the bronze plaque that will be installed on the Murray Morgan Bridge to commemorate the bloody 1916 Longshore strike. Listening to Michaels are, from left, Mike Jagielski, president of Tacoma Pensioners; Dean McGrath, president of ILWU, Local 23 Tacoma; James Norton, pensioner; and Ronald Magden, Local 23 honoree member. lwong@thenewstribune.com

On Sunday, September 11, the Murray Morgan Bridge will serve to connect both ends of the century from 1916 to 2016.

As part of the 49th annual convention of the Pacific Coast Pensioners Association, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23 of Tacoma will host a gathering of some 170 retired longshore workers from the West Coast and ports as distant as Hawaii and Australia.

As part of the program, younger Tacoma longshore workers will re-enact events from a 1916 strike at the Port of Tacoma.

The bridge will be closed and barricades erected. Beginning on the east side, marchers will approach the spot where, 100 years before, shots were fired and striker Alexander Laidlaw was killed. They will march to the spot where truncheons struck skulls and where union men made their stand for fair wages, better hours, a closed shop and self-respect.

Marchers will sing union songs and carry signs that carry the same messages carried a century before: “Win the Strike.” “In Unity there is Strength.”

A wreath will be laid onto the Thea Foss Waterway to honor Laidlaw and a plaque will be dedicated to those who fought the fight 100 years before.

The public is invited to the event, which will begin staging at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 11.

“I think we’re attempting to show our young members what it was, and also trying to show the public what strife is about, that it hurts both parties,” said Jim Norton, retired business agent for ILWU Local 23.

“The bridge is really symbolic,” said Dean McGrath, Local 23 president.

“You’ll always have a battle between labor and capital,” he said.

On one side of the bridge there’s the city. On the other side, there’s the hard work.

“This is a way to remember bringing the two together,” McGrath said. “It’s a perfect symbol of what can happen when we don’t work out our differences.”

“We became a class port, working with the employers,” said Norton.

Tacoma City Council recently passed a resolution recognizing the events of 1916 and authorizing placement of a plaque on the bridge.

“It is fitting that our blue-collared, gritty reputation has this fitting tribute,” said Mike Jagielski, president of the Local’s pension fund.

“This is part of what Tacoma is,” he said.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535

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