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Sacks & Violence:

Milwaukee Longshoremen

(& A Few Pioneering Women)

Battle Their Image

Zonyx Report:  City of Milwaukee Carferry

Memoir by Mike Zetteler     
     View Retired Longshoreman's Live Cam HereMike Zetteler's Live WebCam [When Active]

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Background Sound Except For IExBackground Rhythm
     April in WikiPedia Milwaukee EntryMilwaukee brings ocean-going
freighters churning into the harbor to meet their tugs
to dock on Jones Island shortly after another shipping
season begins for the struggling St. Lawrence Seaway.
                     Go to Seaway Flash Viewer[View Interactive Seaway Show here]
Shouts of "Heads up!" -- the job of vigilant signalmen
on deck -- will again warn an ever-diminishing number
of longshoremen in the holds of danger, of steel or
containers or heavy machinery passing overhead.
     Ironically, even as overseas shipping here dies
and dockworkers pass from the urban mixture, their
presence was never noticed by many. 
   Zonyx Report:  Heavy Lift Load Passes Overhead At Port of Milwaukee
     As a rookie in 1971 I quickly found out in this
age of truck and air freight -- even in a Great Lakes
Port -- that when I said I was a longshoreman I was
liable to be asked, "What's that?"
     Or at least, "Do they have those here?" Or, "Where
     (Another common response:  "They have machines to
do all the work now, don't they?"  This can be annoying
to laborers who have spent 15 or 20 years basically
picking things up and carrying them for 12 or more
hours a day, getting tenosynovitis, bad backs or carpal
tunnel syndrome in the process.  That many more
permanent injuries weren't suffered is the one brighter
side to to the decline of steady work, as shown by the
drop in the number of dockworkers here from over 500 in
the '70s to today's 70 [now about 40] or so.)
     Still, many of us worked our occupation into the
conversation, figuring to evoke such romantic
associations as Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront
(1954), or perhaps the heroic struggles of labor on the San
Francisco piers, as led by Harry Bridges in that city's
1934 general strike, precipitated by the killing of two
workers.  This story was retold in a sympathetic 1993
profile narrated by Studs Terkel on WMVS-TV (Channel
     Eventually, See Wikipedia Bridges EntryBridges (1901-1990) -- always tarred as a
Communist but never proven to be a former card-carrier
despite exhaustive efforts by the government to label and
deport him to his native Australia -- led the men to break
away to form the International Longshore &
Warehouse Union (ILWU), as it is known now.  Certainly
a radical and a former See Wikipedia EntryWobbly (IWW)Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Logo, he led the
union there for more than 40 years, until 1977.
     (Of course, Brando's portrayal of Terry Malloy on the
East Coast was meant to capture a thuggish milieu and a
failed life -- as well as to redeem director See Wikipedia Kazan EntryElia Kazan's
image as an informer in front of See Wikipedia HUAC EntryHUAC in 1952 -- but
Brando's own mystique has overshadowed those
     Then there was Walter Matthau as the venal
waterfront union boss in the 1957 film Slaughter on
Tenth Avenue, stalking the piers and sheds in his long
camel's-hair coat.  To me, at least, he was an eerie
foreshadowing in appearance of the well-bred --
Irish-American gentry, King's Point Merchant Marine
Academy -- but tantrum-throwing Meehan Seaway
President Dan Meehan, who blustered and threatened
the union for givebacks throughout the years of the
Port's decline.
     Add some dramatic background music (originally
from the 1936 ballet of the same name but with a
completely different plot) composed by Richard
Rodgers.  A version of that popular record played then
on the Hammond organ can be heard Play Slaughter Record, Hammond Organhere today
     It could only add to the thrill of the sight of the finally
rebellious rank-and-file tossing Matthau into the
water.  Perhaps the closest local equivalent dramatically
was the October 1971 wildcat strike over irregularities in
the posting for key positions (the union having
temporarily given up the hiring operation), in violation of
seniority rules.  Then a raw beginner on my way to the
hiring hall to report as a non-union extra man, for some
reason late and therefore certain to be dropped to the
end of the list, I was saved as work was prevented by an
irate throng.
     Though Business Agent John Brzek was certainly in
control behind the scenes, President Peter (Pete the
Greek) Kalil, one of the most colorful among a collection
of characters, did most of the talking.
     Not Greek at all, but Lebanese with a Turkish
father who eventually took the family to Uruguay (but
not before, he told some ILA members one night, Kalil
fathered a child himself, at age 12, with an Arab girl),
he had migrated to the Brooklyn docks.  There, he said,
he had worked as an extra man in On the Waterfront
(actually filmed in New Jersey, so who knows?), and
had been thrown in the brig in Portsmouth, N.H. for
resisting the US draft as a non-citizen.
     Having come here in 1959 as a winchman (like Bridges),
and working up to top hold boss, (overheard early on
"talking Greek" to a foreign crew by 400-lb. dockman
Tucker Oglesby), the rangy, leathery Kalil (he bragged
he never drank water, and certainly looked desiccated)
-- fond of the horse track (another Bridges trait) and gold
adornments -- was soon to take over as business agent
himself.  That gray autumn morning he exhorted the crowd
in his unique brand of English, standing on the hood of a
car alongside a choppy Lake Michigan:
     "You mens got balls, stand behind them," adding, "I'll
shoot the first motherfucker between the eyes that cross
the picket line."
     This spontaneous rashness was typical of his attitude 
in the hold, where if a man was understandably cautious
about maneuvering a dangerous load he might be told:
     "Getcher hands on it!  Ya wanna live forever?"
     According to the longshore division vice-president
at the time (the union then included Grain, Cement and
Warehouse Divisions as well), Fred Krause, the day was
capped with a near-riot at a meeting at the union hall on
S. 2nd St. and W. National Ave.
     Many squads of police arrived within minutes, said
Krause, to back up two detectives who had responded to
reports of a minor disturbance, only to encounter 300
longshoremen who'd had all day to get tanked up and
were ready for a fight.  In the tradition of picturesque
names on the docks, the center of the ruckus was an
otherwise nondescript black man [named for a TV
cartoon character] called Touche Turtle, who had
stumbled out onto the sidewalk in front of the hall,
apparently on his way to find "Deepwater Dan"
Meehan -- his own favored nickname, which nobody
else used -- himself, alarming the neighborhood 
when his buddies followed.  Kalil, however, who had 
spent a good part of a career bailing longshoremen out 
of jail -- as well as feeding them and making the
occasional loan -- was well-known to the cops, and a
melee was averted.
     But certainly a positive image was that of the late
longshoreman/philosopher Eric Hoffer, author of
The True Believer, a study of mass movements, and
writer of several collections of essays and aphorisms
and a diary of his life on the San Francisco waterfront, 
and subject of a PBS series on television [and a great
NewYorker magazine profile by Calvin Tomkins,
Jan. 7, 1967].
     But I soon learned how popular culture and general
attitudes reflect stereotypes, misinformation and a
generally unflattering perception of those of us also
known as stevedores.  (This term was originally used
for riverfront and non-overseas trade workers, then
applied to contracting firms.  Locally, these included
Hansen -- subsequently Meehan -- Seaway 
Service, Ltd.; Stearns Marine Co.; Pier, Inc.; and
P&V Atlas.)
     For example, shortly after starting on the docks,
I read an article about singles bars in The Milwaukee
     It portrayed a typical encounter after office hours:  
     A young woman at John Byron's lounge Downtown
and a man strike up a conversation over drinks.  Hoping
to meet a lawyer or doctor, she finds to her horror he
is merely a longshoreman, wearing a suit for the occasion.
     Or, as a young woman woman just back from
university in France once told me on a date:  "If I
thought you looked like a longshoreman, I wouldn't go
out with you."
     Then there were all those references over the years
to "swearing like a dockworker," "eating like a hungry
longshoreman," "drunk as a stevedore," "sweating like
stevedores," and so on.
     Typical was a Journal sports page report on the
death of Boston radio announcer Johnny Most, as he
described a Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers playoff game
during the 1980s:
     "Kurt Rambis is a stevedore!  He's out there
banging people around!  That's his whole purpose in
life! . . .
     "[Coach] Pat Riley wants people hurt out there,
and I blame him for this whole dirty scene!  All the
tinsel-and-plastic people are cheering this stevedore
here in Make-Believe Land."
     [Or this recent quote from the Journal Sentinel's Bob
Wolfley about Marquette basketball coach Mike Deane
and his "dazzlingly profane invective," comparing him
to new coach Tom Crean, whom he calls ". . . more
choir boy than he is longshoreman in this regard."]
     In this age of rampant political correctness (PC),
shouldn't even humble longshoremen -- former, active
and retired -- object to such blatant bigotry?
     Of course, this prejudice has deep roots in
American culture.  As Charles B. Barnes writes in his
1915 study, The Longshoremen, before offering other
views: "This is the worker whom public opinion has
branded, without discrimination, as a loafer, a drinker
a brawler."
     And in an unpublished paper in the Marine
Historical Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library,
Eugene Vrana notes that "Popular images of
longshoremen as burly and brutish characters,
performing backbreaking unskilled work, draw heavily
from cinematic portraits. . . ," such as "A View From
the Bridge," based on the Arthur Miller play.
Zonyx Report:  Great Lakes Scenes.  Click for Seaway Map.
   Well then, what is -- or was -- the truth about
local dockworkers?
     True, if hard work alone made one a ruffian, we
would have filled the jail and detox centers.  With
12-hour days the norm in the spring or fall rush, or
whenever captains were in a hurry to make the
turnaround, 50- or 100- or 110-lb. bags of swirling,
choking flour or similar commodities to be unloaded
from boxcars and stacked on pallets and unstacked by
hand overhead to the tops of the hold -- the lower deck
of the hold above, and so on for maybe 10,000 tons -- 
the job could fairly be called grueling.
     Given the weather I encountered myself, I would
even call it torturous: from seven below zero on a
December morning when a biting wind turned the flesh
gelid under layers of clothing while standing on the
unsheltered stringpiece as the arriving ship's hawsers
were slipped over the yellow bollards by the linesmen,
to leveling off an open upper deck in the full noon sun
as the temperature baked at 101 degrees.  (The summer
of 1988 had more than 30 days in the 90s, and six days
at or above 100 degrees.)
    When we unloaded a steel ship straight through
until after 5 o'clock the next morning -- not that
unusual during a rush -- it demanded more stamina than
I thought I had, deserving of the triple-time rate; and
slinging green, salted hides by their tie strings merited
more than the extra so-called "obnoxious pay" of 15
an hour.  So did graphite, saturating you with black
powder that meant you had to scrub even your leather
boots afterwards and clean the rims of your eyelids
and nostrils with cotton swabs.
     Indeed, my first day turned out to be misleading as to
what I could expect in the future:  I was sent out of the
hiring hall as a replacement to find my way aboard a ship
loading hides recently skinned from Wisconsin's huge
cow herds -- it was America's Dairyland, after all, and
the exporter of one-fourth of the world's leather.  They
were salted down, folded over with the greasy fat-side
out for lower quality skins and brown or black or
spotted fur sides exposed for the higher-grade specimens.
     There in the wide-open hold, the hides were netted
Netting In Burlap Clothing Balesin and dumped by
unhooking two of
the four hooks that
carried the cradled
load and pulling
out the net in the
right direction.
The resulting
mound of skins had
to be spread around,
leveled as best we could
as the hatch
was filled -- 
at least we were given rubber aprons and
waterproof gloves, periodically washed by the
warehouse janitor, in his gray-water slopping machine,
that had stiffened as the dirty water dried.
     But there was no protection for our steel-toed boots,
and nothing except caution to keep them from slipping
on the uneven surfaces, and it was easy to lose your
footing and take a tumble.  Still, the work wasn't hard,
and the future looked promising, with all the interesting
aspects one would expect on the waterfront.
     This promise was quickly dissipated when after a few
mornings of waiting in the hall to be called again, I was
sent to the cavernous warehouse and my first boxcar of
flour bags, with three other men.  As the list of possible
warehouse workers became quickly consolidated
because of dropouts, I soon moved up to where I was
often the next man assigned behind another rookie,
Riverwest residentView Face book PageGottlieb Jashinsky -- also a
hold man as well -- until after a few years he began to
be pulled to mount up on a forklift, which I had
foolishly made myself ineligible for by admitting I
had no experience in driving one when first hired.
     Of course, many men simply lied or overstated
their experience, and I suffered the pangs of watching
Gottlieb and others maneuver their vehicles while
I was stuck as a primitive laborer.  Only on the rare
heavy-lift or container assignments and such could
the rest of us hang back or work intermittently with
those drivers grinding away at the job, aiming and
guiding and struggling in the often-restricted and
uneven confines while we relaxed.
     Oddly enough, when I ended up working in
binderies or factories after my retirement, it was
those years of watching the drivers handle their
tasks that made it a snap for me when I leaped at
the chance to try my hand at it.  And of course,
the shop floors were level and well-lit, the loads
uniform and usually shrink-wrapped or banded,
and the aisles to the ample -- if often precariously
high -- shelf bays generally unobstructed.
     Such conditions only reinforced my appreciation
for the skills I had observed and even picked up by 
     That first boxcar turned out to be the forerunner
of many in the coming years, while my future exposure
to hides was usually unpleasant and backbreaking:
     Forklifts -- often simply called jeeps -- would drive
them by the pallet load under the wings of the hatch
where we would build up the irregular, fatty bundles
in ranks as squarely as we could, to the deck above our
heads, shoring them up with boards to keep them level.
Many feet above the deck, we learned, the whole
arrangement could give way as the forklift drivers
deposited the skids higher and higher on temporary
landing spots to reach us.
     So the rewards of being a longshoreman didn't
seem to live up to its image in popular culture, and in
fact often had little to do with ships and docks.
     Although the handling of hides seemed a little less
regimented and predictable -- and cargo could vary
during a given day -- the boxcars of bags, many of us
later agreed, were so deadening for the day's outlook
that if our first job had been in one with the likelihood
that so much of our time would be spent that way we
would never have returned.
     And I learned soon enough that hides had their
Cow Hides on Pallets 
immediate origin in similar freight cars, where we
unloaded them onto skids, with the quaint surprise that
unopened boxcars left baking in the sun bred what
looked like masses of white rice wriggling under the
top layers.
     No wonder that after I had enough years in I gave
up my warehouse number to take my chances on
making it to a ship on the second round after the roll
was taken or gangs were beefed up.
     As a measure of how much cargo a man lifted in one
day, consider that in 1971, four men unloaded in a day
three boxcars, usually carrying 2,000 50-lb. bags each,
or 37.5 tons per man.  [A lead acid car battery weighs
about 43 pounds:  Envision toting 2,000 of them in an
eight-hour day for a comparison, factoring in another
seven pounds apiece.]
     By the '80s, in an indication of how the production
was driven up to keep the port competitive, two men
were doing two boxcars, or 50 tons apiece in an
eight-hour day.  In contrast, Arnold Schwartzenegger
remarked on the "Tonight Show" that in his workouts
at their extreme he moved some 40 tons -- distributed
to employ a whole range of muscles, of course.
     But bodybuilders generally schedule a day or two
between sessions, while longshoremen are posted to
work day after day until the job is finished; on a ship
this ordeal, though output varied more than in the
warehouse, averaged about 42 tons an hour for an
eight-man gang, or 63 tons each in 12 hours.
     And this was not an air-conditioned facility or
the breezy beach of Gold's Gym, but in heavy work
clothes and safety shoes and hardhat in a humid, airless
hold or on a freezing steel deck under a wintry
midnight moon, while bulky with thick clothing.
     The bitterest fact of all for anyone hired after
1967 was that as the pie kept shrinking, from 34 gangs
[usually made up of eight men in the hold, four on 
the inshore side and four offshore, along with the 
complement of hold boss, winchmen, dockmen and 
several forklift drivers as needed] to a handful, the 
same men kept their coveted spots on the deck or the 
dock while the rest -- even as they gained seniority --
aged 25 years doing young men's work, throwing bags
in the hold 90% of the time.
     I myself finally trained for the winch at age 49,
retiring  two years later [when an early pension buyout
was offered us as the major employer, Meehan Seaway,
switched to a defined contribution plan, as many
companies have, to reduce future obligations and
facilitate its eventual sale to Federal Marine Terminals]
without ever being posted to that job, after 21 years.
     [And even the training and tours as a relief man,
with hand-on-the lever responsibility on the inshore
(dockside) or offshore (above the hatch) winch with
tons of cargo swaying on the hook as it traveled over
the gang -- with very little to stop a load once it was
on its way but the finesse of the two operators
continuously judging the speed of their opposing,
married lines or an ignominious crash against the
hold's bulkhead and a dumped load -- was a terrific
experience, completely absorbing to a rookie.
     [Interestingly enough, the nature of winches is that
your first impulse when a load seems out of control as
both winchmen try to feed their lines down together to
land it, is to yank back on the lever like a brake if the
load starts to overshoot its mark.  This is the worst thing
you can do, since the momentum keeps the top of the
payload going while the hook above it jerks to a halt,
most likely spilling everything.
     [Actually, following the law of conservation of
angular momentum, a load moving to the offshore
too fast has to be given more slack in the line, dropping
it even faster, but reducing its sideways motion.  Scary
stuff for a beginner.]
     But of course, the pay was good [even after we
accepted substantial cuts], when there was work -- today
[1994] over $17 an hour plus benefits -- so we could
afford to relax in hungry, thirsty clusters at noon or after 
work at 5 or 10 p.m. in Bay View taverns such as
Marino's on E. Superior and S. Russell streets, a block
from Groppi's grocery store, or the Club Carneval and 
Americana, or Inner City bars like Kern's Penthouse 
and the Midnighter's.
     But the married men usually left early in the
evening, if not always when we were rained out of the
job earlier in the day, and most of us turned up for
work the next morning.
     At least this was true of the Marino's bunch,
mostly aging white hippies and leftists and native
South Siders who found it a hospitable place to eat
soup and a sandwich and run a tab, even if, like 
myself, they drank only soda at noon -- though some
bottles of Special Export were quickly downed -- while
closely watching the weather reports on TV.
     At Marino's -- later the Palomino -- we could
look out the front door at the park where the Bay 
View Rolling Mill Massacre of 1886 was marked
with a plaque in commemoration:
    Bay View Rolling Mill

The little known history of the massacre that occurred in Milwaukee, when
 7,000 building workers and 5,000 Polish workers demanded the eight-hour
 work day.

The deadly stand-off between workers and the National Guard was the
culmination of events that began on Saturday May 1, 1886.

A historical marker, pictured above [see Site], is located at Russell and Superior on
Jones Island in Bay View. It commemorates the Bay View Massacre.

In early labour history before workers had fought for and won rights which we can
now take for granted and as a result employers were working them ten hours a day,
 six days a week for ninety cents to one dollar and fifteen cents a day. . . .[From libcom.org]

     The labor-history-aware lefties among us -- including
committed union members and officers -- at least 
appreciated this sacrifice, aching as we were, even if the
average citizen long ago had forgotten the struggles of the
workers.  The irony, of course, was that we were still
putting in 12-hour days -- and even resisted as a union
going to three 8-hour shifts, since that would drastically
cut overtime in a seasonal and sporadic job.  But then, it
was our choice.
     (Sadly, when he died in 2012, at age 80, owner
Dick Marino was little-remembered by local patrons
of the Palomino -- having sold the business in 2000
to be run by East Side bar and restaurant entrepreneur
Leslie Montemurro -- despite a remarkable lifeDick Marino Obit.  I
found that out when when I stopped at the tavern
after Marino's memorial service and no longshoremen
showed up for a planned gathering, and I toasted his
memory with a fine dark Milwaukee craft beer, alone.
     I was especially grateful to recall the casual way we
could hurry out of Dick's bar to our scattered cars after a
rushed lunch and merely call out to the bartender what we
had consumed, to be put on our tabs.  By the time we got a
good paycheck -- which Dick would convey to the bank to
cash while we worked -- this could run to hundreds of
dollars, and it could even take until the the middle of the
snowy off-season for me to get paid up.
     Unfortunately, the sight of envelopes of cash being
handed back to us over the bar didn't escape the notice of
agents who already had him under surveillance, as his tax
difficulties would later show -- and no doubt the fact that
the tab system bypassed the cash register entirely could be
considered skimming, especially added to the speculation
about sub rosa sports betting.
     But whatever went on behind the scenes, with his lovely
wife Marion cooking it was a noontime haven for
minestrone or pea soup and liver sausage with a thin slice
of raw, among other choices, and the satisfying Saturday
spaghetti and meatball dinners were always a wide draw.
     (I did learn later that at least winchman Harvey Taylor --
now domestic partner with See Susie & Harvey Facebook EntrySusie Krause, widow of
Dick's younger longshoreman crony Fred KrauseFred Krause Obit --
had attended the funeral, as friends of the family.)
     And if there were no ships scheduled, or we were too
exhausted or hungover to answer the bell the next shift,
and notified the hiring hall accordingly (called "checking
out"), that was the joy of longshoring -- the freedom to
show up or not, or chase extra work if the opportunity was
there, trying for a spot at noon or even 6 p.m. as a
replacement [which is how I got one nickname, "Mr. Six
," mostly from not showing up during the day, from
rotund hookup man Dick Schiller].
     (That rain we watched for, that meant the hatches had
to be closed to keep the grain products from getting wet
and moldy, even had a name, it was so welcome.  Though
in the song they may call the wind Mariah, on the docks,
yells of "C'mon, Raymond" rang out in threatening weather.)
     But the possibility of getting work in smaller chunks
also led to complacency that could backfire, illustrated by
the common claim: I can do anything for four hours.  I
found how arrogant this was, at least in my case, when I
descended to do my four hours in an open hatch that had
baked in the sun all morning.  Slightly queasy and unsteady
from all the beer the night before but smug that I had
gotten my sleep and was beating the game, sweat
immediately soaking my bandanna under the hardhat, I
cradled the coarse 110-lb. flour bags and staggered with
their unusually heavy weight.
     Surely I must have put in a good hour, drenched as I
was with my sleeves soon rolled down to protect my
already scratched forearms even in the heat of the sun,
building a row that started at our feet and soon extended
above the waist -- when I looked at my watch to see that
10 minutes had passed.  Pleading illness to the leadman --
accurately enough, and still possible that early in the
shift -- I bailed and headed for my car.  Clammy and
sopping wet, I had learned some kind of lesson, if only
about the toll of growing old in a dead-end job.
     I could take some small comfort in the fact that I had
finished high school as a 125-lb. smoker who couldn't run
a block to catch a bus, and now it took a serious hangover
and punishing heat to bring me down.  Still, I wondered
if I shouldn't have managed to become a Freshman English
instructor instead of dropping out of grad school due to
     But the truth is, most of us could work far beyond
normal endurance: loading freezer cargo such as tongues
and sweetbreads in boxes up to 100 lbs.; or frozen
horsemeat -- or the horses themselves, in quarters wrapped
in burlap  -- intended for Le Havre; running dunnage
between the crane and the forklift to chock skewed logs
like giant pick-up sticks which could rumble across the
hatch at any moment; rolling and upending 400-lb. barrels,
from soy oil to olives for the Sentry Supermarket chain.
     Soybean oil was also shipped in blue pails filled right
on Jones Island, carried one in each hand to be stacked,
always slick with a greasy film that quickly saturated and
ruined standard split-leather gloves.  Rubberized rain
gloves were the only thing that would handle the task, for
those who thought to bring them.
     Rarely, the job had us unloading the occasional car
from across the lake in Michigan, or even crates of plate
glass or slabs of marble or granite.  Much cargo traveled
to or from Rotterdam, Europe's busiest port.
     Or manipulating newsprint rolls destined for the
[where I had once been a library clerk],
weighing many tons, with curved staves (spinners) and
padded mats to topple them onto, working overtime
simply because the work might not be there the next day.
     And in the end, of course, it wasn't.
     They did it because they had families, and bills
and mortgages and car payments and even boats to pay
for, and would send their kids to college like proper
Americans.  Some owned their own small businesses --
restaurants and taverns -- or would even send themselves
to college.
     No, hard work merely meant that most of us, from
the naturally brawny to those who, like myself, spent a
lot of time in the gym in the off-season to keep in
shape, had nothing in common but pain.  When my own
hands began going numb in the morning if I raised them
to my face in front of the mirror for any length of time,
I diagnosed it as incipient carpal tunnel syndrome.  This
came in addition to the agonizing tenosynovitis treated
with cortisone shots and a wrist brace -- whose
immovability shifted the stress to my elbow.
     But the early Milwaukeeans who built the port may
have been hardier -- Irish and Scandinavians, then Poles
(first used as strikebreakers, becoming the majority by
1921).  Still, they were no doubt individuals.  (In Hoffer's
widely reprinted phrase, "the people I work and live with
are lumpy with talents.") 
As, too, were the blacks,
beginning with the northward migration of the 1920s and
taking over as the majority by 1945.  According to
then-Port Director John A. Seefeldt, the local was
"90% black"
in 1971.
     Finally came the Hispanics, whose participation
was successfully opposed by Business Agent Brzek as
late as the 1950s, according to Vrana, because they
turned the otherwise amicable blacks and whites into an
"explosive mixture."
     But every influx probably had table manners as good as
the radicalized sons (and tiny number of daughters) of the
middle class who began turning to physical labor in the late
'60s after it had become unfashionable for most whites
except those with a strong blue collar heritage, or the
     At any rate, every group showed its desire for stable
employment and respectability through involvement in the
ILA LogoLocal 815 of the International Longshoremen's
View Wikipedia ILA Entry(ILA), resulting in its first black
president -- later ejected for alleged "communistic
activities" -- Aaron Toliver, in 1934.
     It was an amalgam of five shippers, the Great
Lakes Transit Corporation
(GLTC ) -- which threatened
to move its operations to Chicago because of a
perceived militancy on the part of the union -- that
pressured the rank-and-file to oust Toliver in a
referendum in 1939.  Ironically, it was after 1941, when
the purge of "the Left" was completed, according to
Vrana, that the GLTC moved anyway, in a lesson that
should not have been -- but was -- lost on succeeding
union leadership.
     Despite the fact that
Milwaukee's first recorded
strike, in 1848, involved longshoremen (and it was a
port before it was a city), local unions could never
afford to aggressively resist the pressures on all
workingmen since before the organizing days of the
Knights of Labor, which culminated in the largely
unsuccessful -- for longshoremen -- "Big Strike" of
1887, begun by dockworkers in the Port of New York
spreading through sympathy strikes to an estimated
50,000 men.
     Vrana speculates that local longshoremen who
worked winters in San Francisco with the original, more
radicalized International Warehousemen's and
Longshoremen's Union
(ILWU) under Harry Bridges,
kept the progressive spirit alive here.  Nevertheless, the
anti-Communist and anti-CIO faction was in power by
the '50s, and when the ILA was expelled from the AFL
for racketeering in 1953, re-formed Local 815 as part of
the Great Lakes-based International Brotherhood of
(IBL), rejoining the AFL in 1960 when
the ILA was reinstated.
     [However, Brooklyn ILA local union boss See Wikipedia Scotto EntryTony
, nephew by marriage of Murder, Inc. enforcer
See Wikipedia EntryAlbert Anastasia, who was murdered after he rose to
be head of what became the Gambino crime family,
later went to prison himself in 1979 despite enormous
influence with local and national politicians as organizer
for the 100,000-member union.  He was succeeded by the
widely-respected anti-Communist See Wikipedia Gleason EntryTeddy Gleason, who
became ILA president as the union adjusted to
containerization by obtaining the first Guaranteed Annual
, in New York.]
     Perhaps the peak of cold war Red-scare activity
was reached when Brzek, a union member since the '30s
and first elected president in 1942, testified against
Illinois Communist Party leader Claude Lightfoot (a
high school classmate of dockman Oglesby's), convicted
under the Smith Act of conspiracy to advocate
overthrow of the government.
     (The US Supreme Court reversed the decision).
     Still, with the changes in society, hippies and
radicals (often, but not always, the same) eventually
found a refuge on the docks, freedom to come and go
while following other pursuits, after overcoming an
initial hostility to what was first seen everywhere as
bizarre appearance and unpatriotic talk.
     With the longshoremen's traditional acceptance of
mavericks and misfits -- no doubt because employers
held down wages by drawing on an available pool of new
arrivals to the country, the unemployed from all walks
Author as Hippie Longshoreman, 1971of life, and casual laborers who couldn't -- or
didn't care to -- meet the scrutiny demanded of
full-time employees elsewhere, pony-tails like my
own became common on the whites in the 1970s,
and a dockworker without facial hair was rare.
freaks were joined by East Side denizen Annie
-- a waitress at the Granfalloon coffehouse
(one of the underground newspaper Kaleidoscope's
peripheral businesses under publisher and editor John
) and daughter of the chairman of the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Social Welfare, whose
mother, Jean Dorheim, was an educator and writer -- as
the first woman to perform the work, in 1971.  The first
female to actually break into the union, with President Bill
backing, was Amy Kirkland Bugle American Photo: Women of the Docks, Sept. 1976 [Click to enlarge](now
chairperson of the Milwaukee District Nurses
Board of Directors), in 1976.
       [Joanne Yuenger, Hildene
                                                                            Callies, Amy Kirkland, Rt.]

     (Mosby, who went from cotton picker to entertainer and restaurateur, was described by the Journal's Jerry Wilkerson in a 1977 series as "one of the leaders of the old longshore school."
     (The grizzled Mosby was "an articulate Tennessean
who has talked with US presidents about port business,"
whose "brawn fits the old longshore image -- 240
pounds, 6 feet 2 inches and still as firm as a burlap
bag of pinto beans." 
Milwaukee Magazine readers may
recall him from the story on the Bronzeville jazz and
blues clubs of the 1940s as the owner of the old Chateau
on Third Street.)
     As Andi McKenna, now secretary-treasurer of the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local
715, recalls about her hiring in 1976, attitudes towards her
as a woman were "pretty good.  I've been harassed more in
other places, believe me."  Writing in the alternative
Bugle American at the time, the modestly
lower-case judy Jacobi quoted McKenna as feeling
". . . men on the docks are eight times more respectful
than men working in the (counterculture) community.
Some of my negative opinions about men changed from
working at the docks."

     As Jacobi noted, the equality extended to the co-ed
bathroom, a lavatory with stalls and urinals connected to
the lunchroom by an open doorway:  "'It doesn't bother
the men or us,' according to Amy," now a nurse living in
Mequon.  "'We work together and piss together.'"
[The unisex policy did create problems for the men
in the hold, since traditionally no one took a break just
to leave the ship to urinate;  one usually went to a
corner at the sweatboards under the wings, as far away as
seemed appropriate.  But the presence of women seemed
to raise the level of discretion needed, and sometimes
there were no dark or obscured corners in the more open
hatches, especially during the day.  I'm sure all the women
waited for their break times, or took one, but I remember
the embarrassment while working a hatch with a busty
female union member named Joanne -- whose nipples
made dark sweaty circles on her T-shirt, creating a nice
diversion of their own -- when I returned from a quick trip
to the shadows to see a yellow stream following me back
down the pitched deck.]
     But if the men were tolerant, the employers weren't.
Two women fired in 1972 before attaining the 30 days
required for union membership alleged sex discrimination
in suits before the State Department of Industry, Labor
and Human Relations
.  One, Sarah Casey, did cite the
lack of separate bathroom facilities.
     The other, a black woman named Maxine Griffin,
would have been the first woman into the union, but was
discharged by Stearns Marine for "leaving assigned post
for unusual duration."

     Though Jacobi terms Griffin's subsequent firing by
Hansen Seaway on her 29th day as "suspect," she adds
that Mosby "said 'she was taking too many breaks,'" and
"Veteran black longshoremen say she screwed it up

     [Lodging a formal complaint against a fellow
longshoreman or a company official was said to be taking
something not carried out nearly as much
as it was threatened.]
     But though both women lost, Casey -- fired by
Hansen Seaway for "Not being physically able to perform
the job"
-- had more support.  A white supervisor,
Bill Harris
, was the only one to testify against her, stating
that she was not unloading a boxcar as as fast as the
others, but her crew "testified that she was a capable,
even spunky worker and was able to do the job."

     It is also suspicious, says former Vice-President
Rad Keener, that as women began applying for work the
standard was raised from 50-lb. bags to 100 lbs. and 50
kilos (111 lbs.).  Even with the lighter bags the norm,
except for the occasional birdseed (millet) or tannic acid
shipment, "Of about 50 women that have tried
longshore work in the past five years, about half made
it through one day before quitting,"
Jacobi wrote.
     And as the newcomers became active in union affairs,

Krause -- "Big Hippie" -- who was the underground
Kaleidoscope's distributor [before I took over
those duties] was elected to the executive board, and a
29-year-old Mao-style revolutionary named Pat Huck ran
for president.
     As Huck -- not a big man but an enthusiastic worker
who had nevertheless earlier served a 20-day suspension by
Hansen Seaway because he "encouraged" a one-day
wildcat strike by the warehousemen -- told me, he
considered the flamboyant Mosby a glib "showboat" who
didn't regard employers as the workers' adversaries, and
overly PR-minded as well.
     These newcomers -- as well as uncontrollable
blacks, according to researcher Vrana -- sent Brzek
into rages, as anyone who attended a union meeting
where he officiated can attest.  It is not surprising
that Brzek, a force in the earlier movement to purge
the ILA of Communists, identified in the Journal as "an
undercover agent for the FBI in the 1940s
[who] joined 
American Communist Party to spy. . . ." retired at
age 56 in 1973 to take over at the all-white local in
Green Bay.  (What is puzzling to this union member, who
often witnessed Brzek's ferocious outbreaks, is why the
Journal's Leon Hughes, generally perceptive, referred
to him as "soft-voiced" and "a peacekeeper."
     Still, Hughes recognized the cliche problem when
he wrote that Brzek "never lived up to the movie image
of a brawling, fast dealing longshore boss."

     The departing top union officer did acknowledge to
Hughes that "he thinks his brand of leadership does not
fit the changing work force."

     And if there was now a certain amount of pot-smoking
in the shadowed corners of the holds, the work got done. 
Any substance abuse was most prevalent among the
old-timers with enough seniority to be hold bosses who
could sleep it off (in one case, to discover he had been
sealed in with a wall of corn-soya mix bags by his crew),
or hungover winchmen who occasionally sent the gang
working below them scattering in terror, or even to the
hospital, when they were hit with dumped loads.
     [A 50-lb. bag falling on my foot as I sat in the open
square of the hold, dislodged from a load brought in
without warning too soon after lunch, sent me to the
clinic with a twisted ankle and a mass of broken blood
vessels, though presumably the signalman was sober.]
     For most, if they drank during the work day at all
-- and the majority didn't -- a few bottles of beer at
lunch time was the norm, with an occasional half-pint
smuggled on board after 6 p.m. for a long, freezing
night ahead.  The point is, an excessive amount of
drinking is common among many American workers, and
professional types too, as a visit to any Downtown fern
bar will show.  But gluttony and profanity?  About the
same as at any college hangout.
     And the rough stuff?  Yes, I can recall a 1970s
casual worker named Lepak who was blown away by the
cops in a shotgun holdup of the Blust drugstore on the
East Side; forklift driver Fred Adams killed in a North
tavern shootout; hold boss Lee Witherspoon, shot by
his wife in retaliation for a reported history of abuse; the
hold man (Bobby Sanford) who never returned, whom
we heard was ambushed by the FBI on a visit back
Zonyx Report Milwaukee Journal Photo:  Harvey Taylor on the Hookshome in the South [another version,
as recounted by Harvey Taylor
years later, is that he was killed
in a squabble over a pool game,
involving a trivial amount of money,
maybe 50].
 And not too long ago, feisty
holdman Floyd Raymond -- still energetic despite the gray
in his wiry black hair -- was murdered near his home in the
inner city as, according to newspaper reports, he objected
when drugs were offered to a young relative.
     But does this show, statistically, any more belligerence
than the average paper mill worker, say, or postal
employee?  Given the number of personnel involved --
including several professed Christians and sometime
preachers, inevitably called "Rev" -- probably not.  [OK, I
stacked the deck on that one.]
     (One such peace-loving "Rev," Henry Grant, who
sold bulk peanuts from the trunk of his car, was
wounded in a holdup in the grocery store he owned, but
certainly not because he was a longshoreman.)
     And if any shared experience, besides hard work,
could be said to shape the longshoreman's attitude, it
should be the presence of danger.
     Local poet, songwriter and performer Harvey Taylor's Vids & Music
, a winchman with over 25 [now 46] years seniority,
writes about number-two Hold Boss Jesse Boatman:

          . . . . Goose, who laughs completely,
          climbs on board the
          gold tooth flashing &
          down the ladder into the hold,
          where a monstrous crate of machinery parts
          crushes his life away
          against the sweatboards of the ship.

Hookup man Marshall Wingo lost half his face when
an improperly placed hook slipped from a huge metal
piece being picked up by the crane  -- never returning
to work and recently dying at an early age -- and
candidate Pat Huck, shortly before the 1976 elections,
was found dead in Kenosha after falling into an uncovered
hatch the crew of the Jugoslavian ship Makarska had
opened the previous night while berthed in
apparently to save a little time.
Milwaukee has a reputation as a relatively
pilferage-free port, nothing can stop some minor
"breakage" of crates in the hold, not even crew members
sent down to watch over more attractive cargo, such as
bottled beer, during unloading.  [These components of the
crew were the lowest of the ship's ranks; though the officers
even on the foreign-owned ships registered in countries of
convenience tended to speak English and represent the
affluent classes, the rest were recruited mostly from
third-world regions.  Occasionally they chattered in what
African-American hold boss Top Cat (Milton Collins)
called boogie-woogie talk.]
     But it is ironic that the zealous Huck, as I heard from
workers in his gang that day, realized he had been seen
hiding a bottle of Greek Roditis wine in the hatch and
rushed out at noon to change his clothes to confuse the
spotters from the ship's crew.
     Evidently, he started back in the dark at quitting
time to retrieve the bottle from the area where he had
stashed it, but never made it.  He bled to death overnight
after falling into the open hold and breaking his neck.
     Still, one rare, balmy afternoon was enjoyed by our top
gangs when hold boss Joe Taylor used his clout to land
several loads on the deck to block passage by the ship's
crew, keeping them from investigating as we trooped in and
out around a cold tapped beer barrel, sampling cheese and
ham from the reefer locker.
     Of course, because Huck was a militant who wrote
for the Revolutionary Communist Party newspaper The
("I don't consider myself a Marxist," he told
me), who died on a state-Communist regime ship, some
friends, like Marc Olsen, suspected internecine foul
play.  But this seems like fantasy, and the FBI --
though perhaps favoring Marshal Tito's rule -- agreed.
Still, Huck was no dilettante, and could have won office
in another ten years or so, becoming his generation's
white Aaron Toliver.
     [And in those Cold War years, some paranoia was
inescapable; when I rather idly asked a Jugoslavian sailor
whom I had heard speaking English on deck about who
might take over for the ailing Tito -- a subject of much
press speculation here -- he became resolutely silent, as if
fearing a trap.]
     But if all this seems like significant lawbreaking, it
should be pointed out that Charles A. Krause, president
of Milwaukee's 
Krause Milling Co.-- original formulator
and supplier of many soy-fortified relief products -- was
sentenced to six months in jail and fined $25,000 in 1978
on charges of price-fixing in the biggest recent scandal
involving the port.
     Krause was estimated by the Justice Department to
have helped rig bids with Lauhoff Grain Co. of
Danville, Ill., and ADM Milling Co. of Shawnee, Kan.,
on $313 million in US Department of Agriculture
[USDA] purchases donated to overseas, resulting in an
overcharge to taxpayers of $19 million.
     "It was a classic white collar crime, conceived by
grain milling executives over drinks and lunch at a
private Chicago club in early 1970,"
wrote the
Minneapolis Tribune's Eric Pian in articles condensed
The Milwaukee Journal
"The object: to agree in advance
on bidding practices for a highly visible foreign aid
program -- Food for Peace."

     But the danger of the job is shown by union
brother Ed Manske's orange hardhat, to this day a
cautionary exhibit in the hiring hall, marked with a
black outline around the crater left by a turnbuckle --
used to help lash down cargo -- that was dropped from
several decks above him.  Never the same again, Manske
[now deceased] retired to the Riverview senior high rise
housing project [where I live now] and became active
as vice president of their Citywide Residents
     Once, the Goat and I were unloading a pallet when
a rib that had worked loose from the ship smashed down
between us, missing our heads by inches; what could we
do but move it and keep on working?  Another co-worker
tripped and fell through an open hatch and broke his
back, while yet another broke both thumbs when a loaded
pallet was let down unexpectedly by the winchmen.
     Several simply collapsed on the job and died of stressed
hearts, such as the guy who was found after lunch at the
bottom of the many rungs to be climbed straight up from
the depths of the hold several times each day.  (And if
amphetamine use contributed to at least one
warehouseman's death, this says something about the
demands of the job).
     In Kenosha, two linesmen were killed tying up a
ship when a line snapped and swept them into the water.
     In Milwaukee, a poorly secured gangplank flipped
and sent two workers overboard and then to the
hospital.  And poet Harvey Taylor Performs at Coffee HouseTaylor also was a near fatality:

          . . . .the machine started shaking like a
                              bucking horse's hoof,
          the boom crashed down through the warehouse
          far below, my friends scattered like ants,
          & i was ready to mess up my pants --
          a rampaging cable brought a shower of glass,
          there wasn't even time for my life to flash
          -- man alive!  i thought i was dead! 
          Blood was pouring out the top of my head,
          hydraulic oil squirted from a broken hose
          all over my face, & drenched my clothes --

Bales of raw rubber weighing 350 lbs. dusted with
talc to keep them from sticking together could fall
back 60 feet as they were netted out of the hatch of
Indian Ship With Swastika-style Symbolthe Tropical Engineer, and
30-foot-high bulkheads of
bagged cargo meant to contain
the rest stowed behind them
could instantly shift and
collapse under the gang atop
it -- and did, as on the Indian vessel
JaladutaThis despite the good-luck sun symbol that
adorned many such Indians that caused local consternation
by apparently duplicating the Nazi swastika [see Jalajyoti, above].
     But these accidents -- longshoring competes with
mining and construction for most hazardous industry -- and
many more caused no special outcry over safety concerns.
     In any case they aren't considered unusual in the
workplace, as many factory workers can tell you.
Indeed, Taylor was chided by a Journal reviewer for
ending his poem on a nonchalant note, rather than
quaking over his brush with death, but that was the
point:  If you aren't killed, you shrug it off and go
back to work.
     When nauseating insecticide and fungicide lingered
-- despite a cursory airing of the hatch -- with the
pallets of baler twine from Brazil to be discharged for
area farmers, who usually chartered such a vessel each
fall, we plodded on, despite the evidence of comatose
cockroaches scattered around like little brown baby shoes
that the stuff was fatal.
     If CO2 accumulated in a busy hold from forklift
exhaust, displacing the oxygen until two drivers toppled
from their vehicles to the deck, the hatch was simply
pumped out while loading was shifted elsewhere, and
if you tried one of the pitiful little cotton masks issued
for breathing protection in the flour dust you soon found
it clogged from the sweat that saturated and stiffened all
fabric, such as the usual flannel shirt, with library paste,
and flung it aside.
     [At least once, asbestos particles from bags of the
stuff punctured by the forklift floated around us,
captured in sunbeams as we worked.  This did not
merit the extra 50 per hour "hazardous pay," though
the rare cases of live ammunition did.]
     We took it all in stride, and measured it against
those placid, sunny days with a slight tingling breeze,
on the upper deck of a small container ship with a
sweeping view of the serrated inland skyline, while
guiding the 40-footers into their slots.
     Or -- if you were really lucky -- watching the silhouette in the mist of
early morning or thickening fog of night
of a huge merchantman nudged in to
tie up in the softly lapping waters of
the slip, where as a linesman you
caught the lines tossed overboard to
shore, getting overtime pay to boot.
     Or stretching and moving but still
chatting with your partner as a
hookup man next to one of the brick terminals under the arching
harbor bridge, wearing a T-shirt on a delightfully warm day, rhythmically
swinging the pipes under the pallets of food for starving nations and sending them skyward while sailboats spanked by under the
glittering sun.

     And occasionally the hold men got a respite from the
                  Pre-slung Bags on Spreader Bar, Milwaukee Downtown in Distance
loose bags by the loads stacked in slings, sometimes further
expedited by bringing them in on platforms called stone
after the similar frames used by farmers to drag
around their fields to collect obstructive rocks.
     Or a collective glee in pulling off a raunchy prank
could trump the usual desire to conserve energy by
working as efficiently as possible, building loose bags
up for landing spots in the open hatch where the bulk of
the loads could then be distributed by sliding and
dropping the sacks down.  Let gravity do the work.
     But when word got around that a local TV crew was
going to film after supper, shooting from the top deck the
view of an expansive open hatch worked by two gangs, the
usual plan was scrapped.  Instead, making things incredibly
harder -- and only possible because the ship had cranes to
spot the cargo instead of winches -- we walked all over the
hatch to leave giant trenches that spelled out
     (Unfortunately, the rare easy days -- and it was
still demanding work -- kept alive the false hope of
what life could be like with an upturn in business long
after you had paid your dues as a canyon rat.)
     And just as hazards and miserable conditions
aren't the whole picture, a few boorish longshoremen
aren't an indictment of a whole trade, regardless of
how grimy and sweaty we may get on the job.
     After work we bathe and wear appropriate clothes
and blend into the population.  Having been a
and American Can Co. lineworker, I found
myself in a field manned by, among others, former
philosophy and English majors, a theater arts student,
farmers, a fish peddler, a licensed airplane pilot and
real estate salesman, a wine maker, several bikers
[including motorcycle artist
Joe Smith], a nurse, and
a biker studying to become a nurse.
     These were workers, like Marc Olsen, who could tell
you what D.H. Lawrence meant by widdershins; and if
someone were bold enough to quote Emerson to the
effect that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds
he would be swiftly reminded that the correct phrase
was A foolish consistency. . . .
     All those on the back three-fourths of the list
relied on their other skills to eke out a living, even
if unemployment compensation after a good year made
possible -- as in my case -- those winters in San Diego.
     Eventually, you knew your co-workers' life stories
and heard things you would never know otherwise, such
as who had served time (more than a few, it must be
admitted), cut sugar cane in Cuba (Tom Reitzner), or
baked a cherry pie for a State Fair competition (Dan
  With these diverse backgrounds, the
conversation covered every possible subject, from
football to poetry.
     Just one example:  As the hold filled with bags
nearly to the upper deck, the talk turned to the
recently-released film Gandhi, as one of us -- the
avowed Stalinist, Reitzner -- had asked whether it was
possible for a human being to be truly altruistic.  As
a former conscientious objector still troubled by the
practicality of absolute non-violence, I put in my
two-cents-worth, something about Gandhi's humanizing
profile in The New Yorker, his suppressed lust as shown
by his habit of sleeping chastely with young women.
     Reitzner [now union president], in turn, brought up his
investigations into American Indian culture and its
spirit of cooperation, and on we all went.
     Somehow, the discussion turned to Yiddish slang
and its terms for various sexual activities and organs,
though none of us was Jewish.  Just as the usage of
shlong, shtup and shmuey  and their English
equivalents was explored in a rather academic way, we
looked up to the bridge, now well within earshot of our
language, if not its nuances, to see a family on a tour
of the ship, young children in tow. No doubt, they were
taking it all in.  Extremely embarrassing, as I imagined
them cringing in disgust.  But then, what do you expect
from longshoremen?
     [Not much, apparently, according to an Aug.5, 2002
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about unprincipled
Internet spammers touting products like "pornography
videos sold by pitches that would make a stevedore
So I guess we do have standards, if low ones.
In fairness, I have to concede that the longshoremen I
knew were not even likely to be found blushing at sexual
explicitness where it is customarily found.  As with most
things, context is important.] 
     As Wilkerson wrote, the legend was that we were
"gutter living, foul mouthed, baling hook brawlers,"
and offered a tour of a seedy area with "16 bars within
a one block radius of their Milwaukee headquarters"
if to prove the point, though admitting this had no
relevance, since only one -- the now-defunct Seaway
[owned by a retired winchman] next to the
union hall,
also now sold off -- "made the list of
favorite haunts."
[And certainly Wilkerson realized the South Side --
then the recent scene of tumultuous open housing
marches led by Fr. James Groppi -- was not very
welcoming of blacks -- the majority of dockworkers --
in the past and to some extent even today.]
     Over time, though, as the port's business dwindled,
most left to become teachers, truck drivers,
bartenders,factory employees, a motorcycle cop, office
workers, presumably no different in manners and
     After all, that was the background of many, as
Wilkerson noted in an attempt to counter some myths: 
"husbands, fathers . . . better educated, deeply rooted
in the community and keenly aware of the value of a
good reputation."
  His "image shattering" portraits
included, in addition to Mosby, former interior
decorator Hildene Callies, 28, with an "attractive
German face"
and "the firm handshake and the biceps of
a laborer;"
and "
Jack Dussault [later to become
union vice-president], French, 30. . . . University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate with a degree in geology
and one year's experience as a teacher.  Married,
father of two."

     Of course, there were brawls on the job.  In 21
years I witnessed exactly three fights, and heard about
only a few more, though oral harassment and
intimidation were about as common as on any
playground [and in fact were a way of life, in an
atmosphere where motherfucker was almost a term of
endearment and the smallest unit of measurement was
a cunt hair].  Two fights involved my friend Danny
who quit to become a college admissions
counselor at MIAD.
     Another happened when a former housemate of mine,
an immigrant from Bremen, Germany named
Viewe FB Entry for Heiko
Heiko Eggers, understandably punched another
container hookup man who spat in his face after Heiko
forced him to walk around the 40-foot container by
grabbing the closest hooks first.  For that, he received a
three-day layoff, which is the point: The employers
punished physical confrontations,and they were not a way
of life.  Heiko himself -- now a family man [though
divorced and struggling to be an observant Mormon] and
owner of a large house on the fashionable East Side --
remains on the docks and hasn't punched anyone in years.
     Adversaries could arrange for fights outside the gates,
of course, but after a long day energies and hostilities
could be pretty well drained.  Despite an occasional
threat to go home and get a shotgun, nothing seemed to
     Vocal conflicts and insults were another matter,
though, and to be labeled a stick was to feel contempt
for not pulling your weight, while a frustrated leadman
suspecting someone of deliberately misunderstanding
instructions to gain a little rest time could accuse him of
playing crazy -- often correctly.
     On the lighter side, it was Heiko who volunteered for
the hold one slow day, despite his seniority, to end up
working next to me on a USDA bulgur gang.  There he
passed slippery 50-lb. bags up to me standing on a tier of
bags above him with his head almost squashed to my Levi'd
butt in the dim, filled-in space.
     "Just don't fart," he requested.  Quite unnecessarily, I
     "Hell, it's the Germans that like to gas people," I
observed.  But he had been used to being called "Heinie,"
a term that didn't carry much freight in Germanic
Milwaukee anyway, and so the day wore on.
     And the hard-core fighters, like the City Open Dock
worker we called Dum-Dum -- who eventually went to jail
for cutting the throat of a cop who supposedly came on
to his wife at a dance -- were balanced by the smattering
of religious fanatics.  One of these was a reformed carouser
named Eaton, built like a tree stump with scar tissue, who
often worked next to me.  Once a gallon-a-day wine
drinker, Ike's sensitivities grew until he refused to work
on Sundays and finally quit because of the foul language
around him, going on to study welding at MATC.

     It was Ike -- in his less truculent phase -- who voiced
our beef with a winchman named Paczkowski high above
us over the landing of a pallet of bags and Patch who came
back with the challenge to the "mammyfucker" to climb
the ladder and repeat his
complaint, adding, "See, I'm not
afraid to call you that."  (In contrast, a perfectly placed
load -- as far under the coaming as the winch cables would
permit, maybe -- was praised as being just like Downtown.)
   Patch didn't know about the new, milder Ike, of course,
but then he was a really large man from the recalcitrant
Polish South Side to whom it probably wouldn't matter.
     The only shock was the breaking of the code that made
overt racial references so unusual, though the groups
didn't socialize together much, either.  It was a pattern I
had encountered even back in high school -- about 50-50
black and white but socially segregated -- though white
academic types I met at UWM who concerned themselves
with racial equality found such calm unlikely.  But Ike just
muttered to himself, and we all plodded along.  And
hadn't been lost on anybody that it was always joked that
anyone climbing the ladder to face off with a winchman
would have been too winded to fight.
     True, a black warehouse driver with a knife jumped
from his forklift in a boxcar to go after a white,
non-drinking folk-dancer and jack-of-all-trades named Ron
 Zonyx Report:  Former ILA 815 VP Keener,  AKA "Snow," "Jesus Christ"Stone
.  Whatever the cause, after
Stone punched him it was a standoff, but he
had often infuriated even his most tolerant
peers with his stubborn ways (his nickname,
"Stonehead,"  was only partly derived from
his name).  And my friend Rad Keener FB Entry
Rad Keener --
[above] tagged "Snow" when he worked in Tampa on
banana boats after the still-segregated black regulars
decided their first choice, "Jesus Christ," was too
blasphemous -- popped another holdman in a little tiff over
each other's work habits.  Then a union steward, now
studying on a Meehan Seaway scholarship at age 41 to
become an English teacher, Rad said he regretted it later
because of his office.  In any case, these were very rare
incidents, usually quickly broken up by the others.
     [The segregated southern locals, according to Men
Along the Shore: The ILA and its History
, (1966) by
Maud Russell -- the official treatment -- may never have
been sanctioned by the rules or constitution.  But as in
many southern institutions, the races were separated by
tradition and custom, a practice defended as in Texas,

ILA locals, however, have supported the union
     position, which argues that the existing system not
     only allows blacks more work, but ensures that they
     will hold many more offices than would be the case
     in an integrated situation.  Such arguments had little
     effect in a Baltimore decision of the early 1970s
     affecting South Atlantic ports, in which a United
district court ordered the merger of segregated
 ILA locals. . . .]
     In any case the encounters were certainly not the
hook-wielding duels of the movies.
  The hooks, at any
Hooks Collected by Mike Zetteler at Port of Milwaukeerate, lie rusting in corners of the
warehouse, mostly unused since they
became unsuitable for modern-day cargo.
Short-pronged bag hooks, used in pairs,
though common in the South, were
unknown here until brought back by
traveling union officers very late in the
game.  It was the early '90s when we
finally learned there was an easier way
than clutching and tossing the sacks to
avoid puncturing them.
     If fights were rare, what passed for
humor was a staple.  Long before TV's
The Office could have been conceived,
that's what she said comebacks were heard
all the time, simply because the nature of the
tasks involved situations where "I think it's going to be tight," or
"I need a couple more inches," for example, were so common.
     And a long-time running joke started when someone
stumbled over a depression or something in the surface
of the bags glimmering like endless fish scales in the
moonlight of the open hold.  Reflexively, a cohort
called out, "Watch yourself."  It was pointed out by
the tripper that, logically, it did no good to warn about
a hazard after it did its harm.
     From then on, it was standard whenever a man had
a mis-step for him to hear, "Watch yourself" from anyone
nearby that noticed.  This was considered as droll as
correcting the winchmen when they snatched a load up
a bit instead of reacting to the yells of down! for the few
remaining inches as it was held in place by the straining
bunch: "the other down!"
    My own more elaborate attempt at humor was probably
not as clever as I thought it was, but I had to try it out after
an incident with hold boss Jerry Brazil when he wanted
to continue work in the rain.  Some cargo permitted this,
being impervious wood crates or steel machinery -- at
least until the light rain turned to heavier downpours and
portended lightning that could be drawn by the masts --
and in fact we had all been issued yellow rubber raingear,
including pants, coats and gloves.  Awkward and
uncomfortable -- oppressive in warm weather -- but the
contract mandated we continue work while so

encumbered, as long as we could go to our cars, or
wherever, to get the protection.  Of course, if you rode
with someone else and didn't have a handy trunk, or
even walked from the distant bus stop in Bay View,
you were out of luck.

     So in a slight mist the gang got the idea to invoke the
contract and get our gear, and I came back after the short
break in only the jacket, hood down.  Brazil
understandably was irked at my not really taking the option
for protection seriously, saying I apparently didn't know
the meaning of raingear.

     This led to my later evolving the story of Red Rudi --
Rudi Dutschke of Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang --
though it was little-known, was a longshoreman.
Named Rudolf, as I (incorrectly) supposed, he had a
similar encounter with a hold boss who called him on not
getting the proper equipment, and replied, in perfect
English:  "Hey,
Rudolf the Red knows raingear."  (Groan
if you wish.)

     Besides humor -- ideal in short bursts, given that
pallets were unloaded at a furious pace to gain a little
respite between loads, leaving one breathless -- there were
other ways to pass long stretches of time when work
ground on into the night or more rarely paused in welcome
stretches between more massive loads that could only rise
slowly from the pier on cranes to be maneuvered on the
cables when finally lowered below the decks.  Convoluted
conversations ranging from Supreme Court decisions to
popular TV shows, of course, but even games like the
ever-popular 20 Questions, only transmuted to 20-Million
.  Provided the object in question -- animal,
mineral or vegetable -- was legitimate and in sight, time was
to be killed with no limit until the solution or the end of
the shift.  I was proudest of my contribution when Jeff
(once a star peddler of Kaleidoscopes) joined our
crew after supper one chilly night in his heavy plaid coat as
a replacement for someone with less seniority -- in other
words, as a bump, and a slow-moving one at that.  It was a
log gang, more dangerous at night as an arm or leg could
easily be trapped in obscured gaps in the pile of
rough-barked former trees while groping to unhook the
cables used to lower and stack them.  At any rate, I ran
out the long evening with my subject, thinking of course
of Jeff: a bump on a log.
     But if racial epithets and jokes at least went unvoiced,
stereotypes have a way of persisting, becoming so ingrained
they are accepted without question.  I realized this with the
case of the Dutchman, which shows that longshoremen
themselves have -- or had -- their own unique biases.
     "Dutchman" was a term I learned quickly on the
docks:  In the interest of using space efficiently,
holds are usually packed to the top, which can mean
hoisting 110-lb. bags overhead until they fill in the
spaces between the beams.  Sometimes this required
cradling the same bags in your arms and walking them
back from the closest landing spot, or fall, of the
winches into the deepest recesses of a hold.
     Far easier it is, then, to occasionally build a
quick bulkhead -- a wall of bags or other cargo -- all
the way to the top in front of the space to be filled,
so that when the leadman or ship's mate with his
flashlight peers in, no space is visible.  This wall
was always called a Dutchman.
     I wondered why, but historians tell us that in
ages past the Dutch and English were often at war
and had a long history of animosity.  Hence the terms
"Dutch courage" for alcohol-induced bravery, "Dutch
treat" for paying your own way, "doing the Dutch" for
suicide, and so forth.
     Milwaukee longshoremen (from the original English
term "along-the-shore-men") share the English heritage
more than any other, and no doubt picked up this usage
with the port's beginnings in the 1840s.  And Bay View
itself was the neighborhood of Milwaukee with the
highest proportion of English settlers, having been brought
here for their iron-making skills by the rolling mill,
according to local historian John Gurda.
     Some confirmation for this theory came when I
asked an older black man who had drifted up from New
-- with its primary French influence -- what
they called such a deception down there.  He mused for
a minute and said simply, "camouflage."
     But if sometimes a load was was dumped on purpose
to quickly level a low spot in the cargo, or a Dutchman
resorted to because of unreasonable working conditions,
such lapses in effort were rare.  Equally common was
pride in good work, as taken to extreme lengths in one
story told on the docks:
     Old-timers Jim Butler and Algia Finley were top
dogs in a gang loading bags in the hold of a ship
running out of cargo.  Told by a supervisor to just
spread the remaining cargo in the center of the hatch
so everybody could go home, they continued to walk the
bags to the wings, far under the coaming, thus forcing
the rest of the gang to follow suit.
     As Butler grumbled, ignoring the supervisor's
directive:  "That ain't no way to load a ship."
[Still, longshoremen could be rebellious if abused,
as I saw one day working freezer cargo of 100-lb.
boxes.  Though the usual practice was to assign four
men to each side, inshore and offshore, who then raced
each other to finish unloading their pallets so they could
rest by beating the hook as it first had to leave a load
on the opposing side, sometimes a mechanical or
human difficulty would result in the load hanging while
whatever was slowing things up was dealt with.
     [Of course, management hated to see this, but in the
long run it was better to give one side the break,
since that was the motivation for each side to try beat
the other and thus keep things moving quickly overall.
     [And of course, because we had to give everyone in
the gang a break every four hours, by union contract,
the others had to pick up the pace to stay in
the game, since we didn't get a relief man in the hold,
though the deck men did.
     [No wonder then that when we thought we were
getting doubled up on -- or just weren't sure, maybe
after some long delay -- we would start a dispute or
even a full-fledged screaming match:
     ["It's they load!"  Sometimes asserted with a straight
face by a white guy (namely me).  Since the first load
always went to the offshore side -- the bottom half of
the crew -- this could only ultimately be sorted out by
an appeal to the dockmen with their tally sheet, who
could say if it were an odd or even lift.
     Once this led to signalman Steve Misko -- of Albanian
heritage by way of the US south, who perhaps as a result
had a way of dropping his ls -- relaying from the deck the
disputed count of the loads.  Asked whether he meant the
number for one side or both together, he clarified the issue:
     "No, no -- Toto, like Dorothy's dog."
     [Occasionally, though, a foreman or supervisor
would order the hanging load brought in, doubling up
on one side.  Invariably this caused more shouted
protests, and a mysterious slowdown -- caused perhaps
by a sudden need to tear up the temporary track of pallets
for the heavy rollers needed to push the bags or boxes
into the wings and adjust it a few inches -- could be
expected.  A form of playing crazy taken to creative
[But sometimes, if the sides were mismatched or
the work so demanding that the hook couldn't be
outrun, one or both sides would limit themselves to
a humane pace.  Then, if more production were
needed, management would have to beef up the
gang, usually to five on a side.
     [This happened with the freezer crew, when a
young but self-important management trainee
all called John-Boy (after "The Walton's" on TV)
gave us the extra men.  Since four men could each
work with a partner and the boxes could most easily be
divided four ways, the odd man could take a
well-deserved break and short trip to the lunchroom
while production was uninterrupted and we worked
harder because of the respite.
     [John-Boy, however, peered down from next to
the winchmen and demanded to know, "How come
I only see eight men down there? I gave you ten!"
     [It was Chris Rosier who yelled back without
missing a beat: "Because otherwise you'd only see
six, you dumb motherfucker!"]
     Another longstanding prejudice was encountered
by former Business Agent Jerry Brazil, who tells of
the time when he, as a black man, had to ask a ship's
crew to stop calling the winch-drum used to wind the
docking lines the "niggerhead."  Today, according to
Brady Street dweller and well-traveled seaman Fred
it is called the "Gypsy head."
     [Fred -- now deceased -- was spotlighted in The
Journal Sentinel
in a rather lightweight article about
the consequences of living above a tavern, providing me
the basis for my own blog entries about Three Guys
Named Fred
, featuring also tributes to the late
longshoreman Fred Krause and dead Milwaukee radical
Fred Blair, long a target of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.
     One thing about Blair I wanted to pass along then was,
as I determined, that he seems to have been the first person
to have used the term holocaust in the modern sense of
describing the Jewish experience.  It was found in a 1946
     At any rate, with all this rampant bias against
longshoremen white and black, imagine my amazement
when a local radio ad campaign (McDonald Davis'
"Milwaukee: See What You've Been Missing") used in
one spot sounds of foghorns and seagulls to induce
nautical visions, while a couple chatted, ostensibly on
the shore of Lake Michigan.  He comments on how he
is thinking of overseas harbors, and she responds that
he talks as if Milwaukee were an international port,
and of course he tells her: "It is."
     This leads her to observe that, "You have the soul
of a longshoreman."

     Mind you, this is said with admiration.  Now,
whatever the "soul of a longshoreman" might be, if
we're going to have stereotypes, I'm all for this one.
     Unfortunately, it was too late for most of us.  The
St. Lawrence Seaway was obsolete when it opened in
1959, too small for modern container ships which began
revolutionizing trade that same year, and the MidwestZonyx Report Photo:  Loading Containers on Deck by Crane [Courtesy Federal Maritime Terminals]
is the victim of government regulations which favor the coastal ports. [Ships bringing containers here, for the most part, merely had footings for them welded to the top decks, or some hatches converted with rails to guide them in.  Otherwise, forklifts could maneuver them into the wings, where they would be lashed down, but this is all relatively inefficient.]
     The Food for Peace program, once a mainstay of
uncontainerized bagged general cargo, declined to zero
tonnage in 1990 as foreign lines were not allowed to
compete with American interests, under cargo preference
rules supported in Congress by influential seaboard
regions and organized labor in general, including our own
union's much more powerful coastal locals.
     But the smaller, less-mechanized foreign ships were the
only ones wishing to call here, while American  railroads
had to divest themselves of shipping holdings, and
therefore favorable rate packages which could compete
with Canadian subsidized lines.  And seaway tolls --
which mandated the project be self-supporting -- became
     Then-Port Director Roy Hoffmann estimated in 1981
that a 12,000 ton general cargo vessel paid $72,000
(waived for foreign aid) on a trip from the Gulf of St.
to Chicago and back.
     "The seaway is the only waterway in American
history compelled to pay its way, including the cost of
construction, out of toll revenues,"
as he complained
to the Journal.
[This also became a chicken-and-egg problem, since
local industries which might use the Port were reluctant
to try to schedule shipments when few shipping lines
called here, while -- under what some charge is poor
promotion by Dan Meehan's friend and hand-picked
Port Director Ken Szallai -- the lines are bypassing
Milwaukee because few exports are regularly scheduled.
     [With the perverse slapping-on of tariffs on imported
steel by the otherwise loudly proclaimed freetrading
George W. Bush administration, the situation was
exacerbated.  With more expensive imported steel, less
is shipped here, meaning even less local unloading
activity and fewer empty ships with room for exports
leaving the region, perhaps its death blow.]
     And the shortened shipping season of eight months
(plans to use ice breakers and bubbling air hoses to
extend this were tried and abandoned on economic and
environmental grounds, though technically feasible) is
considered a drawback.  And in 1989, Houston on the
competing Gulf Coast unveiled a sophisticated $110
million "spiralveyor" system of loading which reduced
its manpower costs for bag handling considerably.
    So every hold man's hope of gaining enough seniority
to be posted on the dock along the ship to hook up
loads with the pipes or hooks diminished as the number of
crews kept dropping, though there were the tantalizing
occasions when anyone at the top of a gang that held
the first spot on the ship could be pulled to fill in for a
no-show or temporarily boost the total to four men on
the hooks for cargo  that required it.  This would leave
six men in the hatch to handle containers or heavy-lift,
but that too would be an easier job.
     But to actually move up to being listed -- a job that
you kept until the gang finished -- was so out of reach for
most that when the actual orders were posted at the hiring
hall the night before, shortly after 5 o'clock quitting time,
it was the stimulus for a celebration.  Tradition developed
that the first time you would wear a costume, which for
Bill Beers
was pajamas, while someone else once donned
a bear suit.  Rad Keener promised to wear a dress, as he
and a buddy had done
once to St. Hedwig's Parish
festival back on
Brady Street
     My own surprise came when Rad and I were drinking
after 10 p.m. at Nolde's Tavern on Brady Street, not
to be posted the next morning but first in line for
an easy replacement slot on a top gang -- usually heavy-lift.
Calling in to make sure, I was floored to hear I was
assigned to the pipes for the first time, at a terminal on the
wide stretch of water in the outer harbor, on the east side
Jones Island sheltered behind the far breakwater.  Too
late to round up a costume, so I decided to wear the dark
blue suit and white shirt and striped tie I was married in
(and later wore to the divorce court).
     The bar was a few blocks from the Alano Club, a
white mansion on Prospect Avenue where recovering
could drink coffee and attend meetings and
socialize.  It was also convenient for those same drunks
who strayed to wander over to deal with their thirst.
So I had to pull myself away from one such rather hefty
gal named Evelyn, whom I nevertheless found attractive as
I kissed and groped her at the bar, with only a mild protest
as I found a substantial breast in my hand.

     "Not here," she said, moving my palm away.
     Though she had promised to get me up in time for work,
I wasn't taking any chances and left to get my sleep.  I had
been at her club myself, before that night, and had met
her, and ironically enough had earlier told her, "That's
what I'm afraid of," when she first promised -- though I
hadn't asked -- to wake me up for work.  I always wanted
to keep my options open.

     In the morning it was less than 15 minutes of enjoying
my new station -- though already one old-timer seriously
asked me if I had big plans for the evening, as if wearing a
pressed suit, albeit with heavy work boots and a hardhat,
wasn't that unusual -- when word came that I was being
to go to the City Open Dock as the next man way
down on the
Lasher & Blocker List.  Another rarity on this
busy day, and ordinarily something desirable.
     City Open was removed from the terminals, in the
Inner Harbor formed by the confluence of the Milwaukee
and Kinnickinnic Rivers under the Hoan Bridge, on the
west side of Jones Island.

     There sat the giant stiff leg derrick, with open space for
traveling cranes run by the city's Operating Engineers
Local Union
, for the container ships and huge pieces like
Loading with Stiff Leg Derricklocomotives that needed that capacity.
The lashers and blockers were
specialized, supposedly with training --
at least on the job -- as carpenters or in
the skills needed to secure loads with
turnbuckles and chains and the
eye-bolts attached to the bulkheads.
     The blockers could chock wheels
and build partitions to separate cargo
and hold shipments in place, though they
were known to nail particle board -- like
cheap plywood -- right to the bags if they couldn't find a
better way to do it.
     In any case, I had learned some lashing:  The basic
idea was to apply tension on chains spreading in four
opposed directions from the piece, stopping all sliding

     But this time I faced dragging greasy chains around and
climbing up and over oily machinery with the rusty links,
Author Wearing Endangered Suitin my almost-new suit.  It just
wouldn't do, and though it was
almost unheard of to ask for a
replacement on such a reprieve
from throwing bags, I made sure I
got out at noon.

     I protected my clothes as best I
could, even hanging back when I could
as the others worked in unison, holding
chains and connecting them to the shackles, isolating the
link that made the tightest conjunction as Martin Bines --
known as
Meese for once pointing out the existence of

mice (or as he said, meece) in the hold -- repeatedly called
out to
"skin the dick" as the links were thrust out.
    Bines was the only Jewish longshoreman I knew of,
for whatever that meant, and to complete the circle I
eventually learned his niece went to that same Alano
.  Unfortunately, she was married to a non-alcoholic
baker and wouldn't go out with me, and I never got
another chance with Evelyn, either.  But I mostly saved
my suit, with only a few rust stains and dark spots.

     Saving the jobs was another matter, and further declines
were followed by only occasional upticks, and while 10
gangs would put me on hookup again, eight was about
the most that could or would be put out, and fewer as time
went on.  So I didn't have to think long before taking my
small pension in a lump sum when the early buyout was

     This meant foregoing the rare shipments like wind
turbines or earth-moving equipment, even as falling water
levels on the Great Lakes because of global
warming-induced evaporation became another threat to
the future of shipping at the port.
     Now hanging on by virtue of steel imports -- a
precarious business due to fluctuations in tariffs and
foreign pricing -- which use only a handful of men
(none of the women lasted more than a few seasons) for
each ship, Milwaukee is seeing the vanishing of a breed
of laborers never easily categorized.
     Indeed, they were there because of their individuality,
and rejection of the regimentation of the factory, the
feeling that they were similar not because of stereotyped
behavior but because, as Harry Bridges recognized,
they found dignity by working out of their union's hiring
hall and plying the trade of longshoreman, not owned by
any one employer.
     Following a long tradition, they took the 
nicknames given them as rookies, or "hams":  The Judge,
'Gator, Top Cat, Hoss, Brother-in-Law, Polecat,
Dude, Captain Crunch, Candyman, Deputy Dog,
Captain Bill
Mosby (founder of a program to fight
sickle-cell anemia), the Indian, Amigo, Super Chicken,
Sweetwater, Crazy Chris, Shot, Professor, Duke, Lefty,
Magic, Zen, Twin, Hulk, Muscles, Meese, Goat, Rev,
Shorty, Cigar Shorty, Bluegrass, White Boy,
Monkey Taylor, Wahoo, Big Boy, Big Dick, Slick, Stick
and Cadillac.

     Writing this as the second "Professor," so dubbed
by The Judge himself, the larger-than-life winchman and
steward Phil Moreland, who went to bat more than once
for us white boys being jerked around in the hold, (the
first Professor having been a tall, bespectacled
alcoholic who always came to work in shiny black shoes
and long top coat, eventually ending up in rehab), I can
say I disliked a few, and felt sorry for some -- bullies and
dullards and Reagan-supporting traitors to unionism --
but they were really men with only one thing in common: 
     They knew the right way to load a ship.
     Heads up, guys.

  And now, perhaps, as the weather-beaten, stoic
winchman might announce from on high at the finish of
a draining day: "It's time to go home and play with

Zonyx Report Rotating Scorpio Mascot:  Longshoring In Milwaukee

[First printed in a much shorter version in the 
Shepherd Express  June 16-23, 1994.  A letter
to the
Shepherd & related comments found here.
Substantial additions to the first
version are made in brackets.]

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