The International Longshore Association disappeared from the waterfront in BC following their 1923 strike. The union was broken by employers in the Shipping Federation of BC, and a company union was put in place. Favouritism in hiring was rampant. As the economy worsened in the 1930s new militant longshore unions were formed and a key issue for longshore workers was ending company control over hiring. Below, David Yorke, a collector of BC labour history and associated artifacts recounts the story of the “hated shape-up tags” used before seniority-based hiring was won.
Before the union won hiring halls, the method of hiring was the “shape-up”, where longshore workers gathered on the docks, a company agent would show up, and the workers would vie with each other, trying to get picked by the agent for a day’s work.
Sometimes, when chosen, the agent would give the worker a brass tag to be presented at the ship as proof that he had been selected.
There are stories of agents flinging a handful of tags to a crowd of workers and watch them scramble all over each other in order to grab one, which meant a day’s work.
The shape-up system was rife with favouritism, anti-union hiring, and led some to try to bribe or kick-back to the agents to get jobs. It was one of the west coast union’s big accomplishments to get rid of the shape-up system in favour of seniority-based hiring halls.
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