Wartime Shipyards: The Transformation of Labor in San Francisco's East Bay
Marilynn S. Johnson
"The Second Gold Rush Hits the West," announced the San Francisco Chronicle in the spring of 1943. 1 Like so many Californians, the author of this rather sensational headline was struck by the parallels between the wartime defense boom and the gold rush of the 1840s. In many ways, the comparison was an apt one; not since the gold rush of 1849 had the economy and population of the Bay Area grown so dramatically, nor would any single event so transform the population composition, labor force, and urban geography of the region. Indeed in California, World War II was to the twentieth century what the gold rush had been to the nineteenth.
Although historians have spilt much ink over the events of the 1840s, the region's "second gold rush" remains relatively unexplored. This chapter attempts to redress this deficiency by examining labor migration and the transformation of work and labor relations in wartime shipyards located in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area. As one of the nation's largest shipbuilding centers, the East Bay hosted 12 major shipyard operations, including the mammoth Kaiser complex in Richmond; Moore Dry Dock in Oakland; and General Engineering, Pacific Bridge, Bethlehem Steel, and Pacific Coast Engineering in Alameda. At the height of the wartime emergency shipbuilding program,