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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Container crane operator
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection
This black-and-white photograph is one of a series taken by Patricia Goudvis at the ports of San Francisco and Oakland in 1979-80. Many of her photographs documenting the work of longshoremen are published in David Wellman's book, The Union Makes Us Strong: Radical Unionism on the San Francisco Waterfront (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Physical Description
Date Made:
about 1980
Dates Used:
about 1980 - about 1980

Containerization brought an end to the working gangs of conventional longshoring. (Breakbulk operations still continue, but the vast majority of non-bulk cargoes are stuffed inside containers for shipment.) And while some aspects of container work involve the cooperative efforts of several people (such as lashing the containers together), the gang structure is no longer a hallmark of the occupation. The job that magnifies the difference between conventional longshoring and containerization is that of the crane operator, who works alone in a cab high above the pier. The crane operator's job requires superior hand-eye coordination and concentration, as he deftly handles the controls to lift and lower containers with precision. Not only are crane operators among the highest-paid workers on the docks, they also occupy a unique position as members of the ILWU. As a result of the second Mechanization and Modernization Agreement (1966), the employers are allowed to hire men on a steady, permanent basis to work the cranes and other machinery (except winches). This means that the crane operators do not have to report to the union hiring hall every morning for a work assignment. It also means that the best job on the waterfront is not available to all members of the union.

Related People, Places, and Events
Patricia Goudvis

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