January 24, 2009

Marinship at War, Charles Wollenberg

Subtitle: Shipbuilding and Social Change in Wartime Sausalito

The Bay Area had a fair number of shipyards before WWII, but the buildout during WWII was amazing -- expansions in Oakland and Hunters Point, and new yards entirely at Richmond (Kaiser) and Sausalito (Bechtel).

The Sausalito yards required blowing the small-farm hills into the inshore to make all that lovely flat land -- that began less than two months after the government asked for a bid. Rail, power, deep-water dredging, were all brought in as fast; the first ship launched in less than six months. This yard built its ships by line production, with flying squads of especially skilled workers, and Liberty ships and tankers roared out of it.

Workers had to be brought in too; the factories wouldn't have kept running without female and black workers. A lot of shipbuilding is skilled work, so was unionized, and the federal government spent a lot of the war negotiating and litigating some of the unions into accepting black workers. The compromise position of the Boilermakers Local 6, for instance, was that black workers would have to join and pay dues to an auxiliary, but would not be full members. Some unions -- maybe the ones in less skilled fields? -- already had black and Asian members.

I don't remember anything about the women being in the union, or not, and can't find it on reskimming. There is a black woman in headscarf and welder's helmet smiling through a raw porthole; 'it was Hitler "that got us out of the kitchen."', says the caption.

Now, one of these things is not like the others: Richmond, Oakland, Hunters Point, Sausalito. The whole Bay Area apparently got a lot of its black population during the late war, but left them last-hired first-fired, and since Oakland at least was already a rough town one can see how all the displacement and unemployment was hard to absorb. But at least Oakland had been a city to start with; Sausalito barely was.

The wartime housing at Marin City had tiny houses and terrible drainage, but some self-government, some of which was staunchly integrationist; but the war wasn't over before Sausalito and Marin City got into a fight over school-board representation, which eventually led to Marin City being appended to Sausalito as public housing, not it seems very happily.

One happy inheritance is the enormous building for the US Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model, an enormous actual model -- fresh and salt water in recognizable channels -- of the Bay and the Delta and some other bits, with clever hydrological tricks to get the scaling to come out right. The tours are a heap of nerdy fun; also, if I remember correctly, the model was vital in thwarting a megalomaniac plan to dam Suisun entirely to, I dunno, freshen up the Delta. Something.


Find in a Library: Marinship at War

So wrote clew in History (20th c.).
And thus wrote others:
TrackBacks turned off...