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New Statue Planned For Tacoma Will Honor Labor Leader And ILWU Founder Harry Bridges

The University of Washington
A young Harry Bridges

A towering figure in U.S. labor history will be honored with a statue in Tacoma. The sculpture will commemorate Harry Bridges, founder of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, known as the ILWU.

Bridges was born in 1901 in Australia. According to the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington, Bridges settled in San Francisco in 1920 and became a longshoreman.

He rose to prominence in a major maritime strike in 1934 and founded the ILWU, which he led until 1977. He’s remembered for leading a largely democratically controlled union and for pushing for racial equality.

Now union members have contributed money to create a bronze statue of him. Sculptor Paul Michaels says he’s taking a bit of artistic license – for example, the statue will be more imposing than Bridges was in real life.

“He was 5’6”. We’re kind of making him kind of heroic. He’s going to be about 6’3” or 6’4”,” he said.

Michaels says the statue will be ready in September. He says it will at first be displayed in Fife at the Local 23 union hall. The permanent home for the piece hasn’t been decided yet, but Michaels says it will likely be an educational institution, such as the University of Washington Tacoma or perhaps Bates Technical College.

Mike Jagielski, president of the ILWU Local 23 Pension Club, said the statue was the dream of a Tacoma pensioner named Emil Korjan, who has since passed away and left a bequest to help fund creation of the sculpture.

Jagielski said the statue will be a lasting tribute to Bridges and the substantial contributions of longshore workers to Tacoma.

"These workers helped create a major port on the West Coast, which became the economic engine for Pierce County," he said in an email.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.