Longshoremen's Union Leader
PhD in Political Science
Herb Mills, long-time leader in Local 10 of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), and PhD in political science from the University of California (Irvine) died of natural causes at Kaiser Hospital San Leandro on August 7, 2018. He was 87.
In 1963, Mills dropped out of graduate school to become a San Francisco Bay Area Longshoreman. (He later returned and completed his PhD.) He soon became active in ILWU, moving from shop steward to chairman of the stewards’ council to business agent and, finally, to secretary-treasurer of Local 10.
He was a leader in major conflicts with longshoremen’s employer, the Pacific Maritime Association: the 1971-72 strike, the longest in U.S. longshore history, and the continuing effort to protect longshoremen’s health and safety, including a major campaign on the handling of asbestos, as well as in the internal union debate over whether or not ILWU should merge with either the ILA or Teamsters (he opposed both).
As a union officer, he was the key leader in ILWU’s refusal to ship military cargo to post-coup d’état Chile, winning support from 175 members of the House of Representatives and a final decision by the Carter Administration to cancel the shipment. A similar effort stopped military cargo from going to the El Salvador military junta.
When the military government of South Korea announced plans to execute democracy movement leader Kim Dae Jung, Mills took the lead in getting ILWU to threaten a Pacific Basin refusal by longshoremen to unload South Korean ships. It stopped the execution. Seventeen years later, when Kim was elected South Korea’s president, Mills and ILWU President Brian McWilliams were invited to his inauguration as honored guests.
He led efforts to tie the assassination of two young Filipino officials of Seattle ILWU Local 37 to the Ferdinand Marcos’ regime. As a result of this work, their heirs filed a wrongful death suit against Marcos’ widow Imelda Marcos and received a $2 million judgment.
Mills took injury-related retirement in 1991. Of his work and union he said, “Thank God for the union.” He wrote numerous articles and papers about longshore work and the ILWU, completed an oral history, and wrote an unpublished novel titled “Presente”. Many of his monographs and articles can be found on this web site. In January, 2018 Local 10 presented him with a lifetime achievement award.
On Herb’s passing, Ed Ferris, past President of Local 10, wrote, “Rest In Peace always Brother Herb Mills. Thank you for all of your hard work, principled leadership, and dedicated service to the ILWU. You will be missed by all of us.”
He had a great love of nature, and regularly took his children fishing, hiking and camping.
Quotations and personal longshore and union items from him are featured in the Transportation exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and in the entrance hall to the San Francisco Exploratorium.
Herb Mills was born October 13, 1930, and grew up in Dearborn, Michigan. He was the descendant of early American settlers.
He worked in the Ford River Rouge plant in Michigan where he learned about labor unions and decided to go to college. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Michigan, taught and was a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley, and earned a PhD in political science at UC Irvine.
While at Berkeley, Mills was active in SLATE, the student movement organization there, and served as picket captain for the Student ACLU picket line at the 1960 demonstrations against the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) at San Francisco’s City Hall. He traveled the country in 1960 and 1961 as a spokesman for the protest.
Mills is survived by his three children, Sarah, who lives in Berkeley, CA, Lydia and her husband Jorge, who live in Santiago, Chile, and Jon and his wife Debra, who live in Monterey, CA and five grandchildren, Jazmín, Violeta, Víctor, Kai and Michael; by Rebecca Mills, mother of Sarah and Lydia, and; by Deanne Burke, mother of Jon.
A celebration of Herb’s life will be held October 27, 2018, 10:00 a.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave, Berkeley, CA.
For more information about Herb and to contribute to honor his memory and make his writing more widely accessible, go to the Herb Mills Legacy Project at: www.organizetrainingcenter.org/donate.html
(scroll down) or send a check to HMLP; 442 Vicksburg Street; San Francisco, CA 94114; or to the World Wildlife Fund at www.worldwildlife.org.