Cargoland: ‘The best job in the world’

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Conrad Guzman working as a foreman at the port of Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Conrad Guzman

Conrad Guzman, now retired, lives in his San Pedro house that overlooks his livelihood: the ocean. He worked as a longshoreman and foreman for over 50 years and witnessed the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach transform from an industry literally dependent on the hands of its men to the largest port complex in the United States.

Throughout his career, Guzman was extremely active in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). When mechanization threatened jobs on the waterfront, he joined his fellow union members under the leadership of Harry Bridges and went on strike in 1971. The strikes took a toll on his family and finances — at one point, he relied on chicken scraps at the Purina dog food plant to make soup. He says it was the “hardest period of [his] life”. After finally negotiating a contract in 1972, the union members gained a pension plan and guaranteed pay, which, according to Guzman, “changed the face of the waterfront.”

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Conrad Guzman visits his second home: the port of LA. Photo: Shara Morris (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

As the machines evolved, so did the culture of the waterfront. When Guzman arrived at the docks in 1959, it was the “last bastion of the old west.” The old timers drank on the job, smoked cigars, and were outspoken in their views. Now workers operate heavy machinery and drinking is forbidden. And as the women’s movement gained momentum, women joined the ranks as well.

Guzman’s sons now work at the ports. They want to, says Guzman, “it’s the best job in the world.”