Japanese Ship Boycotts of 1939

Written by Annie Luong

In 1939, the Chinese Patriotic Society organized a boycott of Japanese goods and lobbied for a national embargo on war materials to the aggressor country. Scrap iron was being recycled into war material in Japan; the United Chinese Societies called for volunteers to protest at the docks against allowing scrap metal-carrying ships to head toward Japan. Many of the protestors went to the waterfront near Los Angeles to picket ships that were chartered by Japanese agents. There were similar protests in the docks of San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. In 1939, approximately 2,000,000 tons of scrap iron was exported from the United States to Japan.

It wasn’t just men at the protest, women and children joined as well. Marie Louie remembers, “Well, we didn’t buy Japanese made goods. Every time we bought something we looked at the label.  So we boycotted Japanese goods. MarieÂ’s mother was among the Chinese women, who went out to San Pedro and demonstrated against sending scrap iron to Japan, “My mother went with Mrs. Tom, our dear friend. They went together and joined other women and they picketed the long shore men that were loading things… My mother is a very shy person. And yet she went to picket, which we thought was out of character for her, but she really felt the need to picket.”

Due to the protests, many of the longshoremen refused to load scrap metal onto the ships. Some workers sympathized with the protestors and joined in the protest. Various people of other ethnicities also joined in the protest. On December 19th, the Waterfront Employers’ Association gave the ultimatum for the protests to end and the longshoremen to continue to work or the entire shipping business of San Francisco and the West Coast would be tied up. The United Chinese Societies met with the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) who told them that the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council passed a resolution embargoing all materials to Japan. On December 20th, the protestors withdrew their picket line.