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History professor a guest on KQED radio

Visiting Professor of History Bill Issel was a guest on KQED Radio to discuss the San Francisco General Strike of 1934. Issel, along with fellow experts on the subject Dick Meister and Harvey Schwartz, were part of the Forum with Michael Kransy on KQED, which was pre-recorded and aired on Labor Day.

The San Francisco General Strike took place between Jul. 16 and Jul. 19 1934, after a long period of strikes by dockworkers along the Pacific coast. On Jul. 5, a day which later became known as “Bloody Thursday,” two protesters were shot and killed by police. The funeral and demonstration that followed inspired more unions to join the strike, and the city of San Francisco shut down for four days before agreements were made and workers’ demands met.

Professor Bill Issel in his office. By Kim Harris
Professor Bill Issel in his office. By Kim Harris

“This was a huge event,” said Issel, emphasizing the importance of this strike in California’s labor history.

Issel, who has been a union member since he was a young man working as an electrician, said he is interested in social justice, political power and public policy. His research reflects his concern for worker’s rights and human rights in the face of globalization.

“My current writing focuses on the ways in which two great international political/social/ideological competitors, the Catholic Church and the Communist Party, conducted a worldwide competition to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of men and women from the late 19th century to the end of the Cold War,” said Issel.

Issel has a book coming out in December, entitled For Both Cross and Flag, which highlights how the San Francisco General Strike and the waterfront strike were examples of this competition between the Communist movement and the Catholic Church in the 1930s. The book specifically addresses the Catholic Action campaign in Northern California, and the role of religion in public policy during the period after the Great Depression and before the Cold War.

“[Issel] has written many books and articles on American history in general and San Francisco in particular and, as far as I can tell, they have all been reviewed favorably,” said History Department Head Bert Gordon.

Issel, who is currently researching and writing yet another book, grew up in San Francisco and says he is fascinated by local labor issues. His research includes pieces of the strike story that involve what he calls “detective” work, where he has been able to discover previously unknown details about labor in the 1930s.

Gordon also commented on Issel’s research on Catholic Action, specifically an article entitled “Catholics and Urban Political Culture in the 1930s and 1940s: The San Francisco Catholic Action Cadre.” Gordon, who studied Catholic thought in Austria, was especially interested in how the Catholic Church operated in American history.

“Bill’s article was thoroughly researched and well written,” said Gordon. “He went in to great detail, discussing many people in San Francisco with whom I was unfamiliar, but he kept on theme, showing how Catholic leaders and organizations publicly supported the separation of church and state but at the same time worked to influence government policies, very different than Austria, where state and church have been closely entwined for centuries.”

Issel is also currently working on his memoir, where he describes his deep family roots in San Francisco and how he came to love history.