Keep the Redstone Labor Temple a community center

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by Jackson Cline

A scene from the original Chuck Sperry mural inside San Francisco’s historic Redstone Labor Temple depicts labor organizer Harry Bridges holding the 1934 General Strike Agreement at the Redstone, where the strike was organized. The success of the strike was largely due to Bridges’ deal with Black workers who had routinely been hired to break ILWU strikes, saying he’d dispatch them with whites if they’d join the union. They did, and San Francisco’s ILWU Local 10 has since become known as the boldest, most progressive local in the country, visited by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1967 to see what interracial unionism looks like and thanked by Nelson Mandela in 1990 before an Oakland Coliseum crowd of 58,000 for organizing support for his freedom. Artist Chuck Sperry, the grandson of one of the picketers who was shot and killed by the police on Bloody Thursday in 1934, was hired in 1997 with a grant from the City to paint the mural as part of the City bestowing historical status on the building.

Early Saturday, Jan. 12, activists and artists gathered in a theater at the historic Redstone Labor Temple to advocate for the preservation of one the largest community centers for justice organizing in San Francisco. It’s the imposing four-story brick building that’s kept watch over 16th and Capp, a block west of Mission, since 1914.

The Mission Economic Development Agency placed a bid of $18 million in December to purchase the Redstone and allow the current nonprofits to operate in the area. If the current owner accepts the MEDA bid, the building could be preserved as a place for low-budget nonprofit organizations in the Mission for the foreseeable future.

However, uncertainty hangs over the fate of the building. The owner has set a target price of $25 million when negotiating with potential private buyers.

The Redstone Labor Temple has the potential to house dozens of activist and cultural organizations. Such a coexistence of people dedicated toward community betterment provides opportunities for people to connect with each other and realize shared goals. Members of one organization can see the various initiatives that others are engaged in, and oftentimes the result is a greater synergy for broad social and economic justice.

Tenants formed the Redstone Labor Temple Association to defend against the threat of predatory developers who seek to profit by clearing the building of its low-budget advocacy organizations and artists.

Since the San Francisco Labor Council built the Labor Temple in 1914, it was the epicenter of organizing for the San Francisco General Strike, which many historians believe established San Francisco as a “union town.” The San Francisco Labor Council and the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee passed resolutions calling on the City and County of San Francisco to make all efforts to preserve the building as a community center.

MEDA has urged “city officials, city departments, foundations and corporate leaders, private funders and community leaders to step up to save this building. It will take a community effort; we cannot do this alone.”

How you can help

Join us in speaking out on the need to preserve the Redstone Labor Temple building as a hub of social and economic justice organizing.

Jackson Cline can be reached at jackson_cline@brown.edu and the Save the Redstone Labor Temple organizers at redstonelabortemple@gmail.com.

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