The Great Depression of the 1930s drove many Americans to despair. But not Ron Weakley. It just made him angry. And it laid the foundation for who he would become: the man who invented the union at PG&E.
Weakley was born in Nevada City, CA and graduated from high school in 1931. He went to sea, but got kicked off a boat in Baltimore for union activity. Back in San Francisco he landed a job at the Atlas-Imperial diesel engine company. When two workers were killed during the 1934 Longshoreman’s strike, Weakley walked off his job and, with thousands of other workers, joined the San Francisco General Strike.
“The whole works just shut down and walked out. We all went out on strike. We didn’t have a union but we went out anyway. Everybody was just fed up,” Weakley said.
For Ron Weakley, age 19, it was exhilarating. His anger at the miserable state of the world had found a purpose. During the strike he walked picket lines, heckled National Guardsmen and even hi-jacked an unattended tugboat at night to deliver food supplies to picketers in Oakland.
The strike ended in success when the longshore workers, led by Harry Bridges, got the better part of an arbitrated settlement. Weakley declined an offer to return to Atlas-Imperial and joined the Navy instead. He was going to see the world. When he returned four years later, he was going to change it.