About Ron Verzuh

Independent Labor Historian Oregon Trustee, Pacific Northwest Labor History Association.

Fall 2019 Oregon Labor History Quarterly

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The Fall 2019 edition of the Oregon Labor History Quarterly has been expanded to include more labor history background on current labor news issues. It also features a special section of excerpts and summaries from some of the presentations at the Portland conference in May. See the full newsletter below.

Happy Labor Day film watching

There aren’t many movies that qualify as appropriate viewing on Labor Day. One that does is Salt of the Earth, the story of a 1950s strike at a zinc mine in New Mexico that features a clash between the company and the mostly Mexican-American miners. It also features early feminist union supporters in action. You can see it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3VPWmqaOb4. A PNLHA connection: Oregon trustee Ron Verzuh has made a short documentary film called Remembering Salt that is also available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQdV9B8Zj-c.

Working Oregon – A Labor History Chronology

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Did you know that the great pro-labor writer John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World, was born in Portland, OR, in 1887, that Dr. Marie Equi was selected to spread some of Joe Hill’s ashes, or that the Portland newspaper strike was the longest in Oregon history, lasting from 1959 to 1965.

Working Oregon recalls these and hundreds of other events in Oregon’s working past, providing a roadmap to the lives and struggles of the Beaver State’s workers and their union.

As an ongoing project of the Oregon PNLHA, we welcome your input. Publication date and purchasing information will be posted at pnlha.org and by contacting Oregon trustee Ron Verzuh at rverzuh@shaw.ca. 

Conference 2019 Report: More than 200 attend in Portland

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The Oregon PNLHA is pleased to report that the 51st annual conference, held May 3-5 in Portland, was a resounding success.

In commemoration of 1919 as a key year in labor history for both the United States and Canada, conference organizers chose the theme “General Strike 1919-2019: Radicalism, Repression, and Solidarity.” It recognized the Seattle and Winnipeg General Strikes and other significant labor movement events that occurred that year.

Of the more than 225 participants, 138 were from unions, 30 had university or college affiliations, 11 were students, and 12 were with non-profit, advocacy or non-school or non-union groups. Evaluations show that they appreciated the breadth and quality of the program as well as the diversity and size of participation.

About 80 people attended our Friday evening program and reception and were entertained with two artistic reprisals of general strikes of 1919. Former Oregon vice-president Ron Verzuh introduced and showed a video custom-produced for this conference by the director of a new musical on the Winnipeg General Strike called “Stand!” which included the movie trailer.

This was followed by a unique and enlightening re-interpretation of select songs from the rock opera, “Seattle, 1919” (which tells a story of the Seattle general strike). Rob Rosenthal, half of the duo that composed “Seattle, 1919,” introduced each selection and Earle Peach (Vancouver, BC musician) and Janet Stecher and Susan Lewis (Rebel Voices, Seattle) performed their rousing new arrangements of the songs. A spontaneous discussion followed, creating a great sense of camaraderie and inquiry for the next day and a half.

The first plenary, “1919–General Strikes & Global Solidarities,” focused on the historic events of 1919. Jim Gregory (University of Washington), Rob Rosenthal (professor emeritus, sociology, Wesleyan University) and Rob Mickleburgh (Canadian journalist and author) discussed the Seattle and Winnipeg General Strikes in historical perspective.

Georgetown University’s Lane Windham added her own perspective on another important 1919 landmark – the founding of the International Labor Organization. The plenary was very well attended and the panelists engendered a great deal of interest from the overflow audience.

The second plenary, titled “The New Labor Movement-Historical Roots & Contemporary Struggles,” featured a keynote presentation by Lane Windham, whose recent book, Knockin’ on Labor’s Door, focuses on some of the hitherto discounted labor activism of the 1970s, placing it in the larger context of 20thcentury U.S. labor history.

Contemporary Portland area labor organizers Margaret Butler and Luis Brennan connected the dots to local labor struggles like the Powell’s book campaign and the ongoing Burgerville workers’ struggle.

More than 17 workshops and panels were held Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning (Program link here).  Some of those that were particularly highly rated in the program evaluations included Sista in the Brotherhood, Labor and International Trade, The Protest Song as Art, Red for Ed, The Care Revolution, Demanding Dignity: Work from Farm to Table, Work the Indian Way(s). and several others.

The conference planning committee strove to connect historical topics with contemporary labor struggles and to address issues of diversity in labor organizing.  As always, younger workers attended our conference to share views on the history of our movement.

Our Saturday Awards Banquet was the best-attended event of the conference. Co-winners of this year’s PNLHA Person of the Year Award were former SEIU 503 and 49 leader Alice Dale, and local labor educator and activist Norm Diamond.  Both gave stirring accounts of their development as leaders and their connections to the heritage of PNW labor activism.

Our Making History Worker Award this year went to the Portland Burgerville Workers’ Union, a chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World.  Two of their membersEsther Mann and Emmett Schlenzwere on hand to accept the award and inspire the audience with their contemporary vision of Wobbly unionism.

Following the awards presentations, activist singer-songwriter David Rovics fired up the crowd with a rousing set of original and diverse social justice, political, and labor songs, many highlighting the Pacific Northwest.

Thirty-six participants completed the evaluation question. Of those, 24 said the opening night was excellent or very good. The plenaries earned an excellent rating from 23 and 11 found them very good. Eighteen participants said the Saturday awards banquet was excellent and 10 said it was very good.  Overall, 19 participants rated the conference excellent, 10 very good, and four good.

This conference realized a modest financial surplus that will be used for future Oregon PNLHA projects and activities. The following sponsors and donors made it all possible:

AFM Local 99, AFSCME Local 328, AFT Oregon, Bakers Local 114, Portland State University’s Conflict Resolution Program, PSU History Department, IAM Local 1005, IAM Local 63, IAM Woodworkers District W24, IBEW Local 48, KBOO Radio, University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, Members and Friends of Labor, Northwest Labor Press, Northwest Oregon Labor Council, Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon Historical Society, Oregon School Employees’ Association, Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, PNLHA British Columbia, Rebel Voices, SEIU Local 503, Teamsters Local 162, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, United Steelworkers District 12 and several individual donors.

Next year’s PNLHA conference will be held in Vancouver, B.C. Consult http://www.pnlha.org for details and a Call for Presentations. For more photographs of the Portland conference: https://pipilio.smugmug.com/PNHLA-Portland-2019/

Sen. Rosenbaum receives PNLHA award

Sen Rosenbaum award presentation - June 3, 2016Sen. Dianne Rosenbaum received the Ross Rieder History Person of the Year Award on June 3, 2016. The senator shared this year’s award with Dick Edgington who received his award at the PNLHA conference awards banquet on May 21, 2016. Oregon trustee Jim Strassmaeir and new Oregon vice-president Ryan Wisnor presented the award.

Senator Rosenbaum represents District 21 in Southeast Portland and Milwaukie. She chairs the Senate Committee on Rules and Executive Appointments and is a member of the Senate Workforce and Judiciary Committee. She is a passionate advocate for women and working families, serving on the Oregon Hunger Task Force and on the board of Labor’s Community Services of United Way. Her accomplishments include passage of Oregon’s landmark Paid Sick Days and Retirement Security laws, as well as the Foreclosure Avoidance Program. She is a life-long member the Communications Workers of America and has served on the Oregon AFL-CIO executive board. She led two successful campaigns to raise Oregon’s minimum wage, and continues to lead the fight for a living wage. See also https://nwlaborpress.org/2002/8-16-02Rosenbaum.html .

The award for History Maker of the Year will be presented to the Rural Organizing Project at a later date.

New VPs and trustees acclaimed at AGM

Ryan Wisnor with AndyRyan Wisnor, an Oregon trustee and oral historian, was acclaimed Oregon vice-president at the annual PNLHA membership meeting on May 22, 2016. Ryan succeeds Ron Verzuh who has stepped down to continue his PhD studies. David Swan of IAM Local 751 becomes Washington VP, replacing Jason Redrup, and Brian Charlton remains BC’s VP. Lane Poncy stays as secretary and Brenda Doolittle as treasurer. Joey Hartman continues as BC treasurer.

Acclaimed as trustees for Oregon are Bob Bussel, Norm Diamond, Nathan Moore, Jim Strassmaier, and Mike Sullivan. Washington trustees are Christine Fullerton, Jason Redrup, Conor Casey, John Boyle, Mike Honey, Jeremy Coty, and Ross Rieder. BC trustees are Anne Davis, Larry Kuehn, Scarlet Scheibel, Coleen Jones, and Allen Seager.

The meeting also voted to create an electronic voting system for future elections and to end the president’s stipend. Oregon member Bruce Nelson reported that the financial audit authorized by last year’s annual meeting failed to produce results due to a lack of cooperation.

 

2016 PNLHA conference report

Solidarity Forever finale 2 - Friday receptionAnnual conference well received

 The 48th annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, held May 20-22, 2016, in Portland, was well received based on word-of-mouth comments and evaluations completed by 30 of about 125 participants, including 114 paid registrants.

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What did participants like best? One respondent summarized the feeling of many by praising “the interaction, friendliness and openness” of the conference. Another appreciated “the atmosphere of sharing, learning and solidarity.” Still another commented on how the content “related to contemporary issues.” Another liked the “great mix of scholars and activists [engaged] in lively and fruitful dialogue.”

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What did they like least? More than one respondent complained that there were too many good presentations to choose from. Some complained that there was not enough diversity: “Overall, it’s still a very white-person focused perspective, I can see that there’s an effort being make to change that, but [there’s] a long way to go.” Others said the conference needed more youth involvement. One suggested that the PNLHA sponsor a scholarship for high school and university students to attend the conference. Another proposed an essay or speech writing contest with the winner coming to the conference.

 Workshops, plenaries rated high

Twenty-six respondents gave the presentations an overall rating of “excellent” or “very good.” One respondent said they were “top notch” and another said they were “worth the price of admission.” Some were disappointed that they could not attend all the presentations.

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Sharing top honors for the favorite presentation were British Columbia filmmaker Neil Vokey’s U.S. premiere of Goodwin’s Way, University of Colorado (Denver) instructor James Walsh’s presentation on the Romero Theater Troupe, and University of Wisconsin scholar Andrew Wolf’s “The Living Wage and the Articulation of Working-Class Citizenship, 1920-1970.” The climate change roundtable discussion, the literature of labor, “Labor history: old style and digital style,” also won praise as did Gwen Trice’s presentation on African-American loggers, Steve McQuiddy on conscientious objectors in Waldport, Oregon, during the Second World War, Pacific University’s Larry Lipin on class and wilderness management, and PNLHA trustee Ryan Wisnor ‘s “The Trees Saved Them,” a unique angle on the historic 1934 longshoremen’s strike.

 Program events highlights

 Oregon First Nation’s leader Carolee Morris, a member of the Cowlitz First Nation tribal council, welcomed participants to our Friday night reception. She was followed by Portland band General Strike that brought the evening to a close with a rousing round of Solidarity Forever.

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Both the Saturday and Sunday plenaries were well attended and received favorable comments. Saturday’s keynote session garnered the most votes for “favorite presentation.” Sunday’s plenary won praise both for Washington State Labor Council president Jeff Johnson’s incisive comments on the need for labor to work for positive answers to climate change problems, and for the use of Skype to allow labor/environmental author Jeremy Brecher to respond.

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About 100 participants attended the banquet and awards ceremony. Participants applauded the food and the unionized staff that provided it. They also enjoyed Bellingham, WA, musician Dana Lyons who set a positive and participatory tone for the evening with his first set, featuring his trademark Cows with Guns song.

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The awards ceremony was interrupted when Dick Edgington, a co-recipient of the Ross Rieder Person of the Year Award, lost his balance and fell while mounting the stage to accept the award from PNLHA Oregon trustee Jim

Strassmaier. Conference participant Dr. Larry Morgenstern attended to Edgington along with nurse Maurge Dulaney as well as presenter Joanne Ursino. An ambulance team also examined Edgington and reported only minor injuries. The unfortunate incident disrupted the evening but a second musical set by Dana Lyons provided some tension relief for the remaining conference attendees.

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Edgington’s co-recipient Senator Dianne Rosenbaum was to receive her award on June 3. A future date will be set to present the History Maker of the Year Award to the Rural Organizing Project.

 Cultural program applauded

Three musical groups – Portland’s General Strike, Eugene’s Monday Morning Denial, and Bellingham, WA’s Dana Lyons were all applauded. As one evaluation noted, “The incredible music programming conveyed not only entertainment, but also the integral part it has played in the history of the labor movement.” Oregon trustee Nathan Moore, working with sound technician Dennis Soper, also playing harmonica with Monday Morning Denial, ensured that the music was technically excellent. Nathan also worked closely with Oregon trustee Ryan Wisnor who acted as liaison with the conference facility staff.

Fundraising results encouraging

There were 28 co-sponsors, three of which came after the conference ended. In-kind contributions included union photocopying of the kit materials by SEIU Local 503 members from the Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon as well as the free printing of the colorful conference brochure that appeared in all conference kit folders. Thanks to Portland’s union printer, Morel Ink. A poster with the names of conference co-sponsors was displayed throughout the conference and several announcements were made to thank them. The names also appeared at www.pnlha.org.

 Exhibitors’ displays added color

The conference hosted about 10 exhibitors, including several booksellers, a photo display, a solidarity quilt raffle, and a Columbian workers table. Choosing to have the exhibits arranged around the Friday reception room added much color to the proceedings.

 Kudos to conference organizers

The conference strongly benefitted from the volunteer work of the following people: Program coordination – Marcus Widenor; Venue/catering – Lane Poncy; A/V-Internet-Skype ­– Ryan Wisnor; Awards – Jim Strassmaier; Registration – Bruce Nelson and Carolyn Matthews; Exhibitor displays – LisaMary Wichowski; Photography and design – Leola Jewett-Verzuh; Music coordination – Nathan Moore; Overall coordination, fundraising, publicity, and conference kit development – Ron Verzuh.

 A final word of thanks

Judging from the written evaluations and verbal comments during the conference, the event was a programming success. Several participants were inspired by the proceedings and have pledged to attend future PNLHA conferences. The accident during the awards ceremony represented a flaw in the management of the event. As noted on several evaluation forms, needs of the elderly must be fully addressed in future. The conference was an overall financial success and all conference volunteers deserve a vote of thanks as do all our co-sponsors.

Note: More conference photos will be posted to a gallery section of our site.

Portland PNLHA conference on KBOO radio

KBOO logoThe 2016 PNLHA conference was discussed on the Old Mole Variety Hour radio show on KBOO radio, Portland’s community radio station, on May 16, 2016. Historian Laurie Mercier interviewed Oregon PNLHA vice-president Ron Verzuh on highlights of the weekend conference at the Portland State University Hotel and Conference Center.

http://kboo.fm/media/49839-old-molevariety-hour-may-16-2016