2017 PNLHA Conference – Call for Papers

Echoes of the 1917 Russian Revolution; Decades of Radicalism and Red Scares in the Labour Movements of the Pacific NorthwestCFP

May 26 – 28, 2017
Labour History Conference
Vancouver, British Columbia

Sponsors: Pacific Northwest Labour History Association & BC Labour Heritage Centre

The Russian Revolution was one of the most significant events of its decade. As described in Oregonian John Reed’s book, there were events leading to and flowing from those “Ten Days That Shook the World” in October 1917.

In Canada and the US, many 20170453269_95b7cbaa22_oworkers saw an opportunity for class war, believing that socialism could overcome capitalism as the dominant political reality. In the Pacific Northwest, new forms of industrial organizing were bolstered by aspirations of a new world order, and the labour movement briefly swelled with enthusiastic members who were eager to be part of the change.

Communists and socialists developed as key leaders in the labour movement, and in organizing the unemployed and disenfranchised. General strikes in Vancouver, Seattle, and Winnipeg, the OBU, On-to-Ottawa Trek, and jobless sit-down strikes, and new unions of woodworkers, miners, shipyard workers, and fishers were all communist and socialist-led.

21835627452_062d9964f9_oBut capitalism held firm and enjoyed the resources and political clout of the wealthy. Activists were tagged as Bolsheviks and foreign-born agitators risked deportation for their activism.

The cold-war politics lasted decades, with “red-led” unions subject to purges and disbandment. Many individuals suffered personal consequences, including losing their livelihood.

This conference will explore the impacts and lasting influences of this history on contemporary labour.

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Sandy Ellis – Oregon Oral History Program – Featured Interview

S.Ellis

Sandy Ellis (1987)

Sandy Ellis taught school for fifteen years before being elected President of the Oregon Education Association (OEA) at the age of 36. She led the OEA through important changes including implementation of affirmative action and a merger with classified employees. Ellis provided leadership at both the local and state level.

Now listen to excerpts from her oral history conducted by the Oregon Labor Oral History Program.

For more information about sponsoring an oral history or to volunteer for interviewing, research, or transcribing contact former Oregon PNLHA VP Carolyn Matthews matthews.carolyn.k@comcast.net or trustee Jim Strassmaier strassj@spiritone.com.

BC Labour Heritage Centre launches online map

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Helen’s Café mural in Kitimat, BC, depicts the role the workers in building the northern community.

The British Columbia Labour Heritage Centre has developed a new online map of places associated with the history of working people in BC that includes information from 143 locations so far.

The map features plaques remembering workers killed on the job, geographic location names, recognition of individuals who championed the rights of working people and the union movement, says a BCLHC call for new additions. “Each point contains photos, locations, descriptions, and further links for people to learn more of our shared past, and new sites are added every week.”

Go to http://www.labourheritagecentre.ca/workermemorialmap/ to view what is said to be the first such inventory in BC. If you know of a dedication, memorial, or commemoration to any working person or people that is not included in the map, contact plaques@labourheritagecentre.ca.

Is interest in labor history waning?

WHA conference logoLabor historians from Canada and the United States grappled with the question of labor history’s allegedly diminishing role in the study of western history when they joined a panel at the 55th conference of the Western History Association in Portland on Oct. 24, 2015.

The discussion ranged from a review of the status of labor history in Canada to its place in Asian and Mexican-American labor history. Some panelists agreed that the study of capitalism seemed in bigger demand among university students than the study of labor history. Others saw the insertion of labor history into such courses as potentially enhancing those studies.

PNLHA member Jim Gregory’s positive assessment of progress in the U.S. was welcomed. Gregory, president-elect of the Labor and Working-Class History Association, noted that the panel was co-sponsored by LAWCHA.

The five panelists and moderator Matthew Basso from the University of Utah reached no agreement on the question, but audience participation move the discussion to strategies for restoring any lost interest in labor history.

Oregon PNLHA vice-president Ron Verzuh suggested that part of the strategy could include reaching out beyond the classroom to a public audience that would benefit from learning more about local labor history.

Later in the conference, PNLHA member Laurie Mercier delivered her paper on left-led unions and their role in the struggle to achieve women’s equality.

Education union leader remembered

CrumptonRobert Garness Crumpton, a “pivotal leader” of the Oregon Education Association, died on Oct. 6, 2015. He served as OEA executive director from 1973 to 1998 and will be remembered for leading the way in the passage of the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act and the teacher tenure and layoff laws.

“He helped establish the OEA as the most powerful voice for educators and all workers in the state, as well as one of the strongest NEA affiliates in the nation,” said the OEA web site. “This loss is especially poignant [because of] what he did for our union.”

Calling Crumpton “one of the OEA’s most pivotal leaders,” the OEA site noted that he helped the OEA grow as a union and he “facilitated the creation of the Collective Bargaining Fund – which supports our political organizing – and the OEA Relief Fund.”

Retired OEA staff member Bob Dahlman posted this additional comment: Robert “led the organization through a time of great change. Robert understood advocacy and made sure that the OEA became a strong presence both at local collective bargaining tables and in the state legislature.” He was “a long-time advocate for children and public school employees and continued to be a lifelong advocate for social justice and political progressiveness long after retirement.”

See the full OEA obituary at www.oregoned.org/foundation . See Bob Dahlman’s obituary at http://obits.dignitymemorial.com/dignity-memorial/obituary.aspx?n=Robert-Crumpton&lc=2433&pid=176056854&mid=6627238 .

“Make some labor history,” PNLHA tells AFL-CIO summer school

PNLHA table 2 - AFL-CIO summer school - August 7-9, 2015Several PNLHA members and trustees were among the 150 participants at this year’s AFL-CIO summer school held at the University of Oregon in Eugene on August 7-9.

The annual summer school, organized by the Labor Education and Research Centre (LERC) at UO, provides union members from across the state with courses on bargaining, labor law and numerous other topics of value and interest to union activists.

Preceding a rousing “fight back” speech on opening night from AFL-CIO Oregon president Tom Chamberlain, PNLHA Oregon vice-president Ron Verzuh encouraged participants to join or renew their memberships.

“Make some labor history of your own,” he told the plenary session after presenting some background on the PNLHA and outlining the benefits of membership.

PNLHA table - AFL-CIO summer school - August 7-9, 2015“This is your kind of organization because the PNLHA doesn’t lose site of who makes labor history – its YOU,” Verzuh said. “The PNLHA offers a healthy mix of academic scholars and street-wise union activists.”

“By reviving and commemorating past events,” Verzuh said, “we not only celebrate their historical significance but we also remind ourselves that the struggle continues and that we can learn from our history.”

He then offered several examples of how labor history is relevant to today’s labor movement, citing both the Oregon PNLHA’s recent “Bloody Wednesday” event which commemorated the 1934 ILWU strike and the Astoria mini-conference earlier this year.

“Our annual conference is also full of other examples of how labor history can assist today’s unions,” Verzuh added, noting the May 20-22, 2016, Portland conference dates.

Joe Hill & Pride movie nightThe PNLHA also got a plug for new members on the school’s film night when Verzuh’s short documentary, Joe Hill’s Secret Canadian Hideout, opened for Pride, the British feature film about an LGBT group that supported the coal miners during their 1980s strike.

“People will always remember Joe Hill,” Verzuh told the film night audience, “and his songs still influence local actions to promote progressive social change. It’s another example of how history helps the contemporary labor movement.”

Another well-liked feature during the school was the Saturday night concert performed by Eugene’s Low Tide Drifters with PNLHA trustee Nathan Moore on guitar and vocals.

Many school participants visited the PNLHA booth during the three-day event to discuss their own interest in labor history and to join the association.

Oregon PNLHA members rally for grads at UO

Grads rally before strike began on 2 December 2014

Grads rally before strike began on 2 December 2014

It was dark and pouring down rain on 1 December as about 300 graduate students and supporters rallied on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene to back demands for a living wage and limited paid leave. PNLHA members were there to show their solidarity.

Local 3544 of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) recaps the situation as follows: “The Administration’s attitude toward and effort put forth in bargaining have been deplorable. The Administration has paid well over $100,000 on outside legal counsel to run bargaining with the GTFF. For months, they pushed for language to cripple our health insurance, disempower the GTFF’s Health and Welfare Trust, and ramp up student fees on graduate employees. The amount of money their plans would have saved them would have more than covered their paltry original wage offers. To say that the Administration has made great progress by eventually agree to maintain current CBA language—for benefits earned in previous bargaining cycles—is a gross misinterpretation of the history of bargaining over the past year.”

PNLHA members can get updates on the strike that began on 2 December at http://gtff3544.net/ .

Teaching resources – Power in our Hands

Power in our HandsOregon trustee Norm Diamond co-authored with William Bigelow a book that sounds like it should be in every labor educator’s back pocket: The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988).

It gets a strong endorsement from Alibris (http://www.alibris.com/Power-in-Our-Hands-Norman-Diamond/book/11363453) which says “This celebrated book provides entertaining, easy-to-use lesson plans for teaching labor history.”

Even better, the late great Pete Seeger adds that “Most school teachers are drowned in paper, but here is one book I want to recommend to them. It is a way of getting American teenagers not just interested, but excited and passionate about their history – modern American labor history.”

Other teaching resources to consider: the Zinn Education Project: http://zinnedproject.org/why/if-we-knew-our-history-series/, and “Youth, Unions and You,” a B.C. Teachers’ Federation teaching guide: https://www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/public/TeachingResources/YouthUnionsYou/index.html

Forthcoming in B.C.: An update of Youth, Unions and You plus a full unit of lessons for secondary school teachers on labour history/studies for the Social Justice 12 course that will be posted to the BCTF web site in fall 2014.