PORTLAND – On Saturday, July 11, the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association (PNLHA) will host a Commemoration of Portland’s “Bloody Wednesday,” the day when police fired upon picketers near Pier Park during the 1934 West Coast Longshore Strike. The event features a guided walk through the park as local historians join union members and the community to discuss what happened that day, the meaning it had for those who were there, and reflect on the strike’s role in Portland’s history.
On the morning of July 11, 1934, a hundred policemen piled aboard a train headed to Terminal No. 4 with the intent of forcefully breaking the picket lines of striking longshoremen. Near the intersection of what is now Columbia Blvd. on the edge of Pier Park, picketers blocked the train’s passage with their bodies and makeshift barricades. Chief of police Burton K. Lawson ordered the officers to open fire upon the unarmed workers using pistols and shotguns. Four men were wounded in this incident, but the picket line held firm and the strikers won their demands a few weeks later.
Also see story in the latest NW Labor Press at nwlaborpress.org.
Ashland member Wes Brain, a community organizer with Southern Jobs with Justice (www.sojwj.org), is urging other members to call Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and tell him to vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the fast tracking of the deal.
The labor movement has worked hard to stall “this horrible corporate deal,” as Oregon Working Families (OWP) has called it, but if it survives a Senate vote workers will suffer the consequences. It’s “a terrible trade deal that ships jobs overseas and gives corporations the power to challenge our national laws protecting labor and the environment in court,” says OWP.
“Southern Oregonians are against Fast Track,” Brain said, “and we want Senator Wyden to represent us for a change!” You can help. Dial 855-712-8441 to call Sen. Wyden and tell him to vote NO on the Fast Track bill!
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.”
The Oregon Labor Oral History Program (OLOHP), an affiliate project of the PNLHA and the Oregon Historical Society, preserves the collective history of labor unions and work life of Oregonians. The following audio excerpts illuminate a teenager’s dramatic passage from regular ordinary life, through the unbelievable extremes of war in the Pacific, to the transformation into passionate labor leadership.
Mel Schoppert: Tape 2, Side 1 October 16, 2001 : Excerpt Transcript First Job After Returning from World War II
Mel Schoppert: Tape 2, Side 1 October 16, 2001 : Excerpt Transcript “Raising Hell” on the Job and in the Union
From left to right: Wallace Feist, ATU 757 Secretary Treasurer, Ron Heintzman, ATU 757 President, Mel Schoppert ATU International Vice President, Rufus Fuller, ATU 757 Vice President
Mel Schoppert (17 July 1924 – 28 May 2002) worked as an officer of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 for eighteen years and served as as a business representative for eleven.
Beginning his career as a bus driver with the Portland Traction Company in 1952, Schoppert helped take wage rates from a low level to one of the highest in the country, with ample fringe benefits. Schoppert battled for and gained one of the first dental plans, job injury, “full pay” supplemental benefits, and broke the six week vacation barrier with six weeks after 30 years.
At the Oregon Legislature he lobbied for and got nineteen bills passed, calling for benefits and job security for transit employees. In 1973, he was elected to the post of Vice President of the ATU International and served as its Senior Vice President until his death in 2002.
PNLHA member Lionel Youst has at least eight publications to his credit, among them The Wobblies – Solidarity Forever and Other Articles, a 64-page illustrated booklet that includes the words and music to Joe Hill’s “Rebel Girl.
Youst presented some of the contents of his booklet at the Portland conference in 2012, notably a chronology of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) activity in 1913 in his home area of Coos Bay, Oregon.
The IWW newspaper Industrial Worker called the booklet “the best non-academic piece I have ever read about us. Not only does Youst refuse to write us off as dead, but he goes into the struggles like the Philadelphia docks and the Detroit auto shops that are usually ignored by politicians.”
Lionel Youst, The Wobblies – Solidarity Forever and Other Articles (Coos Bay, OR: Golden Falls Publishing, 2012).
The summer edition of the Oregon Historical Quarterly includes an article on a unique three-region tour of the state in search of “History from Below.” Author Sarah K. Loose follows the tour from Grants Pass (September 2012) to Astoria (January 2013) and finally to The Dalles (May 2013).
PNLHA members were involved in parts of the tour which included workshops that offered themes tailored to “the unique history and current reality of each community.” Local historians and others “highlighted relevant historical social movements.”
Participants reviewed archival materials focused on the histories of their communities. Small groups discussed the “connections between historic movements and the issues and challenges facing their communities today.”
At Grants Pass, participants explored the “origins and structure of rural social movements and the unique history of southern Oregon’s Populist Party.” The Astoria meeting drew 100 participants to hear former PNLHA member Sandy Polishuk talk about the “contested history of Astoria’s radical Finnish immigrant community.”
At The Dalles, the Cascade Singers opened the workshop entitled “Power to the People” at which participants discussed the “fight to secure affordable and publicly owned power for the region.” PNLHA member Barbara Byrd facilitated the discussion on challenges to activists.
“The ‘History from Below’ tour challenged dominant narratives that locate social movement activity in urban centers and depict rural Oregon politics as state and homogenous,” Loose concluded. “It shows that history has been shaped not only by urban elites but also by ordinary and organized citizens or rural and small-town Oregon, working for change.”