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.

Know Your City – May Day Inspired People’s History of Portland Tour

KYCKnow Your City invites you to its May Day inspired People’s History of Portland walking tour. A People’s History of Portland highlights the roots of Portland’s downtown immigrant and working class communities, and celebrates the ongoing decades of social justice leaders and grassroots movements.

Date: Saturday, April 30
Time: 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Complete details and RSVP

Before Portland was known for Portlandia, the foundation of the city was built by immigrant labor. This tour tells Portland’s story from the viewpoint of Chinese people, Japanese people, African American people, Jewish people, and LGBTQ communities, whose histories are often left out of the mainstream. A People’s History of Portland tour challenges you to take a closer look at Portland and how we got to where we are today.

Our special May Day themed tour includes new sites of significance that are important places for labor activism and direct action; and will be led by local historian Ryan Wisnor, whose work focuses on labor and working-class history as documented through oral histories. He also serves as a Trustee for the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association (PNLHA) and is a Masters student in History at Portland State University.

Tour Highlights:
– Portland’s “Old” and “New” Chinatowns
– The site of Portland’s first African American community
– “Nihonmachi,” Portland’s Japantown
– LGBTQ roots in Old Town
– Marie Equi in Portland and early Portland women’s history

Success in correcting Oregon labor history

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 2.07.31 PMOregon trustee Norm Diamond has succeeded in correcting the labor history surrounding a new Portland bar named after the notorious Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen (4Ls).

“After extensive exchanges with the bar owner,”, Diamond provided the real story behind the 4Ls for posting to their web site. The site now includes some of his suggested wording: http://loyallegionpdx.com/about/where-did-the-name-loyal-legion-come-from/

The welcome changes came after Diamond published his comments in the March 16 Northwest Labor Press.

“The 4Ls was far from a union in any meaningful sense,” wrote Diamond. “It was a World War I-era organization specifically created by the U.S. War Department to undermine labor organizing in the woods (IWW) and mills (AFL).” In fact, the 4Ls, founded in 1917, broke a logger and lumber workers’ strike jointly orchestrated by both labor organizations.

“It’s important to hold onto our heritage and not let it be distorted,” Diamond concluded. “That history is all around us.” As an example, he notes that the building where the bar is located “hosted Ku Klux Klan rallies when the KKK was a Portland political power in the 1920s.”

See the full story here: https://nwlaborpress.org/2016/03/return-of-the-loyal-legion/

PNLHA addresses Portland Dems

PNLHA secretary Lane Poncy.

PNLHA secretary Lane Poncy.

PNLHA trustee Jim Strassmeier.

PNLHA trustee Jim Strassmeier.

PNLHA secretary Lane Poncy and Portland trustee Jim Strassmeier signed up three new members after addressing the Eastside Democratic Club in Portland in October.

Following a main speaker on Israel and Palestine, the PNLHA representatives introduced about 30 club members to the PNLHA’s work and mandate, particularly noting the availability of an oral history of respected Eastside Member George Starr.

They stressed the ongoing series of labor programs broadcast on KBOO radio, mentioned recent activities of the Oregon branch of the PNLHA, and promoted the next conference on May 20-22, 2016, in Portland.

Portland:  A Union Town

factsrosecitya02November is labor history month in Portland and the Northwest Oregon Labor Council’s labor history committee will celebrate it with a presentation of its 2015 program, “Portland: A Union Town” on Nov. 23.

This year, committee members are compiling a timeline beginning with Portland’s earliest worker organizations and unions. The project, which includes narration and photographs, will highlight the numerous contributions to the community.

“This will be a work in progress, as long as individuals step up and do the work necessary to save, preserve and document Portland-area workers’ rich history,” said committee chair Jim Cook. “Portland was, is and will forever be a union town.”

Local unions are participating via a history committee survey, listing charter dates, contributions to our community such as improvements on the job and for public safety, apprenticeship programs, public education, job actions, boycotts, community service, charities, etc.

“Portland: A Union Town” will be introduced at the NOLC delegates’ meeting at the IBEW Local 48 Hall, 15937 NE Airport Way, Portland. The event begins at 7 p.m. on Nov. 23.

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.

PNLHA assists with Joe Hill event

Joe Hill Centennial TributeThe PNLHA executive board has voted to endorse the Northwest Oregon Labor Council’s Nov. 19 tribute to legendary Wobbly troubadour Joe Hill. The board also agreed to send a contribution to assist with the event.

“The PNLHA is happy and proud to help sponsor the NOLC labor history and music event in tribute to Joe Hill this year,” said PNLHA president Tom Lux. “This is always a great event and we will encourage our members to attend.”

The “Joe Hill Centennial Tribute” will celebrate Hill as a labor organizer, songwriter and martyr.* The evening will include music by veteran singer-songwriter and social activist Anne Feeney. She’ll be joined by Citizen’s Band from Olympia, WA, and Portland’s General Strike. Eugene’s Mark Ross will act as MC.

Portland has a long tradition of annually celebrating the music and spirit of Joe Hill and others each November. Organizers expect that Portland’s 25th Annual Benefit Concert will follow in that tradition and be an exceptional event in many ways.

KBOO 90.7 FM, local unions and friends of labor are also sponsoring the tribute. Proceeds will benefit KBOO Community Radio and Sisters of the Road.

The event will be held Nov. 19 at the Alberta Rose Theater, 3000 NW Alberta St. in Portland. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Cost: $15. Order online at albertarosetheaters.com .

*Joe Hill was shot and killed by a Utah firing squad on Nov. 19, 1915.

PNLHA to meet Eastside Dems Club

Trustee Jim Strassmeier, co-chair of PNLHA’s Oregon Labor Oral History Program, and PNLHA secretary Lane Poncy will discuss oral history and the PNLHA at an Eastside Democratic Party Club meeting on Nov. 3, 2015. The meeting will be held from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at the Grace Presbyterian Church building, NE 60th and Prescott.

PNLHA joins Portland JwJ, attends meetings

JwJ logoOur affiliate membership to Portland Jobs with Justice was unanimously approved by the steering committee at its August 3 meeting, reports trustee Ryan Wisnor, our representative at JwJ.

Oregon trustees had agreed to the affiliation and a $100 financial contribution at their June meeting, but before the decision was made to accept our affiliation, Ryan attended three JwJ meetings as a guest.

On August 3, some JwJ members complimented the PNLHA on the June 11 Bloody Wednesday event, while others asked how the PNLHA could help members look into their union’s history.

Ryan has agreed to continue attending steering committee meetings and will provide a short report each month for Oregon Update on JwJ happenings. He also plans to arrange a meeting between Oregon PNLHA trustees and JwJ committee members.

For more on the Portland JwJ, ryanwisnor@gmail.com.