2007-2008 Workshop Minutes

Minutes: Bay Area Labor History Workshop

September 16, 2007

Changing Objectives of the American Seamen’s Friends Society:
The Market Revolution and Workers’ Reform at Sea

Presenter: Natalie Marine-Street, at the Home of Bill Issel

 

Attendance: Sheila Lichtman, Celeste McLeod, Oscar Berland, John Elrick, Ken Gleason, Don Watson, Glenna Matthews, Jean Pauline, Carol Cuenod, Steve Arnold, Marda Woodbury, Claudia Johnson, Bill Issel (recorder)

Presentation: Bill Issel introduced Natalie, currently completing her M.A. degree in the History Department at San Francisco State University. Natalie’s presentation is based on a seminar paper completed as part of her graduate work at State. Natalie distributed an abstract of her talk and selected quotations from some of her primary sources.

Natalie described how her interest in the subject derived from both her personal experience and her interest in the dynamics of social reform. She has long been interested in questions of personal identity in relation to participation in the labor force, ever since her father worked for J.C. Penney. Her course work stimulated her interest in workers’ identity in relation to the attitudes of social reformers about workers. She recounted how the American Seamen’s Friend Society (ASFS), founded in 1826, represented an attempt on the part of businessmen to both control and improve their workers. Conversion to Christianity, control of boisterous and disruptive behavior, limiting the numbers of non-native born seamen, bringing order to a business (shipping) plagued by uncertainty provided the motivation for the reformers’ efforts. "They utilized traditional tactics of evangelism and moral suasion as well as legal and political pressure and business competition to achieve their goals." Natalie described how the organization used boarding houses, savings banks, libraries, gospel meetings, and the Sailors’ Magazine to spread their gospel of reform.

Natalie’s presentation stimulated a particularly lively discussion, with questions and comments from nearly all of the members who attended. Several of the questions focused on the difficulty of using sources produced by the reformers to accurately describe the lives of the seamen of the time, and another theme of the question period was the need for a better contextualization of the changes in the seafaring industry from the early 19th century to the later years. Another issue that drew extensive commentary featured the motives of the Christian reformers. A particularly lively exchange along these lines took place between Claudia Johnson and Glenna Matthews. Claudia Johnson argued that research about the ASFS should take a more critical attitude, because Social Gospel reformers such as those in the ASFS in favor of "rampant capitalism" and were not genuinely concerned with righting wrongs, but Glenna Matthews replied that such a view is "180 degrees wrong" based on her present research on Protestant reformers, many of whom advocated fundamental changes in capitalist economy, not merely cosmetic reforms.


Minutes: Bay Area Labor History Workshop

October 28, 2007

The Yerba Buena Center: Redevelopment and a Working Class Community’s Resistance

Presenter: John Elrick, at the Home of Bob Cherny

Attendance: Bill Engler, Kevin J. Ryan, Daniel Elash, John Elrick, Ken Gleason, Catherine Powell, Sean Burns, Kerry Taylor, Mandana Alandini, Steve Leikin, Chris Carlsson, Bob Cherny, Bill Issel (recorder)

Presentation: Bill Issel introduced John Elrick, who is working on his M.A. degree in the History Department at San Francisco State University. John was awarded a summer fellowship to attend a workshop at the Gilder Lehrman Institute in New York City, and his paper on the Yerba Buena Center was one of the prize winning essays submitted to the Labor Archives and Research Center competition for 2007.

John provided a five-page summary with quotations based on the research for his essay and discussed the findings of his research. He based his study on primary sources, particularly affidavits collected during the successful challenge by Tenants and Owners in Opposition to Redevelopment (TOOR) that led to a court decision limiting the Redevelopment Agency’s proposed transformation of the 87 acre site proposed for urban renewal. John described how the 1969 TOOR group’s membership "expressed their identities as workers and unionists, Democrats and citizens, and as members of an established community." After summarizing the evidence, John concluded that "because TOOR came to opposed relocation primarily as a community group, rather than a class-based political organization" it anticipated "the emergence of a new progressive movement in the city."

John finished his presentation by posing a series of questions for discussion, questions that he considers important for future research on the relationship during the 1950s and 1960s between the Democratic Party, organized labor, local government policy, and self-defined community organizations. What is the relationship between class-based and place-based interests, and how can the connections between them be explored more effectively? To what extent do sources such as affidavits and oral histories provide a reliable guide to political ideology and social identity? To what extent did specific labor unions and the county labor council effectively represent the interests of their members, and how can we best assess the tensions between constituent representation and community representation in a complex setting such as this one where sharp differences of opinion and ideology existed over how to best plan future land use in central cities?

An extensive discussion followed, highlighted by a keen interest in several topics: the role of particular unions, including the ILWU; the degree to which former radicals, including Community Party members, assumed leadership in TOOR; the role of rhetoric and discourse in shaping the controversy; the appropriateness of concepts such as "ruling class interests" in the analysis of this kind of complex political controversy.

Minutes: Bay Area Labor History Workshop

November 18, 2007

Foregrounding Labor into the Master Narrative of California

Presenter: Lauren Coodley at the Home of Susan Goldstein

 

Attendance: Ken Gleason, Nils McCune, Sarah Hines, Nick Kardahji, Celeste McLeod, Sally Miller, Harvey Schwartz, Doris Linder, Zeese Papanikolis, Susan Goldstein, Sheila Lichtman, Lisa Rubens, Bill Issel (recorder)

Presentation: Bill Issel introduced Lauren Coodley, a member of the History Department of Napa Valley College and author of The Land of Orange Groves and Jails; Upton Sinclair’s California, and Napa: The Transformation of an American Town.

Lauren’s presentation described her forthcoming book, the first college history textbook on California history that places labor history and the history of the working class in the "foreground" of the narrative. California Documentary History, scheduled for publication in January 2008 by Prentice Hall, uses private and public documents and photos to engage students in the social history of the Golden State. According to the flyer that Lauren distributed, "This text gives an accurate and proportionate representation of California’s population. It is the only collection of multicultural documents which reflect the social history of ordinary Californians, and the only collection to include women in fully half of the documents. Indigenous, Filipino, African American, Japanese American peoples, and many others, tell their own stories. Students will be able to find their own individual and cultural histories within this book; for them, history will be transformed from a dry recitation of facts to an emotionally appealing experience."

Labor and working class material is present throughout the book, including such items as a memoir of Mexican-American farm workers in Sacramento; a waitress’s diary from San Francisco; a report on the Wheatland riot in the Central Valley; memoirs by participants in the 1934 General Strike, accompanied by illustrations from At Work: The Art of California Labor; memoirs of African American and white women war workers during World War II; memoirs of working class women's labor activism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Lauren described how the idea for the book derived partly from her experience teaching California history using the existing texts, specifically her discovery that students in the community college setting responded more actively to stories about everyday people than to material about political and economic history of institutions and policies. While she recognizes that the history of elites is important given the power they have exercised in society, that kind of history is already well represented in the available textbooks, so her new documentary collection will be an ideal supplement to such works. The discussion focused on the process of creating such a book, and Lauren provided a detailed account of how she began with a variety of primary and secondary works in her own library and then gradually expanded her collection, sometimes through personal contacts, including a woman she met at a garage sale who had been a welder during World War II!

 

Minutes:  Bay Area Labor History Workshop

February 24, 2008

Women in Muni

June Fisher, M.D. and Jean Ellis-Jones, Vice-President, TWA Local 250A

Attending:  John Coll, Conor Casey, Carol Cuenod, Ken Gleason, Doris Linder, Brigid O’Farrell, Jeff Quam-Wickham, Marjorie Stern; from St. Francis Square Cooperative: Rita Alderucci, Tami Bryant, Carl Bryant, Ann Liuzza, Nan Park, Sonia Siegel, Michael Tsukahara,Yayoi Tsukahara.

 Ken Gleason opened the session in the absence of Bill Issel who was ill. He asked members to introduce themselves and then introduced June Fisher, an associate clinical professor of medicine at UCSF, and an occupational health physician who works with one international and four national unions, and the United Nation's WHO.

Presentation:  June briefly outlined her relationship with the Muni workforce and the study she conducted on its occupational hazards several years ago. At that time, the number of women drivers was not significant, but their numbers have grown substantially and now constitute 30% of the bus operators. June has also worked with the International Transport Workers Federation and spoke from a report which will soon be available dealing with occupational safety of urban transit workers (some 10 to 15% operators/drivers worldwide are women). She read sections of the report which corroborated her study of the San Francisco’s Muni workforce.

 June then introduced Jean Ellis-Jones, a Local 250A vice president active on the Mission Street line and the glue who holds the Potrero "barn" together.  Ellis-Jones gave her brief biography: she started at MUNI in 1980 after being a nurse-practitioner, and became active in the union the next year.  She said there were "a lot" of male chauvinists when she started and this "spurred me on."  Her mentor was Gentry Wallace, who had started in the 1950s. Wallace was denied a permanent position because of being overweight, was a temporary for 30 years, and because of that was denied a pension.  Nevertheless, she ran a line and division and "simply told men what to do."

 Ellis-Jones has been an operator for 28 years and was considered the "queen" of the No.14 line before she lost all of her "posts" in three earlier locals (but spoke up for Local 250A).    There are more than 600 women at MUNI, with 28 in the largest division, Potrero, which has six lines.  Ellis-Jones said that with Mayor Dianne Feinstein's help in 1981 women were given women's uniforms (before this, they had to wear men's) but otherwise "we had no identity, we had no bathrooms."   In 1982, women got their first bathrooms, at the "barn" at 25th & Potrero.  "We're still fighting for restrooms, we're still fighting for identity," she emphasized, pointing out that MUNI is ready to take down a bathroom women now use near City College.

Ellis-Jones described several operator problems.  She said riders insist when operators should stop, ignore fares, and even assault other riders.  Motorists cut operators off.       There is "nothing on MUNI to protect patrons or ourselves," she said.   On- or off-duty police as riders are welcomed because, Ellis-Jones said, "When the public sees" them, it quiets down the riff-raff who threaten, abuse, or rob them, even though MUNI crimes are "in the news now worse than ever."   Most difficult is the ADA law interpretation that does not entitle operators to ask the disabled for their ADA card. Also difficult is the verbal abuse from patrons when MUNI buses are missing, or running late, and then bunched up. Elis-Jones said such missing headway is a sign of bad management.

There has been a significant increase of women in leadership of the Transport Workers Union, both in Local 250A where three vice presidents are women and at the International level where there are 20 vice presidents and assistant vice presidents. There is also a Women’s Committee at the International level. This year Local 250A is planning a celebration of "Women in Muni" honoring pioneer women Muni workers including Gentry Wallace and Maya Angelou who was a streetcar conductor in 1941.

Gleason opened the meeting to Q&A and some fourteen questions followed, overwhelmingly dealing with MUNI operations.

 

Minutes: Bay Area Labor History Workshop

March 16, 2008

The 1970 Salinas Valley Vegetable Strike – a Memoir

Presenter: Don Watson, at the Watson/Colman Home

Attendance: Steve Leikin, Zeese Papanikolas, Celeste McLeod, Conor Casey, Ken Gleason, Don Watson, Jane Colman, Jean Pauline, Marda Woodbury, Jeff Quam-Wickham, Maria Brooks, Harvey Schwartz, Bill Issel (recorder)

Presentation: Don Watson provided a brief introduction, outlining his life and work, beginning with his going to sea in 1946, and becoming a ship’s clerk in 1955. The United Farm Workers union (UFW) attorney Jerry Cohen asked Don to help out in the union’s legal office, and Don first went to Delano in 1966. Don retired from the ILWU in 1993 and is currently writing a memoir, from which his presentation is derived.

Don presented a vivid narrative describing how he, Vivian Levine, and Fred Ross went to Salinas at the request of Cesar Chavez, shifting the union’s focus from the grape boycott to recruiting vegetable workers to sign up as members of the United Farm Workers. Marshall Gans, a former activist in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also joined the organizers, as did Dolores Huerta. Several themes ran through Don’s narrative. First, he found himself identified by representatives of the growers and distributors as the leader of the initiative because he was white rather than Mexican. In fact, Don was inexperienced in this work. Don described how on a road at a smaller strawberry ranch, the Tomacello Ranch, a Latino cop told strikers: "I'm like you.  Stay calm." Then he said to Don: "Do right with my people. He assumed I was in charge." Second, the campaign to sign up members exuded a real sense of militancy. "In a few weeks Marshall [Gans] corralled those crews into strikers.  In the lettuce fields they had class consciousness; the grape workers didn't. Cars were driving spontaneously up and down the valley. At end of the day about 100 strikers, four abreast, marched out onto the road."  Don was the only Anglo.  "It was quite a rally--very Mexican.  Almost like Pancho Villa [1877-1923] was riding again."

Discussion: An extensive question and answer session followed Don’s presentation. Several questions called for greater attention to the specific details of the story: how many strikers were involved, what was the outcome of the strike, what was the relationship between Mexican born and American born workers in the strike, what role did the media play in the events? Some questions focused on the role of particular leaders, especially Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and "the labor priest" Monsignor George Higgins; to what extent did this particular strike demonstrate that these figures actually merited the relatively laudatory coverage among labor activists that they have received over the years? Several questions/comments addressed the format of the eventual memoir that Don is writing; perhaps, it was suggested, Don should place greater emphasis on his personal experience, rather than trying – as he did in today’s talk – to combine personal narrative with historical and sociological analysis.

Minutes: Bay Area Labor History Workshop

April 13, 2008

The Philadelphia Plan Comes to San Francisco: Affirmative Action in the Building Trades and the Challenge to Urban Liberalism

Presenter: John J. Rosen, at the Home of Bill Issel

Attendance: Conor Casey, Ken Gleason, Bob Cherny, Maria Brooks, Harvey Schwartz, Catherine Powell, Richard Berkman, John Elrick, Carol Cuenod, Bill Issel (recorder)

Presentation: John Rosen was introduced by Bill Issel, who described John’s excellent work as a graduate student at San Francisco State before going on to University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is now a Ph.D. candidate in the labor and working class studies program and the editorial coordinator for Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas. John’s workshop presentation was drawn from research for John’s dissertation.

John began by describing how the Nixon Administration introduced an affirmative action program – the Philadelphia Plan – aimed at integrating the nation’s white-dominated skilled construction trades. Although the order only applied to the City of Brotherly Love, the administration notified eighteen other "target" cities – including San Francisco – that they could expect a similar fate in the event that they could not develop a "hometown" solution. The announcement precipitated a wave of volatile confrontations between civil rights activists, black militants, and white construction workers in several cities, causing concern among some San Franciscans – Joseph Alioto among them – that their city would be next.

John described the liberal response to the Philadelphia Plan in San Francisco. San Francisco’s liberal coalition managed to withstand the divisive effects of the Philadelphia Plan by steering a middle course. Mayor Joseph Alioto was regularly criticized for his steadfast support of organized labor, but he managed to bring the Building Trades Council  to the negotiating table whenever racial tensions flared. It is a testament to black and white liberal leadership that San Francisco avoided the confrontations that shut down construction sites in other major cities. Moreover, during these years, the job opportunities for minorities in construction did expand. Although the media usually depicted the issue in a bifurcated – civil rights movement versus white trade unionists – model, the building trades issue cut across multiple political and social divides. Civil rights liberals were often in conflict with black militants, African-American activists often saw the issue from a different perspective than their Chinese-American and Hispanic counterparts, and government officials at the federal level viewed matters differently than those at the local level. As the 1970s, wore on, San Francisco’s coalition of trade unionists and civil rights liberals remained intact

Discussion: Workshop members were in agreement as to the thoroughness of the research evident in the presentation. Several questions were raised about how the Philadelphia Plan fared in other cities and requests for information about the left liberal coalition in unions other than the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union.

 

 

 

 

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