Seattle 2017 Conference Live Blog

Rosemary Feurer
Rosemary Feurer is an Associate Professor of History at Northern Illinois University.
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Welcome to the 2017 LAWCHA Conference in Seattle Live Blog! On this page, you will find frequent updates from Rosemary Feurer, Jacob Remes, and Emily LaBarbera-Twarog about panels, sessions, and talks from this year’s conference.

Refresh often for updates!


Ludlow: Greek Americans in the Colorado Coal War

Ludlow documentary poster

Saturday’s session on the Documentary Ludlow: Greek Americans in the Colorado Coal War offered a new transnational perspective on a well-known topic. We had the filmmaker, Frosso Tsouka, who told of how the current economic austerity and struggles in Greece helped to prompt the film. The interviews with descendants of the community that participated in the strike and experienced the horrors of the massacre at Ludlow, where iconic Louis Tikas was murdered by Lt. Linderfelt (and where 11 children and 2 women were burned in their underground cavern) is a powerful retelling of this story. It uses Greek sources as well as scholars and other descendants and observers. The focus on the racial treatment of the Greeks would be great to excerpt for a class.

The film delves deeply into the 10 day war and the Greek working class involvement in that phase, in which Greeks routed the Colorado militia and showed their military superiority in the aftermath of the massacre. Their previous experience in the Balkans war came into play in this class war. It’s the only case in US history where the national guard was completely and fully bludgeoned in a class uprising.

Another powerful part of the film is the presentation of the Colorado Strike song, which never had an audio recording. We hear Greek singers who warmed to the song and it comes across very powerfully in the film. The song is to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, written by Frank Hayes of the UMWA:

The union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the Baldwins, up with the law;              (Baldwins were mercenaries)
For we’re coming, Colorado, we’re coming all the way,
Shouting the battle cry of union.

Tsouka said the film has made a great showing in Greece. It has been shown widely including on the public television stations.

Check out the filmmakers website: http://ludlow.gr/

The filmmakers are offering  a vimeo version available to conference participants. A big thank you for that!

Link and password to LUDLOW for screenings(English Version)

Link: https://vimeo.com/164340894

Password: coalwar1914


Industrial Nostalgia and Heritage Preservation

Friday’s session on Industrial Nostalgia and Heritage Preservation alerted us to the way that industrial decline has become the basis for historical interpretations. The role of professional heritage specialists was profiled as well.

Stephan Berger of Ruhr University, Bochum presented “Industrial Heritage Without Class? The Ruhr Region of Germany.” He  argued that a strong nostalgia for industrial history of the Ruhr was driven by  social and community historians desire for preservation that began in the 1960s. Public funds have created a light and theatre show in the area (tourism is now the main economic engine of this once industrial area) that has erased histories of conflict, the role of Communist influence, and heterogenous identity in order to create a usable past that emphasizes openness to migration. Instead of encouraging debate, it have served to create a homogenous past that trivializes the nature of work and the losses that were part of the history.

Jana Golombek, who is from the Ruhr University, followed Berger’s. She is investigating the role of industrial heritage in the rust belt in the US.  Various memories of that industrial age are being generated. While the Heinz History Center tracks history from the top down, there are other places that amplify the  dissenting voices in the area, efforts of preservationists, and the way that efforts were ongoing to track human costs of the loss of the steel industry.

Ruben Vega Garcia of University of Oviedo discussed the memory of youth of the industrial past in the Asturian coal mining region of Spain. There is a deep sense of loss and despair in the area, but the interviews he conducted show that the industrial past is factor of identity among Asturian coalfield youngsters. Young workers still attend to a heroic past, including memories of the general strike of 1934 –the largest proletarian uprising in Europe. Many of these students do not find a job for which they are trained and this makes the past more poignant part of their memories. Their sense of belonging to a mining community still resonates as they negotiate involvement in various movements. They also tend to convert the violent past into a source of pride. They find a way to convert that past into a residual feeling of belonging.

Marion Fontaine’s presentation (University of Lille, but presented By Jana Golombek dueto  Fontaine’s absence) also  dealt with a mining areas, this time in the de Lewarde area of France, where most of the mines have closed. The nostalgic use of these areas has been a political football. The Communist Party valorized the miners when they were seen as the base for socialist transformation. But with the decline of mining and its extinction was fodder for the manipulation of memory by the extreme right who sought to preserve and romanticize the memory of miners. The shock of pit closures gradually led to a shift toward tourism history.  Whereas the miners personified the future of the working class, these working class are now seen as a dangerous.

Another conclusion of the panel was that the listing of  these sites as world heritage sites was a key moment, listing process led to commercialization of memories. For example, people start to decorate their areas with miners lamps, in a process that fetishizes the struggles of workers.

This was a very long panel, and my notes don’t do full justice. The fact that some people hung on for more than a ½ past its conclusion shows it was a compelling session.


Awards and business meeting

Awards and Business meeting, Saturday: One of the real pleasures of LAWCHA is our awards. We now give out two book awards, the Taft (in conjunction with the Cornell ILR School) and the Montgomery (in conjunction with the OAH), the Gutman Dissertation Award, and the occasional distinguished service award. I serve on the Gutman prize committee, and it is both a joy and an honor to read the new scholarship emerging from graduate programs on labor and working-class history and to pick one dissertation to honor. Giving and getting awards is always fun, but I especially enjoy the warmth of LAWCHA’s award lunches, because everyone is always so genuinely happy for the winners and excited about their work.

We also give out an increasing number of graduate student travel awards; this year we gave 15.

In addition to giving out prizes, at the membership meeting today President Jim Gregory announced a new dues structure. Regular individual membership remains $50. But a discounted membership at $25 that was once reserved for students is now open to independent scholars, contingent faculty, unemployed people, and indeed anyone who feels like they cannot afford the regular membership. And to pay for that, there’s a new $85 contributing membership category for those who wish to support LAWCHA’s work and feel like they can afford to do so. We are hopeful that senior faculty will be moved by a spirit of solidarity to pay the extra amount.

I didn’t actively live-tweet the business meeting, but others did, and their tweets are below.


Global labor migration

Global labor migration session, Saturday: If the #lawcha2017 opening session was a barn-burner, so too was what was for me the end of the formal conference (I didn’t go to tonight’s plenary, and I leave early tomorrow morning): a round-table on labor and migration–really about globalization and enclosure–with some of LAWCHA’s stars: Annelise Orleck, Nafeesa Tanjeem, Eileen Boris, and Nelson Lichtenstein, chaired by Eric Arneson.  (Eileen and Nelson had just been given LAWCHA’s Distinguished Service Award, so it was especially nice to see them in action.) It was a lively discussion of how worker power is under attack in the global and mobile world, and what can  be done about it.

As I said while tweeting (see below), I found the session especially intellectually productive in talking about enclosure. (I was, I think, the first person to use that word when I asked a question, but what else do you call in when land is taken from peasants, who are then forced into either proletarianized industrial work or waged–or even worse, unwaged–agricultural labor?) Nafeesa Tanjeem’s comparison of Bangladeshi women at either end of Walmart’s supply chain–women who make clothing in Bangladesh and women who sell clothing in the US–and Annelise Orleck’s presentation on labor refugees were especially generative and exciting.

Tweets from me and Matt Garcia are below.


LIVE-ish Blog Post from Strange Career of Ind Relations

Strange Career of Industrial Relations session, Friday: How exciting! LAWCHA members are live blogging from #LAWCHA2017 at the Univ of Washington in beautiful Seattle. Panels are taking place in the lovely Mary Gates (yes that Gates…) building during a perfectly sunny weekend that apparently is not the norm. I, for one, am grateful as this is my first visit to Washington State.*

Wesleyan’s Ronald Schatz on the tension between Industrial Relations (IR) professors and radical students. In 1968 radical students held Columbia administrators hostage for several days and then went on strike allying themselves with the oppression of black and brown communities along with those in Vietnam. Instead of supporting the organizing of radical students, some IR professors seek to figure out how to isolate revolutionary students and avoid “another Columbia.” IR professors from around the US develop a plan of a “dispute resolution plan” similar to arbitration for faculty and students. This plan looked a lot like the industry approach to worker protest. What were IR professors so afraid of?

UCLA’s Tony Higbie telling the “Real History of Labor Education at UCLA.” The worker education movement was rooted in immigrant organizer and worker self-education. Coordination with various worker schools from across the country like Bryn Mawr (check out panel C.8 on Women’s Schools for more on this) and the WI School for Workers. Higbie points to Rose Pessota who arrived in LA to help establish a west coast worker education program.** In the 1930s, working-class women in LA played a pivotal role in building worker education programs on the West Coast rather than sending women to the Bryn Mawr School for Women for in NJ which was getting very costly. This led to the founding of the Western Summer School (Pacific Coast Labor School) in 1933 and ran until 1941 was a collaboration between Occidental College and UC Extension.

If you are at the conference, reading this now and wish you were at this panel are in another room, be sure to check out today’s afternoon panel C.8 Summer Schools for Women Workers in Room 288.

If you are not here, but interested in knowing more be sure to check out the book _Sisterhood and Solidarity: Workers’ Education for Women, 1914-1984_ which is in need for an update. Anyone want to collaborate?

*I did bring a raincoat just to ward off the rain.
** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Pesotta


Remembering Jim Green

Remembering Jim Green, Saturday Session: A year ago, LAWCHA lost a stalwart: Jim Green, LAWCHA’s third president. At a panel on Friday afternoon, we remembered him as a teacher, as a scholar, as a public historian, as a leader of the labor history profession, and as, for so many of us, a mentor and friend. LAWCHA maintains a memorial page, including links to obituaries. Tweets from the session are below.


"Traveling the World: Workers' Transnationalism"

A panel on Friday called “Traveling the World: Workers’ Transnationalism” was a example of another valuable thing about LAWCHA panels: thoughtful comments and discussions. The papers were good and interesting too–I summarize them in the tweets embedded below–but I want to really highlight Dana Frank’s commentary, which pushed the speakers and indeed the audience in a new direction. She correctly insisted that when we talk about workers’ transnationalism, we pay attention to gendered reproductive labor. If a man (or a woman) is moving around, sleeping in different beds, who makes those beds?


Religious history at #lawcha2017

Religious history panel, Friday Morning: One of the things I most enjoy about LAWCHA conferences is how ecumenical they are. Labor and working-class history is a broad church. Friday morning I went to a panel entitled Religious Leaders, Grassroots Responses, and Political Change. Labor unions–the traditional subject of “labor history”–hardly came up. Nor was it solely a US-centered panel. Instead, the panel was about how religious people–priests and women religious in Brooklyn, lay Catholics in Chicago, a rabbi in Buenos Aires–organized and demanded more just and safer societies. We talked about workers, and there were a couple of mentions of unions in Argentina and Chicago, but this was working-class history at its finest, taking seriously working-class people and communities not just at work or in union halls but in homes and churches and on the street.

As commentator Susan Glenn argued in her comments, the thread that ran throughout the three disparate papers was strategic ambivalence. The historical actors in each paper had to limit themselves, sometimes dissemble, and find their way  between and among conflicting groups. In Cassie Miller’s paper, Catholic priests and nuns in 1960s and ’70s Brooklyn had to find ways to fulfill their Christian mission of organizing the poor between the episcopacy on one side and their increasingly conservative white Catholic parishioners. In Ian Rocksborough-Smith’s paper, lay Catholic white liberals in Chicago in the early 1950s wanted to promote what they called “interracialism” without alienating their coparishioners. In Susan Breitzer’s paper, an American-born Argentine rabbi worked to save the lives of activists in fascist Argentina; he developed a language of universal human rights that elided the activists’ leftism. In all three cases, the speakers’ historical actors were limited in what they could do and say, and all three papers explored the ironies and limits inherent in their positions.

My live-tweets are here: [View the story “Religious history at #lawcha2017” on Storify]


Thursday Night's Mass Incarceration Plenary

On Thursday evening, the 2017 LAWCHA conference opened with a barn-burner of a plenary on mass incarceration and prison labor, featuring Heather Thompson, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, and Chelsea Nation and moderated by Julie Greene.  I live-tweeted it (it turns out that I’m a better tweeter than a blogger), and I’ll embed my tweets below. But before I do so, by way of introduction, I wanted to highlight one specific tweet and what it say about LAWCHA and its conferences.

I’ve been to every LAWCHA conference since my second year of graduate school in 2005. I call LAWCHA my “home conference” and routinely badger my friends and colleagues about submitting papers or panels, even if they don’t think of themselves as labor and working-class historians. I want to explain why (and make those of you who aren’t here in Seattle feel a little jealous).

 

grateful to @hthompsn and @klytlehernandez for setting the tone for this excellent conference!

As UConn’s Melanie Newport tweeted, the plenary set the tone for the conference. It was analytical. It was historical. It was challenging. It was relevant not only to the historiography but to contemporary political questions. It included not only historians Thompson and Lytle Hernandez but also unionist Chelsea Nation. It was politically radical. It encouraged radical empathy not only for prisoners but for prison guards. It insisted that we combine analyses of class, race, gender, and sexuality. In short, it was a perfect LAWCHA panel.

This attention to both history and the present, this insistence that we consider class, race, and gender, this attention to organizing–this is why I come to every LAWCHA conference. Thursday night’s opening plenary is as good an introduction to LAWCHA as I can imagine. My tweets from Thursday night are below:

 


A strike and an uprising [in Texas]

I was very impressed with Friday’s fine cut screening of session B.7 “A strike and an uprising [in Texas]”: an experimental telling of the pecan shellers strike of 1938 led by Emma Tenayuca and the 1987 Jobs with Justice march of 3,000 in Nacogdoches. The screening which included wrap around comments by Anne Lewis, University of Texas at Austin Chair & Commentator: John Weber, Old Dominion University

This session presented is a rough cut of this film, which tells the stories of two struggles that connect labor rights and civil rights.

The first part was about the uprising of pecan shellers of San Antonio and the CIO 1938 strike, while the second was that about service workers struggle against Stephen M. Foster University in the 1980s.

The film and interviews are attentive to the process of how people made their unions into a force for civil rights justice. It makes a metanarrative about memory and forgetting that speaks to the limits of chronology.

The film includes rare footage of Emma Tenayuca, the Communist Party Mexican-American activist who was such a pivotal part of the 1938 uprising. We heart Emma singing the Marseilles and see interviews with people who knew her and how she was part of a community of struggle. The film does not flinch at Emma’s association with the Communist Party. Emma was involved in a Cigar Strike and the unemployed work before the 1938 struggle, and the film makes clear that she was  trained in a trans-border community that was a diaspora of the Mexican revolution. San Antonio was part of this political ferment.

The most abused and low-wage pecan workers share their painful memories that connected the limits of their life –living without electricity, with bloody, swollen fingers (the memory of hands works throughout this section), with low levels of food, “considered just like we were some other kind of race of persons,” –with the lack of power and being abused. It also considers the transnational sources of rebellion, hinting at how the CP had built some cross-border organizing through this section of the film; the Chief of Police is quoted: “I wasn’t stopping a strike, I was stopping a revolution.”

The pecans were mechanized and San Antonio became the bastion of military contracting after the 1940s, but the film suggests that the past is like a river and that struggle continues. The second part of the film covers the struggles to bring justice for service workers at Stephen M. Foster University in Texas. These stories, of a San Antonio where poor people lived among the military industrial complex, are also powerful. Perhaps most powerful was the way that the university overcame Title VII laws – university personnel circled the N in Equal Opportunity on the university applications to quietly refuse to hire or to allocate jobs to African Americans (N for negro) even after 1964. The university managed to avoid paying minimum wage to service workers through similar subterfuge. Emma, who was exiled in California and mostly forgotten, appears as a speaker at a rally in this struggle in a 1980s march.

The audience was full of compliments for this film. Asked how she had funded the film, Lewis mentioned that the fact that it dealt with Tenayuca meant that funding was difficult, and she was denied application for a grant because of the power of that radical organizer.

I can’t wait for this film to be completed and available. I will be using in my classes, include introduction to US history classes. The way that it uses memory and struggle, how it connects 2 seemingly disparate struggles in a similar theme of union and civil rights was brilliant. Bravo!


LIVE! Reports from LAWCHA Panels: Strange Career of Industrial Relations

How exciting! LAWCHA members are live blogging from #LAWCHA2017 at the Univ of Washington in beautiful Seattle. Panels are taking place in the lovely Mary Gates (yes that Gates…) building during a perfectly sunny weekend that apparently is not the norm. I, for one, am grateful as this is my first visit to Washington State.*

Wesleyan’s Ronald Schatz on the tension between Industrial Relations (IR) professors and radical students. In 1968 radical students held Columbia administrators hostage for several days and then went on strike allying themselves with the oppression of black and brown communities along with those in Vietnam. Instead of supporting the organizing of radical students, some IR professors seek to figure out how to isolate revolutionary students and avoid “another Columbia.” IR professors from around the US develop a plan of a “dispute resolution plan” similar to arbitration for faculty and students. This plan looked a lot like the industry approach to worker protest. What were IR professors so afraid of?

UCLA’s Tony Higbie telling the “Real History of Labor Education at UCLA.” The worker education movement was rooted in immigrant organizer and worker self-education. Coordination with various worker schools from across the country like Bryn Mawr (check out panel C.8 on Women’s Schools for more on this) and the WI School for Workers. Higbie points to Rose Pessota who arrived in LA to help establish a west coast worker education program.** In the 1930s, working-class women in LA played a pivotal role in building worker education programs on the West Coast rather than sending women to the Bryn Mawr School for Women for in NJ which was getting very costly. This led to the founding of the Western Summer School (Pacific Coast Labor School) in 1933 and ran until 1941 was a collaboration between Occidental College and UC Extension.

If you are at the conference, reading this now and wish you were at this panel are in another room, be sure to check out today’s afternoon panel C.8 Summer Schools for Women Workers in Room 288.

If you are not here, but interested in knowing more be sure to check out the book _Sisterhood and Solidarity: Workers’ Education for Women, 1914-1984_ which is in need for an update. Anyone want to collaborate?

* I did bring a raincoat just to ward off the rain.
** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Pesotta


Hello World!

Welcome to the Seattle Conference 2017 Live Blog.