Making use of labor history
Karl Ross
October 2017

Graphic by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, 1886

Seattle Freedom Socialist Party turned up the heat on the class war with a crash course in working people’s history.

The six-week “Labor History Seminar” educated participants on strikes, organizing, and solidarity. It presented strategies for unlocking worker’s strength and provided opportunities to take theory and put it into action.

Students learned about the leadership of radicals, women, immigrants, and people of color. They studied major struggles like the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike, “Bread and Roses” textile strike, Memphis sanitation strike, and organization of Filipino cannery workers.

There were video clips, readings, presentations, and lively discussions. Kirk Duncan, a member of Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, spoke about the cross-union organizing the group did, noting “we can do things a union can’t do, like secondary boycotts.”

The seminar benefited from the experience of its radical attendees sharing their history. Monica Hill discussed the 1973 strike at the University of Washington that resulted in higher pay for classified staff workers. Union electrician Kathleen Merrigan talked about campaigns against sexism waged at Seattle City Light. Annaliza Torres recalled her Filipino immigrant father Ponce Torres, who fought racism and xenophobia to form the Cannery Workers and Farm Labor Union in 1937.

Instructor Steve Hoffman wanted to “help folks realize they have a rich, brave, and innovative heritage to draw from” in fighting the bosses. And they did.

Patience Malaba, an organizer for Service Employees International Union, reported on vicious retaliation against Amazon security staff for union organizing. People immediately got involved.

And when Hoffman’s state worker union held an emergency rally against a threatened government shutdown, seminar members jumped in to make the event a success.

“We need fights to have wins,” declared instructor Maxine Reigel. By the seminar’s end, the truth of this simple lesson was left without a doubt.