Filipino-American community created one of the most important examples of
civil rights unionism on the West Coast. Starting in 1933, the unionization
of workers in the Alaska canneries and the fields of western Washington
gave Filipinos an important tool to fight for better wages and working
conditions and also for civil rights.
Filipinos and other Asian
Americans have dominated the work force in the Alaska canneries since the
industry's emergence in the early 1900s. Led by Filipino activists, the Cannery
Worker's and Farm Laborer's Union was launched in the 1933 and in the next
few years succeeded in organizing much of the work force, despite violence
that took the lives of its founding president and secretary. The cannery
workers union has
changed names and affiliations over the years since then, and has weathered serious internal
and external difficulties, including, in the 1950s, government attempts
to break the union and deport its leftist leaders; and in 1981
another set of assassinations that took the lives of union reformers Silme
Domingo and Gene Viernes. But across three turbulent generations the union
has survived. Today it is Region 37 of the Inland Boatman's Union (IBU).
This special section
explores the history of the cannery union activism and the Seattle
Filipino-American community. The links above and below
include video oral histories with activists of two different generations, a
pair of research essays that detail the history of the
union, and a collection of rare photographs that are presented online for
the first time here. Most of those pictures and much of the other materials
presented here are the property of the
Filipino American National
Historical Society (FAHNS) and are made available through the generosity of Fred and Dorothy Cordova.
in a Name? A timeline of union affiliations and name changes
June 19, 1933 – Cannery Workers’ and
Farm Laborer’s Union (CWFLU) Local 18257 formed under American
Federation of Labor (AFL).
November 4, 1937 – Seattle, Portland,
and San Francisco locals leave CWFLU-AFL and join United Cannery,
Agricultural, Packinghouse, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA)
under the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The Seattle local
is UCAPAWA-CIO Local 7.
1943 – Local 5 of San Francisco and
Local 226 of Portland merge into Seattle’s Local 7.
1947 – The Food, Tobacco,
Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Union of America (FTA) succeeds UCAPAWA.
The union is now known as FTA-CIO Local 7.
1949-1950 – CIO expels FTA
International and Local 7 affiliates with International Longshoremen’s
and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) to become Local 7-C.
1951 – ILWU Local 7-C becomes Local
Off to Alaska, 1939. Other rare photographs can
be found on the Photos page
In 1949 five
Local 7 leaders were arrested and threatened with deportation because of
ties to the Communist Party. This pamphlet was part of the campaign to
save the union and its leaders. See Documents collection
Cindy Domingo is one of the narrators in our
video oral history page. Active in the
Alaska Cannery Workers and the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), she is
the sister of martyred local 37 leader Silme Domingo.
Local 37 yearbook edited by Carlos Bulosan is reproduced here in pdf.
courtesy of FAHNS.