by Micah Ellison
American-led cannery workers union has a marked history of conflict and
tumult, from the assassination of the president Virgil Duyungan and
secretary Aurelio Simon in the mid-1936
to another dual assassination of union leaders Silme Domingo and Gene
Viernes in 1981.
Historians have concentrated on the events and issues surrounding the
two sets of assassinations, providing valuable accounts of union
building in the 1930s and of the reform efforts initiated by Domingo and
Viernes forty years later, but we know little about the intervening
decades. This essay uses union records to explore the critical middle
period in the history of Seattle’s Cannery and Farm Labor Union,
affiliated in the early 1940s as Local 7 UCAPAWA and after 1950 as Local
During this period,
the union dealt with a myriad of struggles. Political strife and
leadership shifts dominated the 1940s. As the decade waned and the 1950s
began, allegations of Communist activity took a heavy toll on the union,
leading to reorganization under a new national and a new name: ILWU
Local 37. Recovery from these events led to a stability of power that
lasted throughout the 1950s but ultimately led to a less active union.
The cannery workers’
union was originally founded as the Cannery Workers’ and Farm Laborers’
Union (CWFLU) Local 18257 under the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
From its birth, it was already rocked by conflict; in 1936, two of its
leaders, Aurelio Simon and Virgil Duyungan, were shot and killed
(presumably due to opposition from anti-union labor contractors). In
1937 the union left the AFL in favor of the Congress of Industrial
Organizations (CIO) becoming United Cannery, Agricultural, Packinghouse,
and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) Local 7. The local’s maturation
into a powerful bargaining force was characterized by a constantly
shifting leadership with a wide range of political beliefs. (The early
history is covered in Crystal Fresco's essay
"Cannery Worker's and Farm Laborers' Union 1933-39: Their Strength in
The outbreak of
World War II provided both opportunities and challenges for the young
labor union. Membership declined as former cannery workers enlisted or
took more stable jobs in defense industries. Internal disagreements
seemed also for a time to threaten the union. But a new set of leaders
and the intense bonds between the union and Filipino communities on the
West Coast helped the union consolidate its position. By the war’s end
Local 7 not only represented Seattle workers but had become the
bargaining agent for cannery workers up and down the coast.
leadership dominated the early years of the 1940s. In 1940 Vincent Navea
won the election as President of Local 7. Navea’s past gave him a
tenuous hold on the presidential office: he was respected as a
hard-working union official (he had previously been the union’s business
agent) and upstanding community member, but he had never worked in the
canneries. A great deal of conflict and intrigue surrounded Navea, as
his strong business sense was accompanied by constant accusations of
being a “company man.” These accusations were supported by his personal
history. He had previously worked for the Western Outfitting Company,
which appears to have been associated with the pre-union labor
Trinidad Rojo, was elected President of Local 7 in October 1942. Wordy,
intellectual, and often less than humble, he was active in union affairs
from the 1940s through the 1950s. Rojo espoused efficiency and
discipline in the union. In a 1975 interview he took credit for a series
of innovations and reforms, such as introducing the time clock to the
office, reducing gambling problems and concentrating the flow of union
money in the offices of the treasurer and secretary.
Like many young
Filipino men, Rojo came to the United States in search of educational
opportunities. In the Philippines high school was very expensive and it
was not uncommon for a full family to spend a large amount of its
resources to educate one child.
The United States – to which Filipinos could immigrate freely until the
passing of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 – offered young Filipinos
the chance to be self-supporting students, taking a great weight off of
their families. However, many found that after gaining an education
there were few opportunities for Filipinos in America. This frustration
led many highly educated individuals to become active in labor
struggles. Rojo was one of them.
Rojo had succeeded
Navea in 1942 but there was continuing conflict between the two men and
their allies. In August 1943 an election dispute occurred relating to
the validity of the nomination of Irineo Cabatit for the local’s annual
presidential election. Membership meeting minutes show two distinct
groups: one composed of Navea and Cabatit, and another led by Rojo and
the secretary, Prudencio Mori. Cabatit had withdrawn from the election
over the phone but still wanted to run for president. Arguing that votes
should be thrown out because he was removed from the ballot, and that it
was constitutionally required for withdrawals to be submitted in writing
(and not over the phone), Cabatit was still given a chance to run as
president for the remainder of the voting period.
He did not win the presidency.
defeat, Navea attempted to gain control of the union membership from the
outside by filing a petition to the War Labor Board asking that the
American Legion post that he headed (Rizal Post), be recognized as the
sole bargaining agent to the Alaska cannery industry.
Most of the canneries had been consolidated under one umbrella
organization during the beginning of the war and they relied on the
union to seasonally dispatch workers to Alaska for the two-month summer
canning season. Thus, winning representation with the industry was the
key to controlling the cannery labor base. Navea was unsuccessful and
was charged with anti-union activities by the union. A small 1944
membership meeting vote on the matter revealed how split the membership
was at the time: 38 voted him guilty while 32 voted him not guilty.
The leadership was much different, however: an 8-1 vote by secret ballot
in an executive board meeting two days earlier condemned Navea to a
One can see by the
small vote tally that the union membership decreased dramatically during
the war. Between the dramatic fall of Bataan to the Japanese in April
1942, the draft, and the lure of non-seasonal work, the UCAPAWA locals
lost over a thousand workers to various military services and even more
to industries related to military production.
The labor shortage had a drastic effect on the union and the salmon
industry in general. The government exempted many Filipino workers from
the draft because the supply of canned food was considered important to
the war effort.
Faced with this
challenge, Local 7 looked towards new fronts on which to represent
workers. Alaska cannery workers shipped out of Portland and San
Francisco as well as Seattle, and in those ports they were represented
by affiliated unions: Local 5 in San Francisco and Local 266 in
Portland, both of which dispatched predominantly Filipino workers to
Alaska under the same agreed-upon contracts. According to various oral
histories, Local 7 had the most sway with the UCAPAWA International.
Since the union was in charge of dispatching, it also became heavily
involved in the process of labor recruiting during the war, sending
agents to Filipino communities around the west coast to get more
workers. The Filipino community in Stockton, California was one of the
most looked-on targets. By the summer of 1944, there was talk of setting
up a year-round branch in Stockton and Local 7 President Rojo himself
was asked to travel there to drum up more support.
Even after war, when the labor shortage was dramatically ended, Stockton
continued to remain an important to Local 7’s leaders and members,
largely because the seasonal nature of Alaska cannery work fit well with
the asparagus season in California.
As the union
expanded outward in search of new members, it consolidated its three
locals into the one Seattle-based Local 7 based on the argument that it
was redundant to have three organizations negotiating with the single
Alaska Salmon Industry organization. The level of hostility from the
small southern locals to consolidation is difficult to gauge, as their
own records no longer exist. Local 266 in Portland fought not for
continued existence as a separate local but did demand the continued
operation of the office. Upon hearing that the two southern locals were
going to be absorbed by the Seattle one, the Portland local’s president
Ernesto Mangaoang traveled to Seattle to request only that the Portland
union hall retain some funding, explaining that it was an important
community center. In the discussion, Rojo spoke up “not as president,
but as one who has studied the problems of Filipinos in the United
States” and made Local 266 a branch of Local 7. The Seattle local also
killed two birds with one stone by mandating that the Portland branch
officers must spend several months out of the year organizing labor in
The intersection of
labor interests with Filipino community interests was not uncommon in
this union. While it did cater to some other Asian-American interests
(such as establishing a “Farm Committee” to aid interned
Japanese-American farmers in holding their land for no profit),
it was becoming more and more a Filipino union. The Chinese-American
populations in Portland and San Francisco lost power from the
consolidation of the three locals and the Japanese Americans on the west
coast lost all representation due to internment.
While Filipinos had dominated the union since the beginning, the war-era
dramatically eroded the role of other Asian Americans. .
By and large, the
union and the Filipino community benefited from one another. Local 7 was
considered the most militant and active Filipino union in the United
States. Despite a large Filipino population that was dispersed
throughout both the urban and rural Pacific coast, Local 7 was seen as
the one place during the summer months where Filipinos in America could
get a job en masse outside of farm work. Perhaps the most
memorable photos of the union’s history are those of Main Street in
Seattle, showing a massive crowd of Filipino men waiting outside the
union hall to be dispatched. It would be incorrect to argue that the
union was the sole community center. Fraternities such as the
Caballeros de Dimas Alang and umbrella groups like Filipino Community of
Seattle, Inc. held massive community events as early as the mid-1920s
and continued to do so at least through the 1950s.
However, the union hall was still a valuable tool for the Filipino
community, between annual dances, various social functions, and, of
course, the employment it promised.
Cold War Tensions
Communists had been
involved in the union from its beginnings in the 1930s. As the Second
World War ended and the Cold War began, the presence of Communists in
the leadership of the union would usher in a decade of volatility.
However, unlike many unions with Communist Party ties, the Cannery
Workers Union would not be destroyed or severely weakened by outside
The early postwar
years saw continued intra-union political strife that led to the
creation of a rival union. Immediately following the end of the war, the
union was characterized by dull union meetings and a highly unsuccessful
1946 strike under the presidency of Prudencio Mori.
Trinidad Rojo had left at the war’s end to resume his studies but was
back by 1947 to witness (though not really participate in) a tense split
in political differences between “the conservatives and the progressive”
at Local 7 (now Local 7 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied
Workers Union of America, which replaced UCAPAWA that year). The
“progressive” side (including Mori) accused some members of the union
leadership of being associated with the canning industry while
allegations of communism were already being prepared by the more
“conservative” side. In early 1947, during one of the heated arguments
resulting from this conflict, Max Gonzales, the vice president of the
union and a staunch anti-Communist, pulled out a revolver and shot in
the “general direction” of the more leftist Matias Lagunilla,
who would later become a secretary at the union. The minutes of that
particular meeting have disappeared, so it is difficult to ascertain
what exactly catalyzed the shooting. The political divisions between
Gonzales and Lagunilla were certainly apparent, however, and would be a
disruptive issue for some time.
While Gonzales did
not hurt anyone, he still submitted his resignation to the Executive
Council three days later. It was rejected by Mori and the rest of the
council on the grounds that Gonzales’ resignation would signify an
undesirable lack of unity among the union. The Executive Board minutes
also go on to exemplify Gonzales’ “excellent track record” of service
for the union,
but this added discussion appears to have taken place primarily to make
the choice appear less political.
In early March, 1947
the FTA International’s president, Donald Henderson, came to Seattle and
met with Local 7’s officers. He was not well-received. Stating that
members were fearful of going to meetings because of Gonzales’ actions,
Henderson sternly chastised the officers:
This Executive Council
has not lifted its finger to condemn such an action to protect its
members. You are violating your oath and office by not acting on this
matter. You are giving the C.I.O. a black eye for refusing to act on
this matter. You are also giving the Filipino people a black eye.
spite of Henderson’s condemnations, the council tabled the motion to
expel Gonzales. By mid-June, he was still an active member in the
council and, with the support of fellow officer Cornelio Briones, was
trying to move Local 7 in the direction of secession from the
Communist-linked FTA International. Mori was in staunch opposition,
arguing that the International was vital to the union’s success.
Gonzales was convinced that Local 7’s defiance against the International
would result in Local 7’s charter being revoked.
Local 7 remained intact, however; instead of its dissolution, Gonzales
was expelled and Briones followed him.
Gonzales and Briones
then formed the independent Seafood Workers Union. They filed a suit
against Local 7 in an attempt to dissolve it.
During the court proceedings, the Local 7 leadership was held in
contempt of court for failing to produce documents relating to alleged
misuse of $6,000 from the union’s burial fund (this fund came from
annual payments from members and was to be used to pay for a funeral in
the case of a worker’s death).
The contempt ruling effectively tied up the union’s treasury, making it
difficult for Local 7 to apply its budget towards being effective
against the cannery industry. However, the majority of the Filipino
community and the workers remained with Local 7 and the case was decided
in its favor in what Trinidad Rojo called a “technical knockout.” It
turned out that Gonzales was working as a cannery foreman, thus making
his Seafood Workers Union a company union and therefore illegal.
Not long after the
Gonzales challenge was resolved, another factional divide emerged
between newly re-elected President Rojo, who positioned himself as a
noncommunist moderate, and leftwing activist Chris Mensalvas. The issue
was not radicalism but how to allocate resources and time. In 1949
Mensalvas would defeat Rojo and become President of the local, remaining
in that office until 1959. Mensalvas was a newcomer to Seattle, having
been initially involved in labor struggles in other areas of the Pacific
Coast. He spent most of his early years in the United States going to
school and working on farms, where he was exposed to Communism and
involved himself in labor activism. He eventually became the business
agent of the Portland cannery local before the locals merged.
Due to his resistance against some amalgamation procedures, he resigned
largely at the bidding of Gonzales and Briones
only to resume involvement in union affairs upon returning to the
Portland branch. After the death of his first wife in 1947, he became
involved in the Seattle local as the publicity director but still had a
marked interest in California. In late 1948, he left Seattle and moved
to Stockton, where he served as a publicity director during attempts to
organize asparagus workers. That effort ended in defeated and costly
strike. (costly because of the civil and criminal cases that followe).
Rojo later wrote that Mensalvas and those working with him spent an
exorbitant amount of money (“The legal fees alone cost over $37,000”)
for the strike despite Rojo’s warnings that it would fail.
It is difficult to ascertain how accurate Rojo’s report on Mensalvas is
since there is little documentary evidence to corroborate it; on the
contrary, letters from Mensalvas to the Local 7 Seattle headquarters in
April 1949 indicate that some significant progress was made in Stockton.
Whatever the case was, Rojo and Mensalvas never appeared to be on good
terms with one another.
Confronting the Taft-Hartley Act
strife was further complicated by the effects of the Taft-Hartley Act
(also known as the Labor-Management Relations Act), passed in 1947 to
outlaw closed shops and require union leaders to file affidavits
declaring that they were not members of the Communist Party. While the
union and its leadership did not publicly declare any sort of Communist
affiliation, it was well-known within the community that Communist Party
members had long been active in the politics of Local 7. According to
Rojo, it was not uncommon for right-wing members of the politically
diverse Filipino community to report alleged Communists to the Bureau of
With this new set of anti-Communist legislation, these reports became a
major concern for the leftist union leadership.
The Seafood Workers
Union merged with the Alaska Fish Cannery Workers (AFCW) of the American
Federation of Labor (AFL) and made another attempt to undermine the
union.. This amalgamated organization petitioned the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) for representation elections, which were
subsequently approved and set for April of 1949. Local 7 was accused of
being a Communist union, and the election was preceded by a raid from
U.S. Immigration officials who arrested business agent Ernesto Mangaoang,
newly-elected president Chris Mensalvas, and several others on
accusations of being Communist.
While Local 7
sustained the attacks quite well from an organizational standpoint--
winning the representation election in 1949,--the specter of Communist
involvement haunted the union for the next decade. Later that year the
FTA International was expelled by the CIO because of its ties to the
Communist Party. That led to yet another attempt by conservative cannery
workers to change the course of Local 7. Several Local 7 officers
resigned and formed a “red-free” union, Local 77, UPAWA-CIO, under
who had been president of Local 7 ten years earlier.
Local 7 then gave up
its affiliation with the wounded Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied
Workers Union of America, finding a new parent international union in
the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union (ILWU). On March
26, 1950 the cannery workers affiliated with the ILWU and became Local
7-C. That summer, it won collective bargaining rights in another NLRB
representative election , defeating Local 77 and the Alaska Fish Cannery
Workers’ Union, SIU-AFL. The following year, Local 7-C signed a four
year union shop contract with the
canning industry and subsequently became Local 37 ILWU.
Why did Local 7
succeed against these competing unions despite the constant threat of
Communist accusations? One important factor is that Local 7 had the
power of the union hall. In mid-1948, when Gonzales’ and Briones’
aggression was at its peak and the new Taft-Hartley law was in effect,
attendance at May membership meetings was as high as 560 people.
Meetings in 1949 were not as large but still reached almost 300 members
near the end of May,
right before the beginning of the dispatching season. This was a
significant number out of a yearly dispatched force of several thousand
workers, and it was exposed much more to Local 7’s leadership than it
was to the voice of the opposition. Moreover, Local 7’s leaders still
participated in community activities and were allowed to stand their
ground and defend themselves in open letters, public discussions, and so
on. While many community members whispered about rumors of Communism
among the union leaders, the workers were still more familiar with Local
7’s leaders and unfalteringly supported them in NLRB elections.
Facing the Threat of Deportation
After 1950, the threat of breakaway unions and outside unions would
recede. After affiliating with ILWU and becoming Local 37 some of the
turmoil diminished, but the union and its leaders faced a new set of
problems. On November 17, 1949 Ernesto Mangaoang was arrested and held
for deportion under the order of District Director John P. Boyd (who
would antagonize the union over this issue for some time) . He was
released eleven days later under a ruling by the District Court that
Boyd’s action was an abuse of discretion, but Mangaoang’s problems and
the union’s problems were far from over. Deportation orders and court
cases would dominate the next several years.
In 1950, Congress
passed the McCarran Internal Security Act), requiring communists and
communist front organizations to register with the Attorney General and
allowing immigration officials to make a case to deport “subversive”
aliens. Under this act, Mangaoang and some thirty other Filipinos were
placed in jail. Mangaoang’s attorneys were not notified so he was not
allowed to cross-examine his witnesses. After 83 days jail, he was
released, and a deportation order soon followed. The case worked its way
up to the Supreme Court in 1953 and was concluded by an issue brought up
by the famous defense attorney John Caughlan, who argued that Mangaoang
never technically “entered” America as an alien because he traveled from
the Philippines while it was still an American territory.
This landmark ruling established residency rights for the thousands of
Filipino Americans that had arrived before the Philippines established
its independence in the mid-1930s.
It can be argued
that the intensity and strife created by the controversy over Communism
and the hearings actually contributed to the union’s power and
activity. Up until the mid-1950s, leaflets and publications by the union
convey a strong sense of urgency to be involved and stand up for the
union. During the initial arrests in 1949, Matias Lagunilla formed the
Local 7 Defense Committee and released a large flier (click here) with
pictures of five leaders facing deportation (including Mensalvas and
Mangaoang). It proclaimed in bold text, “THEY TRY TO KILL OUR UNION”,
juxtaposing the Communist trials with the murders of Duyungan and Simon
in 1936. The first page ends with “YOU’RE NEXT, UNLESS…” followed by the
top of the second page: “...YOU HALT THIS DRIVE AGAINST OUR UNIONS.”
These sentiments were also exemplified in Local 37’s 1952 yearbook,
wrought with powerful language. Headlines implore workers to “Know Your
Rights” while various articles by the union leadership espouse a very
victorious and tenacious approach to the union’s recent history,
especially in relation to the deportation issues.
The union also
actively lobbied against deportation legislation and anything related to
it. In early 1953, Local 37 filed for an injunction on the
Walter-McCarran Act with strong support of the membership.
The local also educated its members on the effects of the immigration
laws through news bulletins.
The International also provided some assistance by meeting with
but the record provides little evidence of monetary assistance.
The newly renamed
Local 37 found itself identifying strongly with the ILWU International.
As the ILWU president Harry Bridges faced deportation and prison,
parallels were drawn between him and Local 37’s own Ernesto Mangaoang.
The local donated money out of its general budget for Bridges’ defense,
promoted his cause in its publications, and even sold “Harry Bridges
Defense Stamps” to raise money.
However, there was little the ILWU could do for Local 37, and many of
the members felt that they were not getting what they deserved from the
International. One issue of particular importance to the executive
council was that five months of dues had to be paid to the International
per year despite the fact that Local 37’s members only worked a two
month season. Although leaders of other locals involved in seasonal work
were brought in to explain why they were willing to pay the same amount
of dues, it remained a sore spot for Local 37.
Dissention in the Board
Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, Ernesto Mangaoang was a hero to
the union. Respected as an incredibly shrewd negotiator, he was defended
by the union all the way up to the Supreme Court. Yet in the fall of
1954, not long after winning his case, Mangaoang was ousted from the
union. The events that lead to this political intrigue resulted from a
general dissatisfaction in the leadership of Mensalvas and Lagunilla and
the involvement of the well-known Filipino author and activist, Carlos
came to the United States at the onset of the Great Depression to look
for opportunities outside of his agrarian community. He wrote the
best-selling pseudo-autobiographical novel America is in the Heart
and published it as World War II began. He was well recognized as the
premier Filipino-American writer and befriended Chris Mensalvas while
Mensalvas was attempting to organize labor in California. In 1952,
Mensalvas invited Bulosan up to Seattle to edit Local 37’s yearbook,
which remains one of the most coveted pieces of the local’s history from
this time period, and would have a profoundly inspirational effect on
the activist student unionists in the 1970s.
The yearbook (which is reprinted in its entirety on this site) was
significant not only because of Bulosan’s involvement, but also because
it was published at a turning point in the union’s history: after the
inter-union competition had been quelled and a string of victories had
been won against government forces despite the Taft-Hartley and
Walter-McCarran acts. As liberal organizations around the nation were
disappearing or morphing into something more conservative, ILWU Local 37
celebrated its leftist commitments unabashedly in this yearbook,
promoting strong positions against the Korean War, the “fascist”
Walter-McCarran Act, and the “stooges” in the less liberal AFL.
behind this celebration of the union’s militancy was a growing
discontent among the more moderate members. Trinidad Rojo, who was still
active in the council as a trustee, attacked Mensalvas in August 1953
for improperly using union money as president instead of confining all
monetary transfers to the office of the treasurer. Mensalvas had loaned
union money to Bulosan and had not been paid back. Bulosan had chronic
health issues and was hospitalized at the time. Defending him with
Mensalvas was Matias Lagunilla, who stated that “an injury to one is an
injury to all.” Mangaoang, still Business Agent, also came to his side,
trying to use a technicality to show that Bulosan owed nothing. Rojo
responded in his usually analogical manner by arguing “that is like
stretching a fly to cover an elephant.”
Between the costs of all the legal defenses, the strain the local had
undergone fighting other unions and the lack of support from the ILWU
International, Local 37 was very low on money and every dollar became an
Rojo pinned the
budget problems on the leftist leadership. In November, he wrote a
resolution to call in the ILWU International to investigate and audit
Local 37’s leadership. In a board meeting, Mensalvas stated that “with
all its good intentions, the resolution will confuse the membership; and
it will make a wedge for them to come and again inject dissension.” The
executive board promptly condemned the resolution. Mangaoang, however,
disagreed, arguing that it is dangerous for the officers of a democratic
union to refuse to be publicly investigated. Lagunilla countered with
his belief that the resolution had ulterior motives and was a “dirty way
of eliminating officers that they cannot eliminate in the election.”
By 1954, Mangaoang
was in open disagreement with the other Local 37 officers. In a February
membership meeting, he tried to read a speech on his stance and was
promptly denied the floor by Mensalvas, who said that the reading of a
minority opinion at a membership meeting was unprecedented (which was
most certainly untrue).
Mangaoang prepared a leaflet stating his problems with the union
leadership (mainly with their lack of activity and proper budgeting) and
was challenged by the executive council at the April meeting. The
conflict is exemplified in the meeting’s minutes, prepared by the
argumentative secretary Matt Lagunilla:
Lagunilla said that the
Business Agent is like the monkey who said to the turtle that his tail
is very long; yet the Business Agent failed to look back and see if he
has any tail at all. He said that we have nothing to do here all winter,
but getting drunk and solving the crossword puzzle. What is wrong with
solving the puzzle if there is nothing to do. Drinking after office
hours is not the business of anybody, much less the Business Agent he
said. He fails to include in his leaflet that he stayed in the Casino
all winter playing rummy, coming only to the office to claim his weekly
check. No wonder the Business Agent has so many claims not settled. Now
the Business Agent resort to arbitration which means the expenditure of
a lot of money.
The next day,
Mangaoang finally had the chance to speak in a membership meeting on the
topic, probably because his leaflet had already been well-circulated
among the membership. The same arguments were expressed and hashed out.
Directly following that Mensalvas called for the nomination of officers
for the upcoming election. Mangaoang’s name did not appear in any
A trial committee
was formed among the membership to address the allegations about both
Mangaoang (for creating dissension) and the other officers of Local 37.
At the June meeting as the committee began presenting findings and
resolutions, matters became so heated that members were shouting at one
another and came close to exchanging blows..
was ultimately kept out of Local 37 affairs, however, and Mangaoang was
gone by autumn of that year. In the following January, the Trial
Committee presented its findings, with Mangaoang found guilty and all
other cases dropped.
The Mensalvas faction had won out entirely.
whether Mensalvas and his cohorts were guilty of acting irresponsibly
with the budget, the union was still having financial difficulties. It
was constantly digging into the burial fund, taking out loans of five or
six thousand dollars at a time. At the July 1954 meeting it was
announced that the budget had a deficit of around $15,000.
The union also received notice from the office of John Caughlan, who had
represented Mensalvas and Mangaoang when they were under threat of
deportation, that Mensalvas’ $5,000 bail had finally been refunded to
the attorneys but would not be returned to the union until the attorneys
themselves were paid by the union. A resolution was passed in a February
membership meeting stating that the local did not make any commitment to
pay and the money should be returned in full.
By March, the executive council was mortgaging the union building
because it was still in the red despite having already borrowed $15,000
from the burial fund.
The conflict with Caughlan was drawn out for the next few years as the
union continued to borrow money. Another eighteen thousand dollars was
borrowed from the burial fund in December 1956 as Mensalvas reported
that only $700 of his $5000 bail had been refunded.
Caughlan’s case against the union eventually reached the state Supreme
Court in 1958, which affirmed that the union still owed money to the
Local 37’s records
from 1957 are missing, and records from 1958 are very spotty; however,
the records that remain point to some resolution, or at least a leveling
out, of the budget crisis. The minutes that remain of the executive
board meetings focus more on union involvement in community events than
on the financial issues that dominated the mid-50s discussions.
meeting records are spotty throughout the 1950s, a look at the member
attendance for various 1955 meetings reveals only 134 members attending
before the peak of the dispatching for the season.
While there may be other factors involved (perhaps the dispatching
became more staggered that year), the numbers still point to a less
A New Conservative Era
In 1959, Mensalvas
went to Canada to meet with the Soviets at a labor conference. On the
way back, the Department of Immigration challenged his return to the
country, arguing that he lacked U.S. citizenship. He somehow made it to
Seattle with the aid of his attorney, but then quickly left to Hawaii
and stayed there for several years. The details of his departure are
unclear. Years later when interviewed for an oral history, Mensalvas
briefly touched on this part of his life, saying that the “political
question” in Seattle affected his decision to go to Hawaii.
What he meant by “political question” is not clear though this time was
marked by a distinct change in organizational structure, which may have
been what Mensalvas was referring to. The union had moved to consolidate
the offices of the president and the business agent into one. Gene
Navarro, who had been the business agent since Mangaoang’s departure,
had become president by Mensalvas’ return to Seattle in 1963. Navarro
would remain in office with a more moderate, or even conservative,
ideology that would last until the 1980s.
Why Navarro and not
Lagunilla or another individual closer to the political orientation of
Mensalvas? Why, after years of staving off anticommunist assaults, did
the union chose a more conservative leadership so late, in 1960? The
records do not provide a clear answer. Perhaps Gene Navarro was simply
in the right place at the right time to maneuver for a more powerful
position. What few records of meetings or elections in 1960 remain
discuss little more than day-to-day business, so it is difficult to
Whatever the case,
the Mensalvas era ended with this single event. Mensalvas would continue
to play an advisory role to the union until his death in 1978,
but he did not make significant direct contributions to union activity
The Question of Stability
It is difficult to
ascertain why Mensalvas was able to remain president of the local
throughout the entirety of the 1950s. It is not uncommon to draw
connections in labor history between Communist elements of a union and
heightened participation among rank and file members. But once
Mensalvas had established his power, the membership became less active,
not more. This lack of activity may have kept him in power, but may have
ultimately undermined the support he needed to sustain his progressive
One might also argue
that the stability of Mensalvas’ power lay in the fact that the union’s
conflicts were less glamorous in the 1950s than in the 1940s. All CIO
locals had to deal with the Taft-Hartley law and there was a sense that
everyone was in it together. Moreover, Mensalvas was able to use the
dissent caused by fighting with the Gonzales/Briones faction and, later,
the “red-free” Navea faction, to portray himself as a hero who used his
skilled oratory to stand up against the “AFL stooges.” The conflicts of
the 1950s were dirty, and generated political controversy over Communist
allegations and the heated personal dissension between old friends like
Mensalvas and Mangaoang. Following 1952, union survival was no longer
in doubt, and these struggles lost their life-and-death tone.
Local 37 was not a
massive union, nor was it a very well-known union outside of the
Filipino community at this time. ILWU histories pay little attention to
it in comparison to other locals and its successes during this era are
generally not celebrated in labor history. However, it was extremely
significant to Filipino Americans in an era when discrimination
prevented them access to most other jobs. Equal opportunity employment
would not become government policy until the 1960s, but the labor union
prevailed as a source of employment for the disenfranchised Filipino
Americans for decades before that, The cannery union also played a very
important role in the economics, politics, and social dynamics of the
Seattle Filipino community, and beyond that the Filipino American
community as a whole. The tone of its struggles, from the manner in
which it settled infighting to its unique successes against Communist
allegations, reveals a union solidified by ethnic identity. In contrast
to the rest of American society, one’s status as Filipino American was
an advantage in this organization, and it fostered a Filipino American
identity that would be celebrated for decades to come in both Filipino
American and labor history.
(c) Micah Ellison 2005
(HIST 498, Fall 2004)
 See Crystal Fresco, Cannery Workers’
and Farm Laborer’s Union: Their Strength in Unity, Seattle
Civil Rights and Labor History Project website,
also, Dorothy Fujita-Rony, American Workers, Colonial Power:
Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941 and
Chris Friday, Organizing Asian American Labor: The Pacific
Coast Canned-Salmon Industry, 1870-1942.
 “Filipinos in the Labor Front”, The
Philippine Yearbook: 1941, Vincent Navea Folder at FANHS,
 Trinidad A. Rojo, interview by Carolina
Koslosky, FIL-KNG75-17ck, 18 & 19 February 1975, Filipino
American National Historical Society (FANHS), Seattle, WA, p.
 Many interviews from the Demonstration
Project for Asian Americans (DPAA) reflect on this theme and can
be found at the National Pinoy Archives at the Filipino American
National Historical Society (FANHS), Seattle, WA.
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, Cannery
Workers and Farm Laborers Union, Local 7, 19 August 1943, UW
Special Collections, Accession #3927-1, Box 3, Folder 8. (All
membership and board meeting minutes are located in this
 George A. Valdez, “A Brief History of
Local 37,” 1952 Yearbook, ILWU Local 37, Chris D. Mensalvas
Papers, UW Special Collections, Accession #2361-1, Box 1, Folder
14, p. 12.
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, 5 June
1944, Box 3, Folder 9.
 Minutes of Executive Board Meeting, 3 June
1944, Box 2, Folder 7.
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, 29 June
1944, Box 3, Folder 9.
 Minutes of Executive Board Meeting, 27
March 1944, Box 2, Folder 7
 Minutes of Membership Meeting, March
1942, Box 2, Folder 4.
 Friday, pp. 186-188.
 Ernesto Mangaoang, Report of the
Business Agent, 1952 Yearbook, ILWU Local 37, p. 7.
 “Unionist Says He Shot To Scare,”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1947. A photocopy of this news
clipping was found in the Ernesto Mangaoang folder at FANHS.
Only the year was recorded on the copy, so the exact date is not
known. I have tried to find the minutes of the membership
meeting during which this particular event took place (in
February 9) but they do not seem to exist.
 Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 12
Feb 1947, Box 3, Folder 11.
 Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 2
March 1947, Box 3, Folder 11.
 Minutes of Executive Council Meeting, 18
June 1947, Box 3, Folder 11.
 Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union (CWFLU)
Local 7, “Matias Lagunilla Again a Martyr,” 1948, Local 7
UCAWAPA-CIO file, FANHS, Seattle, WA
 “Arrest Asked for 10 Cannery Union
Aids,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1947. A photocopy of this
news clipping is on the same sheet as the previous article
mentioned in the Ernesto Mangaoang folder at FANHS in Seattle,
with the same lack of information as to the exact date. However,
the article mentions a future court appearance scheduled for
April 2, so it must have been published early in the year.
 Trinidad Rojo, “Food Tobacco and
Allied Workers of America, CIO Local 7, Now, International
Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Local 37,”
unpublished, no date (though it was written after the murders of
1981 and before Rojo’s death in the early 1990s), Cannery
Workers Union Local 7, CIO folder at FANHS, Seattle, WA
 Chris D. Mensalvas and Jesse Yambao,
interview by Carolina Koslosky, FIL-KNG75-1ck, 10 & 11 February
1975, FANHS, p. 31.
 See Minutes of Executive Council Meeting,
CWFLU Local 7, 4 Feb, 4-5 Mar, 1946, Box 3, Folder 10. Some of
the headings on these records are incorrectly labeled as 1947:
they were transcribed from audio recordings in 1947 but their
content and structure clearly show that they took place in 1946.
 Two letters from the Chris D. Mensalvas
Papers, Accession #2361-1, University of Washington Special
 See UW Special Collections, CWFLU Local
7, Acc #3927, Box 21, Folder 80.
 University of Washington Libraries
Manuscripts and University Archives Division, Inventory:
Cannery Workers’ and Farm Laborers’ Union, Local 7,
Accession #3927, Seattle, WA, 1989.
 University of Washington Libraries
Manuscripts and University Archives Division, Inventory:
Cannery Workers’ and Farm Laborers’ Union, Local 7,
Accession #3927, Seattle, WA, 1989.
 Membership Meetings, Box 4, Folder 4.
 Membership Meetings, Box 4, Folder 7.
 Ernesto Mangaoang folder, FANHS, Seattle,
 The 1952 yearbook can be found both in
the Chris Mensalvas Papers (Box 1, Folder 14) of the Special
Collections division of the University of Washington Libraries
and at FANHS.
 Executive Board Meetings, Box 4, Folder
 See Chris D. Mensalvas Papers, UW Special
Collections, Accession #2361-1, Box 1, Folder 10.
 See Chris D. Mensalvas Papers, Box 1,
 Chris Mensalvas, Local 7-C ILWU
Newsletter, 7 August 1951, UW Special Collections, CWFLU
Local 7, Acc #3927, Box 24, Folder 41.
 Executive Board Meetings, 26 February
1953, Box 4, Folder 8.
 Executive Board Meeting, 7 August 1953,
Box 4, Folder 8.
 Executive Board Meeting, 5 November 1953,
Box 4, Folder 8.
 Membership Meeting, 24 February 1954, Box
5, Folder 14.
 Executive Board Meeting, 27 April 1954,
Box 4, Folder 9.
 Membership Meeting, 28 April, 1954, Box
5, Folder 14.
 Membership Meeting, 30 June, 1954, Box 5,
 Membership Meeting, 5 January 1955, Box
5, Folder 15.
 Executive Board Meeting, 21 July 1954,
Box 4, Folder 9.
 Membership Meeting, 9 February 1955, Box
5, Folder 15.
 Executive Board Meeting, 2 March 1955,
Box 4, Folder 10.
 Executive Board Meeting, 11 December
1956, Box 4, Folder 10.
 52 Wn.2d 656, John Caughlan, Respondent,
v. International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, Local
No. 37-C, Appellant, Supreme Court, July 31, 1958.
 Membership Meeting, 17 May 1955, Box 5,
 Chris D. Mensalvas and Jesse Yambao, p.
 For a fascinating reflection of the next
generation of young cannery labor activists in the 1970s, see
Gene Viernes’ article “Chris Mensalvas: daring to dream” in the
May 1978 issue of the International Examiner, p. 6, available in
UW Special Collections, #3927, Box 36, Folder 17.
to Fred and Dorothy Cordova and the
Filipino American National
Historical Society (FAHNS) for permission to display the following
pictures and documents. Click on any image to see a larger version.
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.
in a Name? A timeline of 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
Local 7 leaders
Ernesto Mangaoang, Vincent Navea, Irineo Cabatit in early 1940s.
Local 7 proudly
owned this spacious three-story building on the corner of 2nd and Main.
Inside was with the dispatching hall, reading room, and offices.
affiliating with the AFL, the Cannery and Farm Laborers union in 1937
became Local 7 of UCAPAWA-CIO. Chris Mensalvas (front right
center) served on the UCAPAWA executive council in 1937.
the banner "Alaska for Alaskans," a rival AFL sponsored union tried
unsuccessfully to capture the cannery contracts in 1939
The cannery work
season lasted only 2-3 months. Several thousand men were dispatched out
of union offices in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Below a group
waits on pier 40 to board the ship that will take them north. April 27,
1939. The arrow points to Tony Rodrigo. To the right of him is Vincent
Above: an Alaska
cannery and fish unloading at Ketchilikan Alaska.
the renowned Filipino-American author, became publicity director of
Local 37 in 1952, editing the 52-page Yearbook, now a collector's item.
The full yearbook is reproduced here in two parts as pdf. files
courtesy of FAHNS. Part 1 includes all of the articles. Part 2 has
Local 37 Yearbook
Trinidad Rojo served two terms as Local 7
president in the early 1940s
Chris Mensalvas was elected president in
1950 just as Local 7 became Local 37 ILWU. He remained in office until
Ernesto Mangaoang served as Business Agent
of Local 37 until 1954
Labor Day floats
Above: Local 7's
float in the 1938 Labor Day parade. Below: a labor day float from the
early 1930s with Margaret Ray Duyungan wife of president Virgil Duyungan.
from a Cannery Worker's Scrapbook:
Caballero kept a scrapbook of photos taken during the 1938 season in the
Alaska canneries. Four pages follow. Click to enlarge.