The ‘Ebbs and Flows of Struggle’: Black Power, Filipinx Cannery Workers, and the formation of the Alaska Cannery Workers Association (ACWA)

Dr. Michael Schulze-Oechtering Castañeda, Assistant Professor, Western Washington University

Abstract: The recent scholarship of civil rights historians and ethnic studies scholars have troubled the notion that appeals to a “common oppression” as “people of color” can unify multiracial coalitions.  Rather, they have built their analysis around the concept of “differential racialization,” which emphasizes the unique experiences that racial groups have with white supremacy: slavery and its afterlife, settler colonialism, and foreigner/enemy racialization.  While distinct racial experiences should not be conflated, we also know that communities of color do not live in isolation.  With this later point in mind, this talk examines an understudied history of Black and Filipino labor solidarity in the Pacific Northwest.  Specifically, my analysis centers the Alaska Cannery Worker Association (ACWA), a group of Filipino and other non-white white cannery workers in Alaska that formed in the summer of 1973.  While they were a product of a long history of Filipino labor radicalism on the West Coast, they drew upon the resources and strategies of militant black workers, who were radicalized by Seattle’s Black Power Movement against institutionalized racism in the Building Trades, the United Construction Workers Association (UCWA).  Through an examination of the fluid exchange of resources, people, and ideas between these laboring populations, this talk will make a case for the political potential of what I refer to as polycultural movement space, political sites were multiracial radical traditions overlap and mutuality, solidarity, and cross-fertilization across racial lines are nurtured across space and time.

Bio: Michael Schulze-Oechtering Castañeda is Assistant Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies in Fairhaven College at Western Washington University (WWU) and a former Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow.  His research uses social movement history and relational ethnic studies to explore how communities of color in the United States have both questioned and crossed racial boundaries.  He is currently working on a book manuscript under contract with the University of Washington Press, No Separate Peace: Black and Filipinx Workers and the Labor of Solidarity in the Pacific Northwest, 1970-2000.  This study examines the parallel and overlapping activist traditions and grassroots organizing practices of Filipino cannery workers in Alaska and Black construction workers in Seattle between the 1970s and the early 2000s.