twelve reasons i loved the pacific northwest labor history association conference

I mentioned here that I recently enjoyed two back-to-back opportunities, one for work and one for union. 

Through my union, I was extremely fortunate to attend the annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, this year held in Tacoma, Washington.

This was amazing timing for me, both logistically and in terms of my ongoing labour history self-education. Between labour book clubmy own reading, and now this conference, I've recently absorbed a big chunk of learning, with overlapping and criss-crossing connections that are very satisfying.

I plan to write about the conference in more depth, but meanwhile thought I'd get some thoughts out in a listicle. As always in my lists, these are not in any particular order.

And so, twelve things I loved about the PNWLHA annual conference:

1. Synchronicity. The first book the labour book club read was The Cold Millions by Jess Walter. And the first event of the conference was an interview with two authors of historical fiction set in the Pacific Northwest: Karl Marlantes and Jess Walter. I was able to ask Jess Walter a question that came up in our group's discussion. How cool is that?

2. Radicalism. This was very much a gathering of labour activists outside of the structures and confines of unions. Opportunities like this allow us to explore a broader spectrum of possibilities, which we can then use to move our unions forward. 

3. Belonging. As I said in 2009 when I attended the International Socialists' Marxism conference for the first time: this is my tribe. It's a powerful feeling to be among your own people, and it's soothing: an antidote for frustration and despair.

4. History. I believe the only way to understand where we are is by understanding where we came from and how we got here. 

5. Local history. I was in high school when I learned that the main roads where I grew up in Rockland Country, New York, were originally traveled by Native Americans. I've been fascinated by local history -- wherever I am -- ever since. 

6. Young workers! This was by far the most exciting event I attended: a panel of young labour activists. Of course I'm aware of the organizing going on in Amazon, Starbucks, and the fast-food industry -- but there is so much more -- and it so much better -- than I knew. I'll write more about this.

7. The keynote: "Reckoning with the Past to Move Forward". The keynote speaker was Moon-Ho Jung, a historian at the University of Washington. His speech was riveting, and set the radical tone for the day. More about this later, too.

8. The Washington State History Museum. The conference was held in this beautiful (but strange) building, and included admission and free time to see the exhibits. There was an exhibit by Japanese American artists called "Resilience -- a Sansei Sense of Legacy ," about Executive Order 9066; "Fine Lines," about cartooning; and a permanent collection. Interesting factoid: Lynda Barry, Gary Larson and Matt Groening all grew up in Washington State.

9. "Labor Wars of the Northwest". There was a screening of this documentary, which was great for someone like me who needs an overview. There was also some protest from PNWLHA members who claim the movie "is telling the boss' story," and want the organization to withdraw their association with the film. Although I didn't understand their cause, I appreciated that they were given a forum.

10. The IWW! The International Workers of the World are a constant theme in my reading and thinking. This conference was bursting with Wobby goodness.

11. Women. You can't talk about the IWW without highlighting the matriarchs of the movement. The courageous and outrageous organizing by women in labour was everywhere in this conference.

12. How history is constructed. Much of this conference, both overtly and indirectly, was about how history is written -- who writes the official stories, what sources are available to us, how we access other versions of our own histories. This is also linked to literacy, to a web of literacies that working people are often denied. 

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